MERIDEN – A hunger for the ultimate prize tempered by patience and a love for his players shape the essence of Maloney head coach Kevin Frederick’s sojourn to lead his program to the exclusive pinnacle of Connecticut high school football.
The Spartans’ season ended in the Class L quarterfinals Tuesday night in a decisive manner, 36-0, at the hands of Windsor, a CCC team that knows what it takes to get to the top and plays like it expects to be there every year. Maloney’s 9-2 record was bookended by two shutout losses at Windsor in which they were outscored 64-0.
Frederick recognized the shortcomings that wedged the Spartans between the CCC rank-and-file and the likes of the Warriors. He also appreciated the efforts of his seniors who helped the program to continue its steady rise since he took the reins in 2014. Maloney went 5-6 in his first season and 7-3 in each of the next two.
He’s determined to make up enough ground so the Spartans will be the ones hanging banners.
“You look back and reflect after a few days at how far the kids have come,” he said. “You think about guys like O’Neal Ward. You think about Mitchell McEwen battling injuries and working tirelessly in the weight room. You think about how grateful you are for Adam Ortiz, Jayden Malave, Josh Oquendo, Larue Graham. It’s special to look back and see what long snapper Trevor Herbst accomplished, batting back from an ACL and not playing as a junior, a strained MCL this summer.
“We got a lot better and that’s all we can look at. Now we’ve got to find a way to keep that train rolling.”
Other seniors who played major roles on the East Side’s first playoff team since 2006 were consummate defensive tackle Desmond King, running back Aden Valentin, Stoddard Bowl MVP Cruz Lenhart, field-stretching wideout Chris Infante, Preston Studley and superb punter Adam Williams.
“We’ve made strides. Now we’ve got to start beating the teams we’re NOT supposed to beat,” Frederick said. “When you start doing that and take the next step forward, you’re not far away. I think we can win a state title and I’ve got to get the kids believing in that. It’s not that the kids didn’t think they could beat Windsor, but Windsor played like they were supposed to win. When our kids think like that, we’ll do it.”
Frederick has diligently communicated with college coaches and eight of them visited the school on Wednesday and Thursday. He spoke glowingly of former Maloney defensive tackle James Ubaike, who did so well at North Dakota State College of Science this fall that he’s getting Division I looks.
“The senior class did a great job and I’m looking forward to finding them homes and getting them ready for next year,” he said. “I want to separate my program from others in the area by sending kids to college and going about it the right way. That’s the way to achieve success. Kids will want to come to Maloney because it’s the best way to get to college.”
He absorbed the substance of Southington’s success when he coached under Mike Drury. He plans to spend some time with Middletown coach Sal Morello. He knows he can become a better coach and won’t rest until he gets there.
“I’ve put in a lot of time, but I’m ready to put in more so we can beat a Darien or even Southington,” Frederick said. “I’ll have to use my resources a little better.”
He’s excited about his core of underclassmen.
The entire offensive line will return. Massive center Ryan Martel, Max Ganter, Toby Canales, D.J. Posey and Elijah Stevenson all logged considerable time this season.
Frederick also expects the return of running back Freddie Hidalgo, a churning freshman prodigy in 2016 who lost this season to injury. He hopes that Elliot Good will be healthy enough to inherit the quarterback slot.
“He’s the guy. He’s an absolute stud,” Frederick said. “He was doing so well in preseason, then had a back injury and never came back. I’m hoping it pans out because he’s a difference-maker. He can be the best athlete in the building and he’s competitive. He’s a student of the game.”
If Good’s injury persists, Frederick has ambitious freshman Kameron Hartenstein waiting in the wings. Frederick said Hartenstein’s classmate James Tarver also possesses a runner’s talent and instincts, and thus envisions a dominant ground game.
“The big thing in the offseason is developing the quarterback’s mind,” Frederick said. “How can we get him to be a bigger leader and teach him the intangibles?”
Frederick sees the Maloney administration as another positive resource.
“I remember Tom Ryan (his coach at Platt) saying that Meriden was just not a football town and I want to change that. I met with assistant principal John Kuckel and he understands how important football can be. You need support from the principal and superintendent and we’ve got that,” Frederick said.
“We’ve got to build school camaraderie. The big football schools have that. They see how valuable it can be to a town. I don’t want us to be average. I want us to be top-notch.”
Quarterback Larue Graham signs off owning school career records for passing yardage (3,983) and touchdowns (46). This year, he completed 135 of 268 passes (50.4 percent) for 1,772 yards, 20 TDs and nine interceptions. Nobody else threw a pass this season
Valentin posted the school’s 21st 1,000-yard rushing season (242 carries, 1,200 yards, 13 TDs). Edwin Roman remains atop the single-season list with 1,868 yards in 1999. Valentin also led the team in scoring with 92 points…
Junior Victor Marquez was far and away the most productive receiver (60 catches, 743 yards, 9 TDs). Infante (33-570-5) averaged a team-best 17.3 yards per catch.
Junior Maurice Brackett (12-156) also returns to give the receiving corps experience. Look for soph Kamron Moreno to make an impact, too.
McEwen led the team in tackles (107). King set the pace in tackles for loss (23). Ward led in sacks (14). Malave and Lenhart led with four picks apiece. The defense will have to be rebuilt around junior defensive end Jaylon Nixon and sophomore tackle Sirtorious White.
Williams punted 34 times for an average of just under 30 yards and pinned the opposition inside the 20 three times.