MERIDEN — The robust roster Wilcox Tech football took into the preseason has taken some hits from injuries and departures since we last checked in on 298 Oregon Road.
Numbers still remain high for the Indians, and so does their optimism, but on the bottom line the squad sorely needs some starters to heal between now and the Sept. 13 season opener against Quinebaug Valley.
“Hey, my job is to keep them as positive as possible,” said Trevor Jones, head coach at Wilcox since 2012. “Every single day I tell them our goal is to get better somewhere from where we were the day before. That’s what we need to do every day. And then we go out and compete at the highest level that we can.”
When it comes to competition against Connecticut Technical Conference rivals, the Tribe couldn’t set the 2019 bar any higher.
“Our goal is the same every year: 10-0,” Jones says flat out. “We’re going to go for it, no holds barred. We’re going to take chances.
”You know me, I’m aggressive,” the head coach added. “We’re going to attack. We’re going to throw the ball. We’re going to get after people. I blitzed more last year than I blitzed in 10 years and we’re going to do it again this year.”
The game plan is definite. The starting lineup, however, is not.
Medical issues have been a plague, particularly to key returning players like Sebastian Lopez, Jacob Schwall and Shaunessy Reynolds. Jones went into Friday night’s game scrimmage at Haddam-Killingworth still looking to fill shoes at offensive tackle and outside linebacker.
What Wilcox does have is depth. Jones is putting his 51-player roster to full use, repping as many as six quarterbacks in practice.
And with starters sidelined at other positions, the H-K scrimmage was an opportunity for younger players to get in the mix.
“I don't know how much first-team work we’re going to do because we’re a mess right now, but I’m going to get the second group and the third kids and we’re going to look at them,” Jones promised a few days before that tune-up. “What can you do? Perform. Show us.”
The Wilcox coaching staff have seen some good things so far. Highly touted freshman Connor Fletcher, who played in the Youth Armed Forces Bowl in Houston this summer, has earned the starting job at “superback,” Wilcox Tech’s designation for its running back position. Returning junior center Scott Putnam has assumed leadership of the offensive line from the graduated R.J. Carroll.
The quarterbacking situation presents interesting possibilities. Jones says he has a strong running QB in senior Jeremy Perez and a strong passing QB in senior Christian LaFogg. A rotation between the two isn’t out of the question.
Of course, the major flaw in such scheme, Jones readily concedes, is telegraphing the play.
“And that’s not good for us, because we’re at our best at passing the ball in play-action, not straight drop-back,” Jones remarked. “That’s not who we are. It’s hard for us to pass block, but when we run play-action and they think it’s a run and we throw off of it, we’re pretty good at that.”
The Indians are coming off a 4-6 season that marked their return to varsity football after a 2017 reboot at the junior varsity level. The 2018 revival ended in celebration on a frosty Thanksgiving Eve at Palmer Field. The Tribe had its first 1,000-yard rusher in the books (Devario Reid – 1,365) and its first-ever Thanksgiving rivalry win over Vinal Tech/Goodwin Tech/Whitney Tech (38-16).
Only five seniors graduated from that team, so the 2019 squad is seasoned — to a point.
“We’re a little bit older now, but we have some young spots that are big question marks that I’m concerned about,” said Jones.
This year’s offense will start up front with Putnam at center and Mike Mysatyukow, a senior, and Josue Mateo, a sophomore, at guard.
Jeremiah Gonzalez, a first-year senior, projects as right tackle. Shaunessy Reynolds, a junior, looms as the left tackle as well as the nose guard on defense, but must first return from an ankle injury.
Junior Gustavo Diaz is also in the mix at offensive tackle.
The receiving corps will be led by senior Troy Mitchell. A year ago, living large on bubble screens, Mitchell pulled in 46 passes for 656 yards and seven touchdowns, all team highs.
Schwall, the senior slot man, had 19 catches for 191 yards and will look to build on those numbers, though he, too, is battling preseason injury. Perez (11-177) will split out wide when he’s not at QB.
Senior Nicholas Sharretto and junior Christian D’Agostino are in the aerial mix.
At superback, juniors Alberto Sarris and Angel Gonzalez, along with sophomore Tommy Buonanni, provide depth behind Fletcher.
Defensively, the Tribe will build around its linebackers, Sarris and Mysatyukow. The pair led the way in tackling last year — Sarris with 102 and Mysatyukow with 76.
Up front, Jeremiah Gonzalez is at defensive tackle, bookended by senior ends Putnam and Dickson Peralta.
D’Agostino and Lopez are due to return to their starting spots at cornerback, though Lopez’s playing status is uncertain for medical reasons. Perez will be at free safety when he’s not playing quarterback.
And, along with the superback Fletcher, the Indians have a second freshman starter in outside linebacker Brandon Alvarado.
The other outside backer position remains up in the air. For that matter, so do several others where injury has upset best-laid plans.
“Could I get a little depressed about it? Yeah, but that’s football. I’ve been doing this forever. You get used to that stuff,” Jones said.
“I feel much better about the quarterback position; we’re OK there,” Jones continued, noting that Perez is such a student of the game he’s raising the play of his teammates. “When you got guys like that, they’re going to get better. And he’s made the other kid, Christian LaFogg, a better quarterback because he’s making him do the things that maybe he didn’t do enough of.
“That’s why we’re getting better and better.”
And better: The Indians are hoping the mantra also extends to their health.
It’s a week to go-time. Two games on the road launch the season, starting with a long haul out to Danielson. The home debut comes in Week 3. All home games are at Falcon Field.
■Sept. 13 at Quinebaug Valley (at Ellis Tech), 6 p.m.■Sept. 20 at Prince Tech, noon■Sept. 27 vs. Abbott Tech/Immaculate, 6 p.m.■Oct. 5 vs. O’Brien Tech, 6 p.m.■Oct. 18 at Cheney Tech, 6 p.m.■Oct. 26 vs. MCW United, 7 p.m.■Nov. 9 at Bullard Havens, noon■Nov. 16 at Thames River (at Norwich Tech), 1 p.m.■Nov. 23 vs. Platt Tech, 6 p.m.■Nov. 27 vs. Vinal/Goodwin/Whitney, 6 p.m.