COACH: Rich Holmes (1st season)
2012 RECORD: 6-4 (no playoffs)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jr. RB/DL Delton Rogers (6-foot-2, 260 pounds); Soph. RB/LB Dominique Rogers (5-9, 180); Jr. QB/DB Zach Ruscoe (6-2, 190); Jr. TE/OLB Dylan Shiland (6-3, 180); Sr. OL/LB Justin Neves (5-8, 190); Sr. TE/OLB Lexus Payton (5-10, 190); Jr. OL/DL Pete Myers (6-2, 340); Jr. OL/DL Zach Gyolai (6-3, 180); Sr. OL/DL Dae Quan Rosado (5-9, 190); Jr. WR/DB Travis Welsh (5-10, 170).
REASON TO SMILE: Quarterback Zach Ruscoe showed a lot of promise in the summer passing league, and he will have a lot of athleticism in the backfield with him with the Rogers brothers, Delton and Dominique, running the ball.
REASON TO WORRY: The Wolverines graduated 12 seniors from last year’s team, which posted the best record in the young program’s four years of varsity competition. That’s a lot of players to lose on a team of roughly 30 players where almost everyone plays both ways.
OUTLOOK: The program made remarkable progress in its first five years under coach Chris Mascolo. New coach Rich Holmes and his staff — which includes former Danbury High head coach Doug Morrell as an assistant — will look to continue that progress.
COACH: John Johnson (5th season)
2012 RECORD: 8-3 (Class M quarterfinals)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jr. QB Chris McNamara (6-foot, 190 pounds); Jr. RB Jose Cotto (5-11, 185); Jr. WR Francis Kalangala (6-2, 190); Sr. DL Trayvis Keitt (5-11, 260); Sr. DL Zavon Billups (5-10, 200); Jr. LB Hakeem Fletcher (6-1, 180)
REASON TO SMILE: Several key players return from a state playoff team, especially on the lines, where there’s a good mix of experience with able youngsters.
REASON TO WORRY: Though McNamara’s back, the team graduated a lot of its other skill players. The Tigers will need young players to develop quickly.
OUTLOOK: Last year’s playoff experience, the Tigers’ third since 2007, is something to build on, but Johnson isn’t looking just to qualify: “Our goal is not to get into the playoffs, our goal is to go deep into the playoffs and actually win,” he said. He’s hopeful he and the coaches can mold the inexperienced players into effective ones quickly. “It’s exciting to go into the year not knowing exactly what you have,” Johnson said.
COACH: Nick Aprea (2nd season)
2012 RECORD: 1-9
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jr. RB/LB Drew House; Sr. WR/DB Nick Coppola; Sr. MLB/TE Jason Diotalevi; Sr. WR/DB Tristin Carder; Jr. WR/DB Giani Krajewski; Sr. OL/DL Elijah Woodley; Jr. QB Vinny Provenzano; Jr. RB Devin Bacchiocchi
REASON TO SMILE: At the skill positions, the team — still a young program after being broken out of a co-op with Derby in 2011 — is deeper and more talented than in the past couple of years.
REASON TO WORRY: That doesn’t extend to the line, with only one experienced player. Provenzano takes over at quarterback from Coppola, so it’ll be a transition.
OUTLOOK: Aprea’s excited about that jump in talent, though cautiously optimistic about what it’ll mean in terms of wins and losses. “It’s fun to have the problem of ‘how are we going to get this person on the field?’ as opposed to the past, when it was ‘how are we going to get him off the field?’ because there’s no one to give him a rest.”
COACH: Chris Theriault (1st season)
2012 RECORD: 6-4
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. G/MLB Louie Camputaro (6-foot, 255 pounds); Soph. RB David Gonzalez (5-9, 170); Sr. FB/OLB Alex Pettway (6-0, 200); Sr. SS Anthony Pizzola (5-8, 170); Sr. OT/DT Elias Vazquez (6-2, 200); Jr. WR/CB Adonis Bligen (5-7, 170)
REASON TO SMILE: They’re enthusiastic and hard-working, says new coach Theriault, who replaced Vin Camera (now at Fairfield Ludlowe). There’s some talent.
REASON TO WORRY: Depth is the biggest concern; the Panthers have some solid starters but need backups who can step in if needed.
OUTLOOK: Theriault’s start as head coach has been fun so far; he likes his staff and feels they’ve jelled well. Health would go a long way for this group. “What we do have on offense and defense is looking good, our No. 1s,” he said.
COACH: Tom Brockett (8th season)
2012 RECORD: 14-0 (Class S champion)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. RB Arkeel Newsome (5-foot-8, 175 pounds); Jr. QB Jai’Quan McKnight (5-11, 185); Sr. FB/LB Saiheed Sanders (6-1, 185); Sr. OL/DL Ryan Hovan (6-4, 240).
REASON TO SMILE: The Chargers have 6,805 reasons to smile. Newsome, who has racked up nearly 7,000 rushing yards, returns for a final year.
REASON TO WORRY: Ansonia must replace five starters on defense.
OUTLOOK: On the heels of two consecutive undefeated seasons, Ansonia reloads for a run at a third. The Chargers, as dominant as any program in the state, haven’t won three straight state titles since the late 1980s. Barring anything unforeseen, there’s no reason to believe Ansonia will slow down offensively. Newsome will run behind a line comprised of four returning starters and senior Ryan Hovan, who missed last season due to injury. No team in the NVL or Class S challenged Ansonia in 2012. Can Masuk, a non-league opponent on this year’s slate, derail the Chargers’ bid for perfection?
COACH: George French (4th season)
2012 RECORD: 6-4
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. RB/DB Tyrae Small (5-foot-10, 215 pounds); Jr. QB/DB Michael Krieger (6-2, 185); Sr. OL/DL Arben Komani (6-2, 235); Sr. WR/OLB Josh Russell (5-7, 150); Sr. WR/DB Jordan LaRue (6-0, 165); Soph. OL/LB Charlie Sampson (5-10, 195)
REASON TO SMILE: The Red Raiders return their leading rusher in Small, who gained 1,172 yards and scored 15 touchdowns, and their starting quarterback in Krieger, who threw for 17 touchdowns and had just four interceptions.
REASON TO WORRY: The Red Raiders will be revamping their offensive line, losing all five starters to graduation. They have younger players capable of playing the position, but they need time to jell.
OUTLOOK: The Red Raiders could be very good if their young players quickly mature. They could start three sophomores on the offensive line. However, they are a talented group, featuring 252-pound athletic sophomore Jose Santamaria.
COACH: Tom Lennon (5th season)
2011 RECORD: 5-5
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. OL/LB Zach Sirowich (6-foot-2, 220 pounds); Sr. RB/DB Jack Briggs (6-1, 180); Sr. WR/DB Nick D’Agostino (5-10, 180); Sr. TE/DE Christian Thurmond (6-2, 190); Sr. OL/LB Dan Hink (6-1, 200); Jr. RB/DB Joe Salemme (5-8, 180); Jr. TE/LB Julian Falcioni (5-11, 180)
REASON TO SMILE: The Wildcats return a number of starters and have had an impressive preseason.
REASON TO WORRY: Inexperience at quarterback.
OUTLOOK: The Wildcats are excited about the wrinkles that have been installed offensively. This could prove to be the best team during Lennon’s tenure, and every game on the schedule will be winnable.
COACH: Bert Mozealous (4th season)
2012 RECORD: 4-6 (no playoffs)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. QB Dave Ryan (6-foot-4, 195), Sr. WR-LB Nick Bottone (6-4 165), Sr. WR-RB-S Ben Feola (6-0 185), WR-DB Joseph Choiniere (5-9, 180), Sr. OL-DL Eric Laugeni (6-0 230), Sr. RB-CB Cory Ricks (5-8, 160), Jr. CB Matt Attolino (5-9, 165), Jr. Ath. Tyler Burns (5-9, 155), Sr. NG-OL Mike Butler (6-0 255), Sr. OL-DL Joe Capela, (5-9, 215), Sr. Lyle Luth (5-7, 165).
REASON TO SMILE: The Spartans are loaded with skill players and Luth has become a reliable offensive weapon (9 FGs).
REASON TO WORRY: The Spartans lost 10 seniors upfront, leaving just Laugeni as the lone experienced lineman.
OUTLOOK: The Spartans renew their rivalry with neighbor Seymour, which is about 10 miles away from Woodbridge, to open the season. Ryan sat out five games last season after transferring from Fairfield Prep, but played wide receiver and safety when he was eligible. But Mozealous likes his big arm and Ryan has lots of weapons to feed the ball. The secondary is a seasoned group and will have to carry the team early – along with the offense – while the lines mature.
COACH: Tom Shea (4th season)
2012 RECORD: 6-4 (no playoffs)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. RB-ILB Nick Crowle (6-3, 241), Sr. DE/OG Tony Fox (6-2, 254), Sr. TE-DL Andrew Ostrosky (6-4, 206), Sr. QB-LB Anthony Johnson (6-0, 182), Jr. QB Colton Smith (6-1, 162), Jr. NG-OT Anthony Palazollo (6-6, 300), Jr. RB-DB Joe Ganim (5-9, 166), Jr. WR-OLB John Delisanti (6-2, 190).
REASON TO SMILE: The Jesuits have some big, physical bodies upfront for a change.
REASON TO WORRY: QB Colton Smith and the offensive line are both brand new, so there could be some growing pains early.
OUTLOOK: After a 1-3 finish in 2012, the Jesuits’ motto this season is “start fast, finish strong.” Shea said the disappointment of missing the postseason – Prep hasn’t been since 2007 – didn’t linger, and there was plenty of weight room in the offseason. Crowle (Yale) and Fox (Fordham) already have settled on their college futures, but scouts are already lining up to see Palazollo. Prep opens up at Stamford on Sept. 12, and its reward for a winning season includes games with St. Joseph’s and Hand as well. “I told them it’s not who you play, but how you play,” Shea said.
COACH: Jeff Bevino (8th season)
2012 RECORD: 6-4
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. WR/CB Nick Weissauer (5-foot-7, 180 pounds); Sr. WR Sean Deegan (5-9, 190); Sr. RB/CB Connor Cadrin (5-11, 175); Sr. OG/LB Jesse Alldredge (5-9, 180); Sr. FS Sam Olsson (5-8, 175); Jr. QB Jake Kasuba (5-9, 165); Sr. WR Zach White (5-8, 155); Sr. OL/DL Zach Hubler (6-1, 235)
REASON TO SMILE: Coupled with the return of Kasuba, who threw for 2,547 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed for 555 yards and three touchdowns, the Lions return their starting wide receivers to an offense that averaged nearly 34 points per game last season. Weissauer led the team a year ago with 86 receptions for 999 yards and seven touchdowns.
REASON TO WORRY: Depth is regularly a concern for a school the size of Foran.
OUTLOOK: The Lions return seven starters on offense and eight starters on defense. If they stay healthy, they will have the ability to win the majority of their games. A challenging schedule features games against West Haven, Shelton, North Haven and Hillhouse.
COACH: Mark Robinson (13th season)
2012 RECORD: 4-6
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. QB Timmy Maher (5-foot-10, 170 pounds); Sr. C/LB Nick Casagrande (6-0, 255); Sr. FB/LB Joe Ziebell (5-11, 215); Sr. WR/S Ryan Siddall (6-3, 195)
REASON TO SMILE: There is a positive atmosphere emanating from the Lawmen, who are determined to end a run of five straight losing seasons.
REASON TO WORRY: Lacking considerable depth, the Lawmen need to stay healthy.
OUTLOOK: The Lawmen will compete and if they do the right things, Robinson believes they will be in the mix in the conference race.
Notre Dame-West Haven
COACH: Tom Marcucci (21st season)
2012 RECORD: 4-6
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. RB Cameran Tucker (5-foot-10, 208 pounds); Sr. QB Blake Rice (6-1, 165); Sr. LB Sal Esposito (6-0, 195); Jr. G Owen Barnell (6-1, 235); Jr. DE Matt Abati (6-0, 228); Sr. WR Drew Arciuolo (6-0, 178); Jr. LB Tim Jambor (5-11, 184); Jr. OT Kyle Cullen (6-2, 215); Jr. DB Andrew Natale (5-10, 165); Sr. WR Joe Palmieri (5-7, 161); Jr. DT Joe Petrosino (5-10, 235); Soph. RB Prince Brooks (5-8, 165); Jr. DB Zack Cofrancesco (5-8, 158)
REASON TO SMILE: Marcucci sees a stronger and faster team than last year. They gained experience last year.
REASON TO WORRY: They did a lot of growing last year but are still young in some spots. SCC Division I hasn’t magically gotten any easier, either.
OUTLOOK: The Green Knights finished with three wins in their last four games last year after replacing 19 starters to begin the year. That could be a start. Players have continued to improve, and Marcucci expects at the very least to compete every game.
COACH: Jeff Roy (10th season)
2012 RECORD: 6-4 (no playoffs)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. WR-LB Kyle Drost (6-2, 220), Jr. QB Mark Piccirillo (5-11,190), Sr. WR-FS Mike Pingree (6-1, 180), Sr. RB-LB Jason Thompson (5-9, 185), Sr. DT Jacob Grosso (6-2, 235), Sr. DE-TE Christian Federicci (6-3, 210), Sr. WR-DB Mike Ortoli (5-8, 170), Sr. LB-G Jeremy Taramelli (6-0, 215), Sr. C-NG Trevor Searles (6-1, 265).
REASON TO SMILE: The return of Thompson, who suffered season-ending shoulder injury in last year’s opener at Cheshire.
REASON TO WORRY: The Gaels have to replace all-everything kicker Ed Groth (Central Connecticut).
OUTLOOK: Glory days could be back again. Roy’s biggest offseason chore was finding a new kicker, otherwise the squad hit the weights hard and “really got after it.” Drost is a stud drawing D-I buzz already and Piccirillo is a dual threat (1,558 pass with 15 TDs/560 rushing) running what could be a high-octane offense. The Gaels get tested early with Trumbull in the opener and also have the mighty SCC’s Fairfield Prep, Hand, Xavier and West Haven on the schedule.
COACH: Ed McCarthy (31st season)
2012 RECORD: 8-3 (Class LL quarterfinalist)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. HB Ervin Philips (5-11, 176), Sr. QB Duane Gary (5-8, 152), Sr. LB Nyrell Moore (5-8, 163), Sr. C-DL Dave Cinti (6-3, 265), Sr. G-LB Jesse Ridgway (6-2, 188), Jr. TE-LB Tayvon Gibbs (6-0, 185), Jr. SE-S Jason Wilkerson (6-2, 181). Jr. G-DL Eli Gaskin (5-11, 202), Jr. WR-DB John Brolet (6-0, 178).
REASON TO SMILE: Philips and Gary are big time playmakers, with the former being chased by Temple, Syracuse and Old Dominion.
REASON TO WORRY: The Blue Devils’ first string is sound, but the team needs to find some depth to survive a long season.
OUTLOOK: The Blue Devils, who have four state titles under McCarthy, get a nice wrinkle to open the season with Greenwich Week 1. Philips, an all-state player last year, is a special player who happens to already hold the school records for scoring and rushing with a year to go. Gary shared the tailback job last season, but has been moved to quarterback for his senior year. McCarthy said the schedule is demanding and he needs to find depth, but he’s optimistic the Blue Devils will be gamers this season.
— HEARST CONNECTICUT NEWSPAPERS STAFF