SOUTHINGTON — Kevin Frederick had been to the CIAC Football Media Luncheon at the Aqua Turf Club once before.
It was 2013. Frederick was an assistant coach at Southington for his old Marist College roommate, Mike Drury, who was on the verge of leading the Blue Knights to that year’s Class LL championship.
Five years later, Frederick wheeled back up to the Wagon Room as captain of his own ship, and he brought along plenty of his crew Tuesday to the annual event that brings together the select few who survived the 10-game gauntlet of the regular season and two rounds of playoffs to reach Championship Saturday.
There was quarterback Elliot Good and his top receivers, Victor Marquez and Maurice Brackett.
There was four-fifths of Maloney’s massive offensive line — D.J. Posey, Ryan Martel, Max Ganter and Trevor Santiago — and defensive standout Elijah Stevenson.
There was Mr. Versatility, Jaylon Nixon, a linebacker and wide receiver. There was 1,000-yard rusher James Tarver, only a sophomore.
Tuesday was an opportunity to talk it up with the media and chow down on Aqua Turf chicken and pasta before getting down to the business of preparing for the biggest games of the season, which will play Saturday in matching doubleheaders at Shelton High School and New Britain’s Veteran Stadium.
The Spartans are back at the big table and before the brightest lights for the first time since 2006, joining frequent fliers Greenwich, New Canaan, St. Joseph’s and Daniel Hand, the team they’ll face in the Class L final in New Britain at 2 p.m.
Class S finalists Bloomfield and Haddam-Killingworth, who will precede Maloney-Hand at New Britain on Saturday, were also on hand Tuesday. So were coach Joe Aresimowicz and his Berlin Redcoats, who ended the Class M dreams of the Sheehan Titans with a 34-22 semifinal victory Monday night at Riccitelli Field.
Aside from Haddam-Killingworth, which lost its lone state championship football game in 1995, Maloney is the team with the fewest state finals appearances and the longest gap between them among this year’s Elite Eight. It’s been 12 years since the 53-21 loss to New Canaan in the 2006 Class MM final under then-head coach Bob Zito and another 17 since the 14-7 loss to St. Joe’s in the 1989 Class M game under the late Rob Szymaszek.
Yet that’s exactly what’s made the 2018 ride so special for this group of Spartans. With Sunday’s 16-6 semifinal win over Platt, they’ve returned Maloney football to the finals just five years removed from the 1-9 season of 2013.
They’ve also amplified a Gravel Road roar first generated by the Maloney boys soccer team. Those Spartans made a dramatic run in their Class L tournament to become the first Meriden soccer club, male or female, to reach a CIAC final.
“The school’s going nuts about it,” Posey said Tuesday. “As soon as we won after Platt and came to school, the kids were talking, ‘Oh, wow, you guys are doing so good; you’re’re putting Maloney on the map.’
“Soccer’s doing good, football’s doing good. We’re just going to keep it rolling. Hopefully, we can get other teams going good. The chemistry around the school is really good.”
The symmetry between Maloney’s football and soccer teams is uncanny. Both squads reached the Class L finals only to face a Hand team that arrived as defending state champ.
And, like their soccer brethren, the football Spartans are clear-cut underdogs. Hand’s football Tigers are 12-0, ranked No. 2 overall in the state and have walloped opponents by an average score of 49-7.
They are led by junior quarterback Phoenix Billings, grandson of Meriden’s Bob Billings.
What will Saturday have in store? In soccer, the longshot Spartans battled admirably and lost by a score of just 1-0.
“We’re going to respect them, but we don’t fear them,” Max Ganter said of the looming football showdown. “We’re ready to go in there and do what we know what we can do and give our best shot and we can definitely come out with a win.”