FOOTBALL 2017: Riffing Steely Dan, Cheshire will take it ‘Night by Night’

FOOTBALL 2017: Riffing Steely Dan, Cheshire will take it ‘Night by Night’


CHESHIRE — Taking it one game at a time is the mantra of just about every football team on the block.

In Cheshire, compartmentalizing is no mere catchphrase or some big word. It’s a means of survival.

Such is life in Tier I of the Southern Connecticut Conference, where the Rams will wage their weekly wars this fall against North Haven, Notre Dame-West Haven, Shelton and West Haven before turning their Thanksigving attention to Southington.

If there’s even a moderately weak brother in that bunch, send a note to Cheshire coach Don Drust, who must also prepare for a non-league date at Norwich Free Academy, a Class LL postseason regular out of the ECC.

Those six teams were a combined 36-13 last year in the regular season. All but North Haven made the postseason.

So, yeah, when the Rams say “taking it one day at a time,” they’re not just giving a trite answer.

“Right now, we’re just working hard to be the best possible team we can be and just getting ready for Shelton,” said senior quarterback and captain Jack Raba, referring to Cheshire’s opening-night guest. “Our goal is to go 1-0 every week. We’re not looking ahead, especially in this conference. If you look ahead, you’re going to get beat.”

Raba’s comment reflects one of the strengths of the 2017 Rams, in Drust’s estimation.

“We are a very mature group,” said the sixth-year head coach. “I say that not just from a football standpoint, but from a person standpoint.”

The Rams suffered their graduation losses from last year’s 6-4 squad, but bring back a solid core led by Raba and fellow captains Eric Angelone, Dan Covel, Michael Jeffery and Nick Nelson.

They also come in riding a winning vibe. A number of Cheshire football players were also on the lacrosse team that reached the Class L state final this past spring before falling to Darien.

“It was good for a lot of us to know what it takes to be on a championship kind of team,” Raba said. “We didn’t get the job done in the spring, so now we really know the work we need to do in order to get the job done.”

Cheshire football last reached the postseason in 2009. The program’s seventh state championship was won that year.

The road back to December football is a gauntlet. The ’17 Rams are experienced enough to know it. They’re also experienced enough to run it.

“A lot of talent, lot of experience, and I think that will help us go far,” said Nelson, a returning linebacker.

“We have a lot of talent,” agreed Covel, a two-way lineman. “We just need to build chemistry, know what we’re doing and do it to the best of our abilities.

“The SCC is a tough conference, but we’re a tough team,” Covel added. “I really feel if we work hard, build chemistry and put two and two together, we can beat anyone.”

Chemistry will unquestionably be a key component of that equation.

“They have to genuinely care about each other in that locker room,” Drust said. “You’ve got to be sure everybody’s working together, everybody’s on the same page, especially in this conference. It takes all 70.”

The Offense

Many of Cheshire’s seniors are third-year starters. Raba and Angelone are Exhibits A and B. They made their varsity debut in the 2015 season opener hooking up from 50 yards out on a game-winning pass in the closing seconds.

Last year, in his junior season, Raba completed 150 of 250 attempts for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns.

His leading target, All-State Class LL receiver Mike Milea (59-723), signed off as Cheshire’s all-time leading receiver before heading to Wagner College. The three other starting receivers are back: Angelone (40-569), Jeffrey (37-491) and senior Tom Wnuk (22-276).

Raba is looking for his first fully healthy season. He tore his ACL as a sophomore and missed a week last season with a minor knee injury.

Each absence revealed Cheshire has a highly competent backup QB in senior Will Graikoski. Last year, in three games, Graikoski was 25-of-60 for 470 yards. He was 24-of-43 for 167 yards as a sophomore and nearly engineered a Turkey Day upset of unbeaten Southington.

On the ground, the Rams return their leading running backs, Elijah Allston and Bryce Levanduski. Allston, a 220-pound junior, led Cheshire last year with 632 yards on 127 carries. Levanduski, a senior, was 82-332.

Another key returnee is Ethan Bronson. The senior kicker made a big impact last year by converting 30 of 32 point-after attempts. He was 8-for-10 on field goals.

The Defense

The Rams lost some key pieces to graduation, most notably All-SCC lineman Patrick Bourdeau and All State-Class L linebacker Brian Weyrauch, who led the team with 107 tackles, including 15 for a loss.

But just as they do on the offensive side of the ball, the Rams return a lot. Nelson was second only to Weyrauch with 101 tackles last year in his first year as a full-time starter.

Up front, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Covel returns to anchor the line with an even bigger senior, 6-foot-7, 315-pound Drew Zebarth.

Also back with ample varsity experience are senior lineman Owen Reach, senior linebacker Jay Como and Angelone in the secondary.

The most experienced Ram of all is Jeffrey. He’s been the starting free safety since his freshman year. The only other Cheshire football player to play varsity all four years was Kyle McIntosh, a cornerstone of the 1990s dynasty who went on to play at Syracuse.

The Schedule

While they hold that mantra about not looking ahead, the Rams could not help but look ahead to opening night against Shelton as preseason opened.

“I’m getting chills just thinking about the crowd right now,” Nelson said on an August day that happened to be quite warm. “It’s a real good atmosphere. People: Come out and support us. A great game to watch and a lot of fun.”

Said Dan Covel, “If you’re not here, you’re wrong.”

Date Opponent Time

Sept. 8 Shelton 7:00

Sept. 15 at NFA 7:00

Sept. 22 North Haven 7:00

Sept. 28 at Law 7:00

Oct. 6 West Haven 7:00

Oct. 20 Wilbur Cross 7:00

Oct. 27 at Notre Dame 7:00

Nov. 3 at Daniel Hand 7:00

Nov. 11 at Harding 1:00

Nov. 23 Southington 10:00


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