All right, I made this bed. I’ll lie in it.
When we started selecting All-Record-Journal teams, I insisted upon the minimum number of players in each sport.
Even when we agonized over limiting the basketball teams to five, volleyball to six or soccer to 11, I would not budge on the Minimum Rule.
And now I lay me down to weep.
We’ve got a tremendous 2017 All-Record-Journal football team. Yet with only 11 on each side of the ball, plus a kicker and a punter, we’ve left off some fine, fine players.
You could see it coming. Collectively, this was the best season for high school football teams in the Record-Journal coverage area since 1998. Our six teams that year went 44-14 and two of them — Southington and Maloney — went to the playoffs. This year, our six teams went 41-19 and two of them — Sheehan and Maloney — went to the playoffs.
It takes more than 24 to make that happen.
There were some rookies who had magnificent debuts. Virtually all of Sheehan’s sophomore class, led by 1,049-yard rusher Terrence Bogan, 1,188-yard run/catch threat Jordan Davis and 86-tackle linebacker Braedon McCarthy, comes under that heading.
We figure guys like that are just getting started and will probably gain All-RJ status, if not a state championship ring, in due time.
There were seniors who closed out terrific three- and four-year careers. Some battled through injuries that supressed their stats, but not their fire.
Look at Southington RB/LB Ryan Montalvo, one of my favorite players. After seeing varsity time as a freshman and breaking out as a sophomore, he lost his junior year to a knee injury. An arm injury limited his time to defense for much of this fall.
In the end, Ryan was going both ways with abandon, rushing for 574 yards and making 49 tackles. He walked off with the MVP award from the Apple Classic.
Montalvo also earned All-State honors from the Connecticut High School Coaches Association, where he was among the top 25 vote-getters, as well as from the Walter Camp Foundation, where he made the Second Team.
And he’s not All-RJ? No. He is not All-RJ.
Ryan, you may want to blitz us with a blind-side rush. Know we are not blind to your talents nor those of the other excellent players not on our list.
We’ve got our 24. We’re sticking with our 24. As we share them, though, we will also honor others we’d sign up in a heartbeat.
Like last year, we’ve picked one running back and four wide receivers because just about everybody runs out of the spread formation.
Our four receivers slotted into neat alignment. They were the area’s four leaders by any measure: receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns. They were All-Conference to a man.
Leading the way was Maloney junior Victor Marquez, who pulled down 60 catches for 743 yards and nine TDs, all area highs. Marquez also made 53 tackles on defense.
Lining up along side Marquez are three seniors: Tim O’Shea of Southington (49-609, 8 TD), Elijah Felton of Platt (49-574, 8 TD) and Michael Jeffery of Cheshire (48-670, 7 TD).
Jeffery, like Marquez, was also a key player on defense. He made 79 tackles and picked off two passes this fall at free safety, a position he’s held as a starter since his freshman year and, as he moves on to Amherst, the position he’s likely to play in college.
Jeffery was All-RJ a year ago as free safety. This year, we go with him at wide receiver as did the SCC and his own team. The Rams named Jeffery their Offensive Player of the Year.
Now, while statistics set a straight line at wide receiver, we felt they did not capture the full picture at running back and quarterback. The area’s leading rusher was Platt junior E.J. Dudley (209 carries, 1,329 yards). The leading passer was Southington senior Will Barmore (171-for-278, 2,239) followed by Maloney senior Larue Graham (135-for-268, 1,772). All three of those guys were named All-CCC.
We went with two players who were also All-Conference yet, more critically, were indispensible to the playoff push of their respective teams.
At running back, it’s Maloney senior Aden Valentin. Aside from having one of the better stories of the fall — ruled a hardship case when Wilcox Tech dropped to JV for 2017, Valentin was able to tranfer to Maloney without CIAC penalty — the senior turned in a MVP season for the Spartans.
With returning running back Freddie Hidalgo out for the year with an injury, Valentin filled a major void with 1,200 yards rushing, 114 yards receiving and 15 touchdowns. Valentin also made 31 tackles in the secondary.
At quarterback, all six area teams returned their starter. Only one was a junior and he turns out to be our guy: Sheehan’s Wes Terzi.
We go with Terzi because he did what he had to do to navigate his team to a 9-1 season and its first playoff berth since 1995.
With the sophomores Bogan and Davis cutting their teeth at running back — and with Davis injured to start the year — Terzi threw quite a bit in Sheehan’s first four games (57-for-102, 905).
As Bogan and Davis gained traction, the Titans dialed back Terzi and went more with the ground game. Then, come the Class M quarterfinals, when Joel Barlow loaded up against the run, the Titans again turned to Terzi and he gave them a chance in a 47-34 game by completing 13 of 19 passes for 258 yards and four TDs.
Terzi finished the season 123-for-211 for 1,696 yards. His 23 touchdowns passes and five interceptions were the area’s high and low.
Up front, we have five senior linemen who were all All-Conference: Andre Barnes of Platt, J.J. Clark of Southington, Dan Covel of Cheshire, Andrew McClure of Lyman Hall and Stephen Zenisky of Sheehan.
Covel, who is heading to St. Lawrence University, made All-SCC Tier 1 as a defensive lineman, having recorded 51 tackles, including nine for a loss.
Zenisky, also a two-way terror, was named the SCC Tier 3 Player of the Year. He played left tackle on offense and all positions along the D-line, where he made 78 tackles, including 11 for a loss. Like Montalvo, Zenisky was among the top 25 vote-getters for the CHSCA All-State teams.
Also garnering additional postseason kudos was Clark. Our biggest lineman at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, Clark was voted to the CHSCA’s All-State Class LL team.
Those are our 11 on offense. If we could rotate in few more we’d put Sheehan junior captain Luke Willette and Southington seniors Jimmy Starr and Jake Monson up front. They were All-Conference linemen.
Maloney junior Chris Infante (33-570) was an All-Conference wide receiver.
With all our firepower, who do we bring out to handle the PATs and field goals? Southington’s Evan Johanns.
The junior was the area’s leading kicker, connecting on 47 of 50 point-after attemps and all five field goal attempts. Johanns kicked three field goals in the Apple Classic and was named Southington’s Offensive MVP.
We went into the 2017 season calling it “The Year of the Quarterback.” We could have just as well called it “The Year of the Linebacker.”
For a second straight season, the All-RJ defense is a 3-5-3 unit due to the overwhelming talent behind the line.
And because of the sheer talent up front, too.
That is a fact well known to opponents of the Maloney Spartans. Seniors O’Neal Ward and Desmond King were a two-man wrecking crew who not only tied things up at the line of scrimmage, but made a living behind it.
The All-CCC duo were the area leaders for quarterback sacks and tackles for a loss. Ward had 14 of the former and 22 of the latter. King had 10.5 and 23.
King finished with 69 total tackles, Ward with 64. They and the rest of the defense backboned Maloney’s’ 9-1 run to its first playoff appearance since 2006.
Our third All-RJ defensive lineman was a key piece in Lyman Hall’s turnaround under coach Bill Weyrauch. Playing the position his head coach once did, defensive end Zach Kizer put together a junior season that earned him All-SCC Tier 3 and CHSCA All-State Class M distinction.
It was a belated coming-out party for a player who missed his sophomore season to injury. Kizer found a way to get involved in plays even when they were going away from him. He made 60 tackles and nine quarterback sacks.
There were other high-caliber D-linemen who merit mention. Dan Calbo 56 tackles, 5.5 sacks) and Conor Whelan (51, 6.5) shone for Cheshire. Sean Scanlon (50, 5.5) did the same in Southington. Mickey Deming (54 tackles) was one of those standout sophomores down at Sheehan.
For any opposition running back able to slip past Ward, King, Kizer and our other boys up front, there would be the following linebackers to deal with: Ian Hall of Southington, Mitch McEwen of Maloney, Randy McFarline of Lyman Hall, Nick Nelson of Cheshire and Will Terzi of Sheehan.
All five were seniors. All five led their team in tackling. All five were named All-Conference.
Southington’s Hall had the added distinction of being voted CHSCA All-State Class LL. He chalked up 94 tackles, including 10 quarterback sacks.
Nelson had 118 tackles for Cheshire. He was named All-SCC Tier 1 as an offensive lineman, though his team tabbed him Cheshire’s Defensive Player of the Year.
In Wallingford, Terzi had an area-high 129 tackles for Sheehan and also learned a new position on offense at right tackle. McFarline was a two-way force for LH, mustering 61 tackles and 943 yards rushing.
Then there is McEwen. One of just four repeat All-RJ players, McEwen did it all for Maloney. He led the team in tackling for a second straight year with 107 (17 for a loss). McEwen also picked off three passes, recovered two fumbles and even did some kicking.
These five linebackers put up the area’s best numbers. There were other ’backers who weren’t too far behind, who were also named All-Conference and who deserve applause:
We mentioned McEwen is one of four repeat All-RJ football players. Jeffery was another. The other two? Punter Ethan Bronson of Cheshire and cornerback Sam Thomson of Southington.
Bronson was a not-so-secreat field position weapon for the Rams. The All-SCC Tier I senior averaged just shy of 40 yards a kick, with a long of 60. He put 13 balls inside the 20. All numbers were area highs.
As for Thomson, he was the long arm of the law in the Southington secondary. The 6-foot-4 senior led the area with 16 pass breakups. He also picked off four passes, recovered two fumbles and got in on 42 tackles.
Thomson is likely to continue the family tradition of playing college football. His dad Rob went to Syracuse and his brother Matt is now at Marist.
Here on the All-RJ team, Thomson is joined in the secondary by Maloney’s Cruz Lenhart and Sheehan’s Evan Mansfield.
Lenhart, an All-CCC junior, had arguably the single-best game of the season on Thanksgiving morning when he picked off two passes, recovered a fumble and caught a touchdown passes against Platt in the Stoddard Bowl.
Lenhart was named MVP. He finished the season with 64 tackles and four interceptions.
Mansfield, an All-SCC Tier 3 wide receiver, gets our nod at free safety. The senior captain was massive on both sides of the ball in Sheehan’s march to the postseason. Mansfield had 72 tackles and was the area’s fifth-leading receiver with 44 catches for 596 yards and eight TDs.
The area’s interceptions leader? That was Cheshire DB Nick Quint, who picked off five passes. The Rams also got 69 tackles out of Eric Angelone.
This year, rest assured, there was no lack of depth. Not in the win column and not in talent.