2016 was the Year of the Records on the area gridiron.
“Records” plural, starting with the most staggering.
Sheehan running back Zach Davis, his 507-yard performance on Thanksgiving 2015 a harbinger of things to come, stormed into the Connecticut record book with 10 touchdowns and 541 yards the night of Oct. 28 in Milford against Jonathan Law.
And then he trumped that with 543 yards in the Carini Bowl in his final game.
Davis’ 3,588-yard season was Connecticut’s fourth-most prolific of all-time. Arguably, it was No. 1 if you consider he played 3-5 fewer games than the three backs ahead of him.
Davis’ 358.8 yards per game and his 332 points scored this year led not just Connecticut, but the entire nation. He is a Walter Camp finalist for state Player of the Year. Nuff said.
Davis’ season was of such epic proportion it overshadowed record performances from other quarters, including one quite profound in Southington, where Vance Upham finished with 1,950 rushing yards on the season and 3,832 for his career. Both eclipsed Southington standards set half a century ago by Vinny Clements, who went on to play in the NFL.
At Maloney, senior Alejandro Ortiz shattered virtually every school receiving record and junior quarterback Larue Graham, in throwing to him, set a few Maloney marks of his own.
Across Meriden, the one area star who didn’t break any records still mustered one of the most dynamic seasons in his program’s history. That would be Platt’s Tylon Papallo.
There’s more. Matt Millea had the most prolific season for a wide receiver in Cheshire history. Sheehan linebacker Danny James checked out with the most solo tackles at that school.
Even the wins and losses were good in the Year of the Records:
Five area teams had winning marks in the regular season: Southington (10-0), Platt (8-2), Maloney (7-3), Cheshire (6-4) and Sheehan (6-4).
Four won (or shared) division championships: Southington (CCC Division I West), Platt and Maloney (CCC Division II West) and Sheehan (SCC Tier 3).
Two made the postseason. Southington reached the Class LL semifinals, lost for a second year to eventual champ Darien and finished 12-1. Platt made it in Class L, lost in the quarterfinals to Middletown and finished 8-3.
Not the ending those teams wanted, but what a ride.
The record-breakers — All-State selections all — lead the inaugural All-Record-Journal Football Team. So do some other boys who were the hearts and souls of their squads — guys like Cheshire linebacker Brian Weyrauch and Maloney linebacker Mitch McEwen.
Detect a trend? If this weren’t the Year of the Records, it would have been the Year of the Linebacker.
In fact, there were so many outstanding area linebackers that the All-RJ Team, which employs the minimum 11 on each side of the ball, must play a 3-5-3 on defense.
And even then, a number of worthy linebackers were left off the list — Joe Koczera of Southington, Nick Santello of Lyman Hall, Nick Nelson of Cheshire.
They’re all juniors. It’s a good bet they’ll get their number called next year. And don’t forget Southington’s Ryan Montalvo, who missed most of the season with a knee injury. He’ll be back.
For now, here’s our 23 for ’16: 11 on offense, 11 on defense and one to kick when we somehow managed not to score a touchdown. That would be Cheshire junior Ethan Bronson, who was 8-for-10 on field goals and averaged 36 yards a punt.
At 30-for-32 on PATs, we’d bring on Bronson after TDs, too. With this bunch, we’d be ringing up a ton of those.
QB: Larue Graham, Maloney: Here’s a thought to get you looking forward to 2017. All but one area QB will be returning.
Southington’s Will Barmore, Cheshire’s Jack Raba, Platt’s A.J. Marinelli and Lyman Hall’s Santello are all juniors. Sheehan’s Wes Terzi is only a sophomore.
They all had fine years. The finest, though, belonged to Larue Graham. The Maloney junior completed 60.4 percent of his passes (197-for-326) for 2,203 yards and 26 touchdowns.
All were area highs. The yards and TDs were Maloney single-season records. His five TD passes against Bristol Central tied a team record.
The foundation for Graham’s All-CCC Division II season was the offseason work.
“He invested himself into being a better quarterback and he got better as the year went on,” said Maloney coach Kevin Frederick.
“He’s just an extreme athlete. He could play any number of positions," Frederick added. “He’s got a bright future, not only in high schoool, but the next level, too. He’s above a 3.0. Now he’s starting to grow a little bit and is putting on some size. I’m really excited for this kid.”
RB: Zach Davis, Sheehan: You saw his stats. They will reside in the Connecticut record book.
The Southern Connecticut Conference’s, too. Davis set a SCC mark with his 3,588 yards and he was named Player of the Year in Tier 3.
On paper, Davis made the All-State Top 20. He is one of three finalists for the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. He was a Gatorade Connecticut Player of the Year nominee.
On turf, he was a dagger through the smallest of seams and an uncatchable dart in the open field.
“Looking back on all of my years, I would get excited about 100 yards a game or a 1,000-yard rusher,” Sheehan coach John Ferrazzi said after the 543 yards on Thanksgiving. “What Zach has done is truly unbelievable.”
The scholarship offers are now coming in. The first, from CCSU, was on the table before the season began. As Ferrazzi notes, it was the off-the-field approach that set the stage for Davis.
“With Zach, the potential was always there from a young age. There was that explosivenes that he had. He could make things happen. It was a matter of, ‘Can we get him to buy in? Can we get him in to buy in to the weight room? Can we get him to buy into academics?’ He’s done all of that.”
WR: Alejandro Ortiz, Maloney: Alejandro Ortiz opened the season on course to become Maloney’s greatest wide receiver of all-time. He achieved that by the middle of the season.
Then he etched his name among the best in the state. The 89 passes Ortiz caught in 2016 rank him No. 4 all-time on Connecticut’s single-season list. The 150 catches for his career tie him for 13th.
All of Maloney’s season and career receiving marks are his: TDs (15/25); receptions (89/150) and yardage (1,120/1,971).
Ortiz had all the attributes of a standout receiver: good hands, good speed, the ability to get open, the ability to adjust, even when elevated, to make the grab. He was named All-CCC Division II and All-State Class L.
“He just competes,” said coach Kevin Frederick. “It doesn't matter where we are. He always wants to win and he always wants to put forth his best effort. His competitive fire is second to none.”
WR: Tylon Papallo, Platt: We list Tylon Papallo as a receiver, but we’d use him in oh so many ways, just like the Panthers did.
The senior slot had 679 yards receiving, 408 rushing and 511 on returns. He also threw for 72. He scored 154 points.
Drawing hyper-attention from defenses, Papallo was also successfully deployed as a decoy, which allowed other players to emerge.
When Papallo did make plays, he made them look very, very good with moves, speed and derring-do. He was a one-man highlight reel. Platt’s coaches agree: He’s one of the best playmakers to ever wear the Blue & Gold.
“To me, he’s an All-State player,” said Platt coach Jason Bruenn said. “Whether the coaches vote him All-State, because he doesn’t have those glaring numbers, I don’t know. But he’s been such a huge factor on our team — even when he’s doing nothing.”
The coaches did vote Papallo All-State Class L. He was also All-CCC Division II.
WR: Michael Millea, Cheshire: Coming into 2016, the Rams knew they had a proven commodity in Mike Millea. The wide-out had led the team in receiving in 2015 at 32 catches for 397 yards.
As a senior, Millea obliterated those numbers and set program records in the process even as QB Jack Raba spread the wealth among his four major targets. Millea had 59 catches for 723 yards. He had 12 receptions at Southington on Thanksgiving.
“He does a great job once the ball is in his hands. He makes plays; he’s athletic,” said coach Don Drust. “Every time he touches the ball, he wants to get in the end zone. That goes a long way for him. He’s got some drive.”
Millea was All-SCC Division I and All-State Class LL.
WR: Anthony Plantamuro, Southington: An observer of Southington football claimed Anthony Plantamuro to be “the jackknife of all trades.” We don’t dispute it. Furthermore, we want him in our pocket.
Like Platt’s Papallo, Plantamuro was deployed as receiver, runner and quarterback. The senior captain led Southington with 46 catches for 666 yards and 12 touchdowns. He ran for 139 yards and three scores. He threw for 109 yards and two TDs.
Plantamuro was also a three-year veteran in the secondary. He had 39 tackles and forced three fumbles this fall.
“Anthony can play quarterback, receiver. On defense, he’s phsycial, he’s tough,” noted coach Mike Drury. “Wherever, he’s needed, he’s ready to go. He plays with passion, energy and fire.”
Plantamuro was named All-CCC Division I and All-State Class LL.
C: Julian Robles, Southington: The center position is one of the most critical on any offense. Everything starts with the snap and centers typically call the blocking adjustments.
For the past two years, the Blue Knights had the ignition switch in the hands of Julian Robles, who transferred from New Britain as a sophomore. The 5-9, 230-pound Robles helped orchestrate an offense that averaged 414 yards a game this season.
“Center’s an extremely important position on our team. There’s pressure at that position, a lot of communication involved at that position,” said coach Mike Drury. “We needed a guy who’s smart who can handle that. He’s smart and he handled it with great composure.”
G/T: Dave Pastor, Southington: If Dave Pastor brings artistry to the offensive line, it’s no surprise. The senior literally is an artist. Blocking is merely part of his palette.
Strong enough and mobile enough to play either tackle or guard, the 6-3, 240-pound Pastor was already seeing time on both sides of the line as a sophomore. That was on Southington’s stocked 2014 state championship team.
Injuries derailed his junior campaign. He returned and put in an All-CCC Division I season as a senior.
“His physicality and how fast he is, how strong and powerful he is, just makes him a great lineman,” said coach Mike Drury.
G: Daniel Stevenson, Maloney: Coach Kevin Frederick still recalls the morning that first summer on the job when he got a call from the Maloney front office. Three brothers had just moved in from Texas. They played football.
“I never ran faster down to the office in my life.”
The oldest had already graduated. The youngest was in middle school. The middle one, though, was a sophomore. That was Daniel Stevenson.
By the start of the season, Stevenson was starting at offensive guard. By the middle of it, he was starting on the defensive line, too.
The Spartans took advantage of his pop and mobility in their running plays. Stevenson made a living kicking out on defensive ends.
“Dan was the master of the pancake blocks. We’ll miss his leadership, too,” Frederick said. “He was just a model citizen in the classroom and out in the field.”
T: Billy Elevli, Sheehan: Zach Davis is the first one to say he didn’t gain 3,588 yards on his own. It started with Sheehan’s big boys up front, such as 6-foot, 230-pound left tackle Billy Elevli, who also had 58 tackles at defensive end.
Two years ago, it was hard to imagine Elevli developing into a lineman who could man any position on either side of the line, serve as a team captain and earn All-SCC Division II-III status. A few pounds and a ton of confidence can go a long way.
“Billy probably didn’t have the confidence in himself a couple years ago. He’s done nothing but buy into everything and became one of our top linemen this year,” said coach John Ferrazzi, adding that Elevli is drawing ample Division III interest. “I think his best football is still ahead of him. I don’t think he’s even hit the peak of where his strength can be.”
T: Pat Bourdeau, Cheshire: Rams coach Don Drust says one pleasure of coaching at the high school level is watching kids grow up and mature. A lot of ground gets covered in 3-4 years.
Pat Bourdeau? “He’s a guy who’s been fun to watch grow into who he is,” Drust said.
What Bourdeau became by his senior year was a 6-foot-3, 260-pound force on both sides of the line. On offense, he factored into an attack that averaged 330 yards a game. On defense, he made 55 tackles, including eight for a loss.
A team captain, Bourdeau was named All-SCC Division I as an offensive lineman.
“He does a great job for us on both sides of the ball, but he kind of sets the tone for the offensive line. He plays with an edge,” said Drust. “He’s a guy who doesn’t take anything for granted. He’s a guy who doesn’t take a play off in practice. He’s locked in, a tough, hard-nosed kid. He’s a physical guy who just continues to play and play and play.”
NG: Nick Martone, Platt: Nick Martone was not your prototypical nose guard.
Sure, he did the basic job of tying up blockers and filling gaps to enable teammates to make tackles. But he also blew up his own share of plays. He had 55 tackles in nine games, a remarkable number for that position.
With Martone’s skill set, Platt switched from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4.
“He plays the box well; he plays from tackle to tackle,” coach Jason Bruenn said. “A lot of noses, they get that double-team and they’re like, ‘OK, I held up my two guys.’ He’ll work through it, he’ll work around it. He just wants to get the ball.”
DE: Messiah Stewart, Platt: Platt coaches long saw the potential in 220-pound Messiah Stewart. That’s a big package coming off the edge, one with ample speed who likes to lay a lick. The problem lay in consistency.
“You’d get one great play and three horrible plays,” coach Jason Bruenn said. “We pointed that out in the offseason to him: ‘You’ve got to be more consistent; you have to do what we ask you to do, and then you have to do it with great energy.’ He really bought into that.”
By the end of his senior season, Stewart hit his stride. Switched to the weak side, Stewart wound up with 54 tackles and four sacks.
DE: Kyle Carlson, Maloney: A returning starter on both sides of the ball at defensive end and slot receiver/tight end — he even played some fullback — Kyle Carlson was expected to have a big senior year and the second-year captain did not disappoint.
Carlson caught 33 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns, including one in the 14-10 victory over Wethersfield that clinched a share of the division crown. On defense, he had 28 tackles, including three sacks.
“Kyle could do a lot of different things for us,” said coach Kevin Frederick. “He’s got great hands, he’s a great target across the middle and he does a good job getting north and south after he catches the football. Just a tough, tough football player, which is something you can’t teach. I think that’s his best attribute. He’s tough.”
LB: Jamel Holder, Platt: The Panthers knew all about Jamel Holder long before he moved from Florida to Meriden in late summer. Platt was, after all, where he’d started his high school career, playing varsity as a sophmore.
Back on the West Side, Holder made his presence immediately re-felt when he rejoined the team in Week 4. Over the next six weeks, playing outside linebacker, he made 49 tackles. With his speed and nose for the ball, the Panthers could blitz Holder or drop him into coverage.
“Holder’s a force. He’s a legit linebacker. I can see him playing in college. He’s got speed, loves to hit,” coach Jason Bruenn said. “He’s a difference-maker, for sure. He’s a sizeable guy, so when he fills a hole, he fills it.
"His football IQ is very high,” Bruenn added. “He’ll make plays where we might have coached him to do something else, but he freelances because he sees where it’s going and he makes the play.”
LB: Danny James, Sheehan: In the words of his coach, John Ferrazzi, Danny James is the poster child for how you want a player to approach the game, to approach preparation, to approach every day.
James is the player who does what’s asked of him — training, technique, film work — and then he does more.
It’s that advance work, combined with pure talent in a 210-pound frame, that enabled James to record a program-record 118 solo tackles as a three-year starter. Half of his team-high 116 tackles this season were made single-handedly.
“That’s made him the player that he is,” said Ferrazzi. “It’s all those intangibles you can’t teach and it’s got to be innate. Danny has that.”
James was named All-State Class M and All-SCC Division II/III.
LB: Mitchell McEwen, Maloney: Mitchell McEwen played such a pivotal role for Maloney in 2016, including as a team captain, it’s hard to believe he’s still an underclassman.
Despite missing several games to injury, the All-CCC junior linebacker led the team in tackles with 91, with 13 going for a loss. Also strong in pass coverage, he picked off a pass at the goalline to seal a crucial win at Bristol Central.
McEwen also has a skill set for offense. Early on, while Maloney’s young running backs were rounding into form, he rushed 38 times for 170 yards. He’ll likely be used next year at tight end.
“Mitchell is just a horse. He’s just a hard-nosed player. He loves contact. He loves the rough of football,” said coach Kevin Frederick. “We've got to have a kid like that on the field because he’s a difference maker.”
LB: Vance Upham, Southington: Here’s how good a player Vance Upham is. Eclipsed at running back only by the record-breaking performance of Sheehan’s Davis, Upham still makes the All-RJ Team at another position.
And it’s not some consolation prize. Upham was one of the best linebackers in Connecticut this season, just as he was one of the best running backs. (The Walter Camp Foundation thought so. That group named him All-Connecticut First Team at RB.)
With his combination of speed and power, Upham led Southington on both sides of the ball. He had the 1,950 yards that broke Vinny Clements’ program record. He had 95 tackles on defense.
Upham was listed at both linebacker and running back in his All-State First Team designation. He was also All-CCC Division I.
“He’s been dominant all season,” said coach Mike Drury. “The way he plays, the physicality, I haven’t coached many kids like that.”
LB: Brian Weyrauch, Cheshire: Brian Weyrauch began making an impact when he joined Cheshire's linebacking corps as a sophomore. He had 45 tackles that rookie season, then led the Rams as a junior (84) and this fall as a senior (107).
Weyrauch was also a team captain, which was good. As coach Don Drust notes, “Rock” set the tone.
“He’s that shot in the arm; he’s that guy,” Drust said. “How Brian goes is how we go. He’s that energy builder. He’s a gamer. Friday night, you know he’s going to show up and he’s going to be who he is.”
Weyrauch had 15 tackles for a loss this year, including 3½ sacks. He was chosen All-SCC Division I and All-State Class LL.
DB: Javon James, Platt: Javon James has his share of gridiron nicknames — “The Missile,” “The Rocket,” “The Punisher,” “The Savage.”
You get the drift. Saying very little, but letting his pads do the talking, James piled up 78 tackles this season as a junior.
“James is an interesting character. He does not talk. He does not say a word. He’s very quiet and he’s very reserved,” Bruenn said. “But when you put a helmet and shoulder pads on him, he likes to hit. He’s not your Cover-3 free safety, ‘Let me back-pedal and go pick off a ball.’ When he hits, he brings it.
“He makes his mistakes, but when he does he’s going 100 miles an hour when he does. We like him a lot.”
DB: Michael Jeffery, Cheshire: You know you’ve got the goods when you start as a freshman at Cheshire. There was only one, future Syracuse player Kyle McIntosh, back in the 1990s dynasty years. Then along came Michael Jeffery.
Joining the senior-studded 2014 team, Jeffery earned the starting job at safety and has been there since. With 73 tackles this year, the All-SCC Division I defender now has 173 for his career. He also has six career picks.
Now a two-way player, Jeffery factored into the offense with 37 receptions for 491 yards.
“He has the physical tools, he’s a bigger kid and, on top of that, he is super smart — his savvy and just his knowledge of the game,” said coach Don Drust. “He’s always in the right place. He’s always making the right calls on defense. He’s the quarterback of our defense.”
DB: Sam Thomson, Southington: Sam Thomson is following in the footsteps of his older brother Matt, a linebacker at Marist, and his dad Rob, an All-American defensive back at Syracuse.
The youngest Thomson, a 6-4, 160-pound junior, led the Blue Knights in the secondary with 52 tackles and a team-high eight pass breakups. The All-CCC Division I cornerback also intercepted three passes.
When NFA’s Jawaun Johnson was giving Southington trouble in the Class LL quarterfinals, Thomson was switched over to cover him and that was the end of that.
“Sammy’s always in the right spot, always makes plays,” said coach Mike Drury.
“A tremendous worker. He does everything right.”
That could be said of all 23 All-Record-Journal football selections. OK, maybe they didn’t do every single thing right. There was precious little, though, they did wrong. Let the record show.