COACH: Rob Tynan (21st season)
2012 RECORD: 8-2
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. QB/DB Jack Shaban (5-7, 155); Sr. FB/LB Steve Miller (5-9, 175); Sr. OL/DL Alex Gallaer (6-1, 210); Jr. SB/DB Harry Wilson (5-8, 165).
REASON TO SMILE: Shaban is back running the triple-option after racking up a team-best 1,125 rushing yards for a unit that passed the ball just 50 times in a surprising 2012 campaign.
REASON TO WORRY: Home slate includes visits from Bethel, Newtown, Oxford and Brookfield.
OUTLOOK: Following their first winning season since 2006, the Falcons won’t be overlooked in 2013. The offense lost some key contributors, but a solid core, led by Shaban, is intact and ready to contend for the program’s first division title since 2008.
COACH: Jason Gill (5th season)
2012 RECORD: 4-6
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. TE/LB Cal Daniels (6-3, 250); Sr. QB/DB Joey Piatnik (6-3, 205); Sr. RB/DB James Giannone (5-8, 165); Sr. RB/DB Nick Silva (6-0, 165); Sr. OL/DL Ian Melvin (6-5, 270); Sr. OL/DL Ethan Draper (6-2, 250).
REASON TO SMILE: A senior class that runs 19 deep.
REASON TO WORRY: Early season slate includes visits to perennial SWC powers Newtown (Week 2), Pomperaug (Week 4) and a Week 7 matchup with Masuk.
OUTLOOK: Piatnik has the arm to keep teams honest and Daniels is a legitimate deep threat (42 catches, 481 yards, 7 touchdowns), but the Wildcats won’t stray too far from their “ground and pound” identity, according to Gill.
COACH: Rich Angarano (14th season)
2012 RECORD: 5-5
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. QB Brad Westmark (6-0, 175); Sr. OL/DL Louie Rodrigues (6-4, 296); Sr. WR/TE/DB Liam Clancy (6-4, 225); Sr. DL Justin Lyons (5-8, 185); Sr. RB/LB T.J. Savageau (5-9, 180); Sr. OL/DL Eric Rodriquez (5-9, 235); Sr. OL Mike Gardner (6-1, 265); Sr. WR Joe Hafkemeyer (6-3, 190); Jr. WR/RB/DB Gabe Pompette (5-11, 175).
REASON TO SMILE: Brad Westmark is back at quarterback. Last year, he threw for more than 2,500 yards and 18 touchdowns while being intercepted just five times.
REASON TO SMILE: The Bobcats have quite a few first-year varsity players, Angarano noted.
OUTLOOK: The Bobcats expect to be in the mix for a berth in the SWC title game and a shot at a state tournament berth as well.
COACH: Doug Cotto (1st season)
2012 RECORD: 3-7
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. WR/DB Devante Teel (5-11, 150); Sr. RB Justin Townsend (5-9, 165); Sr. QB Nolan Auriela (5-9, 170); Sr. OL/DL Ben Ruskin (6-0, 230); Sr. LB Andrick Bernadel (5-7, 170); Sr. WR/DE Chavez Martinez.
REASON TO SMILE: The Bulldogs feature a lot of talent and experience at the skill positions, and the defense — often a question mark — is vastly improved.
REASON TO WORRY: The schedule is tough early. The Brookfield (season opener Sept. 12 at home) and Masuk matchups will indicate whether last year’s struggles linger, or if the Bulldogs have turned the page under Cotto.
OUTLOOK: Last year was uncharacteristic of the perennial SWC power. It’s a wide open race for Newtown’s No. 1 contender, and the rejuvenated Bulldogs will be in the mix.
COACH: Tom Taylor (2nd season)
2012 RECORD: 0-10
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jr. QB/FS/KR Darel Bowman (6-2, 175); Sr. WR/LB Mike Woods (5-10, 170); Sr. C/DE Riley Cross (6-0, 210); WR/LB Joey Wallace (6-3, 185).
REASON TO SMILE: Taylor says his team has “great senior leadership and a great work ethic,” which, are important as the Mustangs look to get their program turned around.
REASON TO WORRY: The Mustangs are young.
OUTLOOK: There is nowhere to go but up for the Mustangs, who last won a game on Oct. 10, 2009 against Barlow and have lost 35 straight since then.
COACH: Dave Brennan (1st season)
2012 RECORD: 10-2 (Class M semifinals)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. QB Malik Cummings (6-2, 205); Sr. WR P.J. Kokkoros (5-9, 170); Sr. WR Trevor Kollmann (5-8, 145); Sr. RB/LB Joe DaMota (5-10, 200); Sr. OL James Karavitis (6-0, 210); Sr. OL Sal Longo (5-11, 210); Sr. OL David DiGirolamo (6-2, 265); Sr. DB Doug Katz (6-0, 165); Sr. LB Russ Lilly (6-0, 170).
REASON TO SMILE: Sure, the Panthers have lost a bunch of starters from last season, but the cupboard isn’t exactly bare. Cummings passed for 2,158 yards and 19 touchdowns last year.
REASON TO WORRY: Reports surfaced that some players and parents were unhappy with new head coach Dave Brennan, who took over after John Murphy resigned. Brennan received a vote of confidence from Masuk athletic director John DeGennaro.
OUTLOOK: Brennan expects the Panthers to be competitive in the SWC and in Class L, but said they must remain healthy in order to do so. “Masuk looks to continue its proud tradition of a high-powered offense and an attacking defense,” he said in an e-mail. “With many starters being replaced, the task will be up to the Class of 2014 for leadership and commitment.” Cummings passed for 2,158 yards and 19 touchdowns last year and ran for 391 yards and a score. Kollman gained 644 receiving yards and caught five TD passes and Kokkoros added 308 receiving yards and two scores. DaMota was one of the team’s leading tacklers with 60 last year.
COACH: Anthony Fata (4th year)
2012 RECORD: 6-4
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. QB Mike McCourt (5-8, 165); Sr. RB Collin Cioffi (5-10, 165); Sr. WR Joey Hicks (5-9, 165); Sr. OL Chris Hernandez (6-0, 215).
REASON TO SMILE: In his one start at tailback in 2012, the Rebels’ Thanksgiving matchup with rival New Milford, Cioffi filled in admirably for Joe Pacheco, piling up 157 rushing yards.
REASON TO WORRY: Pacheco and his 2,001 yards and 21 touchdowns will be tough to replace for a team that rode their one-year phenom to a renaissance season.
OUTLOOK: Last year’s goal was to get the ball rolling, to shake up the SWC hierarchy with a quality win or two. The Rebels accomplished that, but this year features another tough slate.
COACH: John Murphy (1st season)
2012 RECORD: 2-8
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. WR Drew Hansen; Sr. RB/WR/S Ryan Grenier; Sr. RB A.J. MacDonald; Sr. Nick Kimball; Sr. WR Scott Eherts; Jr. QB Jaimie Portunato; Jr. DL Denzel Phillips; Sr. LB Nick Capriglione.
REASON TO SMILE: Murphy brings three state titles, six SWC titles and a 158-33-12 record from his 16 seasons at Masuk.
REASON TO WORRY: Will Murphy be able to work the same magic at New Milford as he did at Masuk all those years?
OUTLOOK: The installation of Murphy as the head coach has created a whirlwind of excitement and optimism surrounding the Green Wave. That alone is a major victory for a program that is roughly 50 years old and has never played in a state playoff game. It remains to be seen whether or not New Milford can become a contender, but Murphy’s goal since Day 1 is to win and win now.
COACH: Steve George (7th year)
2012 RECORD: 10-1 (Class LL quarterfinalist)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. QB Drew Tarantino (5-11, 165); Sr. RB Cooper Gold (6-0, 200); Sr. DL Josh Krapf (6-2, 230); Sr. DL Nick Landau (6-3, 215); Sr. OL Dom Scarangella (6-2, 230); Jr. WR/S Julian Dunn (6-2, 205); Jr. LB Tim Krapf (6-1, 230).
REASON TO SMILE: The reigning SWC champs return four of five starting offensive linemen and nine offensive starters overall, among them Gold (1,143 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns), Tarantino (1,941 passing yards, 28 touchdowns) and Dunn (34 catches, 603 yards, 10 touchdowns).
REASON TO WORRY: Defensive departures could prove difficult to overcome, particularly with Dan Hebert, Justin DeVellis and Chris Devaney gone from a secondary that had 11 interceptions in 2012.
OUTLOOK: After two straight trips to the state playoffs, this Newtown team might be positioned for its deepest run. A consensus favorite among coaches to repeat as league champs, the Nighthawks may not be challenged until late November, when an experienced offensive line will be key opposite bruising LL defenses.
COACH: Ted Boynton (1st season)
2012 RECORD: 1-9
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. Trent Hudson, Bryce Bennett, Sr. Tyler Owen, Soph. Hakim Fleming, Sr. Austin Camacho, Sr. Marcus Fulton.
REASON TO SMILE: Boynton had been an assistant at Notre Dame for 10 seasons.
REASON TO WORRY: Boynton is the Lancers’ fifth head coach since 2006.
OUTLOOK: Boynton will look to turn around a program that hasn’t won more than three games since 2007.
COACH: Joe Stochmal (5th year)
2012 RECORD: 8-2
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. WR/DB Chris VanKamerik; Sr. QB/DB Kyle Chudoba; Sr. WR/DB Kevin Loschiavo; Sr. TB/DB Steve Persson; Sr. TB/LB Marcus Esteves; Sr. OL/DL Dan Carbonaro; Sr. OL/DL Justin Hanna; Sr. OL/DL Kyle Sastrum; Sr. FB/LB Jeff Haney; Sr. TE/DE Eric Jensen; Sr. TB/OLB Dan Trombetta; Sr. OL/LB Anthony Nichio.
REASON TO SMILE: The Wolverines return eight starters on each side of the ball, though seven of the eight are two-way players. VanKamerik is an all-state receiver with game-breaking speed.
REASON TO WORRY: Depth was already an issue before the Wolverines were “hit hard with preseason injuries,” according to Stochmal.
OUTLOOK: In order to build on a solid 2012, staying healthy will be key.
COACH: Dave Roach (2nd season)
2012 RECORD: 4-6
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jr. QB Wade Prajer (6-0, 190); Jr. WR Steve Croce (5-9, 165); Sr. WR Sam Rubinstein (6-1, 170); Sr. OG Seamus Conway (6-2, 220); Jr. OT Mitch Saunders (6-0, 265); Sr. RB Bob Tzepos (5-9, 185).
REASON TO SMILE: “We have size, we have strength and we have speed,” Roach said in an e-mail.
REASON TO WORRY: The Panthers open the season with pivotal back-to-back games against perennial SWC contenders. They host Newtown on Sept. 12 and visit Brookfield on Sept. 20.
OUTLOOK: “We will be competitive,” Roach said. “I can only coach one team so I only worry about one team. We will prepare our team the same way regardless of who we are playing. All our games will be tough.”
COACH: John Svatik (4th year)
2012 RECORD: 2-8
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jr. RB/LB Sam Breiner (6-1, 215); Sr. OL/DL Mike Cooney; Sr. MLB/OL Andrew Bouchotte; Sr. RB/DB Isaiah Booker; Sr. WR Bryan Lesperance; Jr. K Kyle Kodnia; Sr. QB Mike Cannata; So. WR/DB Davon Davidson (6-3, 215); Jr. OLB/WR Geuber Docteur; Sr. DB/WR Milo Mitchell.
REASON TO SMILE: Used for just one game in 2012, the new turf at Penders Field should pay dividends for the Red Devils, who formerly conducted practices on a lopsided, undersized, unmarked patch of grass without uprights. “Would you practice baseball on a field with no pitcher’s mound?” said Svatik, who is in his 37th season overall.
REASON TO WORRY: The Devils’ last winning season was 2007.
OUTLOOK: The Red Devils lost three games in the last minute in 2012, a stat that — while damaging, record-wise — could be an indication of a program on the upswing. “We must learn how to finish football games,” Svatik said.
COACH: Joe Lato (8th season)
2012 RECORD: 9-3 (Class M state semifinals)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. QB/MLB Erik Dammen-Brower (6-3, 200); Jr. RB/LB Peter Lummis (5-11, 200).
REASON TO SMILE: As Lato said, “every day is a gift.” And, yes, that is definitely a reason to smile.
REASON TO WORRY: The Trojans will have to replace eight seniors who received postseason honors last year.
OUTLOOK: The Trojans graduated a lot of talented players. Like QB Tyler Hassett, who passed for 1,883 passing yards and 17 TDs and rushed for 904 yards and 13 scores; running back Justin Schaffer, who tallied 1,092 receiving yards and caught six TD passes and rushed for 478 yards and two scores; lineman Austin Gomar, who registered 14 sacks and 64 tackles. Dammen-Brower led the team in tackles last year with 84 and caught four TD passes. And Lummis had 278 all-purpose yards last year and two rushing touchdowns.
— HEARST CONNECTICUT NEWSPAPERS STAFF