SOUTHINGTON — For the past five years, Southington football has had a certain reputation to defend.
In each previous season, the Blue Knights had gone to the Class LL playoffs. On two occasions, they’d won a state championship.
Then came 2017, when a postseason streak dating back to 2012 came to an end. Despite going 8-2 and winning their sixth straight Thanksgiving Day game against Cheshire, the Blue Knights fell short of the tournament thanks to Fairfield Prep’s upset of West Haven the same morning.
So this past offseason started unusually early for Southington.
Just in case any additional incentive is needed for a program that has won 577 games in its history, there you have it. Status as postseason player has to be regained.
”That’s our goal,” said Mike Drury, who enters his eighth season as Southington’s head coach with a career record of 70-10. “Every year you’re going to figure out what is your chip on your shoulder going into the offseason. What’s going to drive you as a team, as players, as coaches? You just let that feed the entire offseason.
”These guys want to make their own statement for the 2018 Blue Knights. They’re excited and ready to do something.”
The team that takes Fontana Field for next Friday’s season opener against Glastonbury is, by and large, a new bunch, at least to the starting lineup. The Blue Knights graduated a majority of starters, including two-year quarterback Will Barmore, receiving leader Tim O’Shea and rushing leader Ryan Montalvo. Gone is 2017 tackling leader Ian Hall and all the linebackers, plus most of the secondary.
They do return experience on the defensive front. They also bring back most of the wide receivers and a number of players on offense who, if they didn’t start, saw ample time.
In other words, it’s pretty much the usual equation for the Class LL Blue Knights. They lost a lot. They return a lot. They promote a lot.
The key factor is attitude. At this juncture, it’s solid.
“This group is a group that’s all-in, a group that’s bought into the process and what we want to do throughout the offseason, in season, how we practice, the mentality we expect from the players. These guys have eaten that up,” Drury said. “All the guys and great teams that have come before them, these guys want to strive to be as great as they can as well.”
So the desire’s there. The right mindset is there. Is the talent there?
“Hey, we’ll see,” Drury replied. “We’ve got a lot of season left. We put a lot of work in since the winter, with our 7-on-7, the lineman challenges. These guys have all competed and done very well. Now it’s time to put in real football action and play the game and play smart and play physical and execute.”The offense
QB Will Barmore graduated after throwing for an area-best 2,239 yards in 2017, his second season as starter.
The heir apparent is senior Jacob Drena, a slot receiver who was also the backup QB a year ago.
Despite Tim O’Shea’s departure to Wagner College — he caught a team-high 49 passes for 609 yards — Drena will not lack for experienced targets. Seniors Will Downes (24-319), Jamie Lamson (20-367) and Jacob Flynn (12-140) are back. Juniors Josh Vitti and Carter Uhlman are ready to move up in the aerial mix.
At running back, the Blue Knights lost their leading rusher in Montalvo (80-574), but return their most active one in senior Tanner LaRosa (103-390, 9 TDs). LaRosa emerged last year when starting running back Brandon Kohl was lost to injury and Montalvo, also injured, was limited to defense early in the season.
Joining LaRosa in the backfield are juniors Angelo Plantamuro and Dillon Kohl.
Up front, the Blue Knights sent Jimmy Starr on to SCSU. They return starters Owen Bouchard, Sam McCarty and Ethan Agli, all seniors.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Bouchard, a captain along with Drena and LaRosa, moves from tackle to right guard. McCarty, who goes 6-4, 285, moves from guard to left tackle. Agli (6-3, 240) returns to center.
Juniors Jacob Vecchio (5-8, 225) and Dave Sullivan (6-1, 200) join the starting unit — Vecchio at left guard, Sullivan at right tackle. Seniors Adam Bull and Mike Gauiosi, who can line up at guard or tackle, provide the depth.
Lastly, no discussion of Southington’s offense would be complete without talk of senior Evan Johanns. Last season’s All-Record-Journal kicker was 47-for-50 on extra points and 5-for-5 on field goals. Three of the latter came on Thanksgiving and earned Johanns Southington’s Offensive MVP Award at the Apple Classic.
The converted soccer play looms as a major X-factor. Essentially, when the Blue Knights get inside the opponent’s 35, they’re in scoring position.
“What an absolute threat he is with the ability to kick field goals from all over the place and pin teams deep, both punting and kicking,” noted Drury.The defense
There’s no denying the losses Southington suffered here. Eight starters graduated and coach Rob Thomson, his sons Matt and Sam now playing at Marist College, stepped down as defensive coordinator.
Rob Levesque takes up the reins at D.C. He has a returning safety in senior Matt Thompson and two returning defensive linemen in senior end John Miller and senior nose Ryan Gavronski.
Thompson registered 31 tackles, picked off two passes and broke up eight others last fall. He’ll return to the secondary with Jamie Lamson and junior John Carreiro at safety. The corners are Will Downes, seniors J.T. Martin and Steve Witte, and junior Troy Kieras.
Up front, Miller and Gavronski return 67 tackles between them. Miller recorded 13½ that went for loss yardage.
Senior Jake Beaupre, who saw action in eight games last year, will start opposite Miller at the other end. They’ll be backed by Vecchio and senior Eli Steindl. Senior Jason Longo backs Gavronski at nose guard.
The linebackers are brand new across the board, at least as starters. They will be led by Kyle Messenger, the team’s fourth senior captain. Josh Vitti, Angelo Plantamuro and junior Billy Carr are his running mates. The schedule
The Blue Knights will go gunning for their fifth straight CCC Division I-West banner against Simsbury, Conard, Hall and New Britain.
They again cross over against all five teams from D-I East: Glastonbury, East Hartford, Enfield, Manchester and South Windsor. The Oct. 26 game at East Hartford and the Nov. 9 home date with South Windsor are big ones. Those are the teams that handed Southington its two losses in 2017.
After next Friday’s opener versus Glastonbury, Southington will play at Simsbury (Sept. 14) and Manchester (Sept. 21) before reutnring home to host Hall on Sept. 28. This year’s rivalry game with New Britain is Oct. 5 at Willow Brook Park.
Conard comes to town on Oct. 19 after the bye week. Road dates follow at East Hartford and Enfield (Nov. 2) before the rematch with South Windsor.
This year’s Apple Classic is in Southington. The Blue Knights do not plan on that being the last game Fontana Field sees in 2018.