WALLINGFORD — As with the Maloney Spartans, so with the Sheehan Titans as the 2018 football season dawns.
Like their neighbors to the north, coach John Ferrazzi and his T-Men are looking to follow up on a 9-1 campaign that featured a division championship and the end of a long playoff drought — in Sheehan’s case, one that dated to 1995.
Like Maloney, Sheehan’s self-imposed challenge is to not merely avoid complaceny, but to raise the bar even higher.
Like Maloney, Sheehan is equipped to do it. Maybe even more so.
“It stacks up pretty well because it’s pretty much the same team, pretty much the same kids,” as senior lineman Willie Seay remarked. “We lost a couple, but we’ll be definitely good. We have the potential. We have the depth.”
The two-time defending SCC Tier 3 champs graduated just three starting seniors from a year ago. Mind you, they were good ones: wide receiver/safety Evan Mansfield, tackle/linebacker Will Terzi and lineman Steven Zenisk. Each was named All-Record-Journal and All-SCC Tier 3.
Mansfield was Sheehan’s leading receiver (44-596). Terzi, now at Colby College, was the leading tackler (129). Zenisky, now at UMass-Dartmouth, was the SCC Tier 3 Player of the Year.
So it’s quite the three-of-a-kind that’s come and gone.
Yet Sheehan’s hand remains strong. Returning players man virtually all the other starting positions. The list includes third-year quarterback Wes Terzi, a senior, and 1,049-yard rusher Terrence Bogan, a junior.
It’s a seasoned bunch. Whether senior or junior, most Titans have been starting since their sophomore season. On top of that, the quality of the roster has improved.
”What’s different about us now, our roster size isn’t any bigger or any smaller than what’s normal. It’s just the number of players [that] are more capable of playing,” said Ferrazzi, the area’s most veteran head coach as he heads into his 14th season.
”Most of the team being back, used to the way we do things, we feel pretty good going into the season. The experience is nice because we’re able to practice and play a little faster.”
Size it up and you can book Sheehan for a return trip to the Class M playoffs, right? The Titans aren’t talking that way.
”Nothing’s handed to us. It has to be worked for,” said senior lineman Luke Willette. “During the summer, I’ve never seen these boys work harder than any year I’ve been here. We work for what we want. It’s not just going to come easy.
”If we just go into this season thinking we’re going to be able to walk through the park we’re probably going to get it handed to us and we’re going to have a terrible season,” Willette continued. “You have to go in thinking that every opponent you play is going to beat you down good unless you fight back.”
The Titans fought the good fight a year ago. Their lone loss was to Fairfield Prep, a SCC Tier 1 team that went 8-2 and qualified for the Class LL playoffs. The game, played in Fairfield, was tied 21-21 in the fourth quarter before the Jesuits pulled away to a 38-21 victory.
Other than that, Sheehan ran the table, completing a 6-0 run to a second consecutive SCC Tier 3 crown with a sixth straight Carini Bowl victory over Lyman Hall.
The season ended at 9-2 overall with a 47-34 loss to Joel Barlow in the Class M quarterfinals. It was one of the best games statewide in the first round of the postseason.
The Titans aren’t taking consolation in that. They’re driven to push the envelope in 2018.
”That’s the expectation and that’s the level we expect out of them,” said Ferrazzi. “We’re certainly not happy that we just got there last year. We’re looking to do more with it.
”But that’s speaking far ahead for us. If we’re going to do that, we have to carry ourselves and act like that and play like that every day. It’s not just on game day. It’s in practice every day. We have to have a playoff/state championship-level approach to everything we do.”The offense
Sheehan is literally blessed in this department. One of their leading playmakers, junior Jordan Davis, was involved in a car accident in March so severe he was fortunate to survive.
Davis suffered a broken leg. Last week, he was medically cleared to play.
When Davis is fully ready, he’ll join a deep receiving corps that may have lost Mansfield, but returns seniors Aaron Simmons (18-272), Jake Smith (16-335), Ryan Paul and Tyler Eckstrom. Senior Caden Cloutier and juniors Riley Bjornberg and Andrew Mansfield make the pool even deeper.
The Titans will play plenty of run-and-catch with guys like Davis, Smith and Paul, who will be used as combination receiver/running backs. Davis thrived in that role last year with 900 yards rushing and 288 receiving.
The primary running back is Bogan, who had that 1,049-yard season despite missing several games to injury.
Expect the Titans to also power up. A pair of junior defensemen, 240-pound linebacker Braedon McCarthy and 235-pound defensive end Mickey Deming, will see time on offense at fullback and tight end.
These are the weapons Terzi, last year’s All-Record-Journal and All-SCC Tier 3 quarterback after throwing for 1,696 yards and 23 touchdowns against five interceptions, will have at his disposal.
”Having Wes being a three-year starting quarterback is real good,” remarked Willette. “He’s seasoned. He knows exactly what he’s got to do, where the ball’s got to go.”
Terzi should have plenty of time to operate. The 280-pound Willette, a junior captain last year, returns to anchor the line at left tackle.
Seay and fellow senior Jason Klemm are also returning staters, though they’ve changed positions. The 300-pound Seay has moved from guard to center. Klemm, who goes 250, moves from center to right tackle.
The guards are first-year starters: 235-pound senior Miguel Pinos and 220-pound junior T.J. Dipasquale. (Dipasquale is no stranger to the field, however; he’s been the long snapper since his freshman season.)
A pair of sophomores, Bill Gorry (230) and Cam LaChance (235), will be part of the rotation up front.
“We think we have seven guys who can play,” Ferrazzi said of his O-line.
The head coach also feels he has a solid backup quarterback in junior Kyle Simmons. There’s actually further QB depth beyond that. For the first time in his 14 seasons, Ferrazzi has a quarterback in each class.The defense
Some of the boys in the trenches will see plenty of two-way duty, starting with Seay. After lining up at center on offense, he’ll turn around and play the nose on D.
Pinos will be right next to Seay at defensive tackle. The ends are Willette and Deming, who led the squad with 5½ sacks last year.
Gorry, LaChance and Liam Brien, a 6-foot-3, 370-pound senior, give the Titans depth at tackle.
“We’re hoping that we can rotate six,” Ferrazzi said in sizing up his defensive line. “If we can do that, it’s going to help a lot.”
McCarthy (86 tackles) and Smith (81) return as starting linebackers. They’ll be joined on the inside by Dipasquale.
On the outside, Eckstrom is coming off an 83-tackle season. Senior Nick Barbieri is angling for the other outside slot with competition from Kyle Simmons and Andrew Mansfield.
Bogan, Davis and Aaron Simmons are the cornerbacks. Ryan Paul, a proven defender with 89 tackles a year ago, is at safety with junior Michael Lemay.The schedule
The Titans will put their SCC Tier 3 title on the line against Bassick, Branford, East Haven, Guilford, Jonathan Law and Lyman Hall, starting with Law in Milford on opening night, Sept. 7.
With Creed/Career falling out of the mix with the closing of Creed, Sheehan had to pick up an additional non-conference game. The Titans now have three: at Stratford in Week 2, an Oct. 12 rematch with Joel Barlow at home and an Oct. 26 date with Griswold, also at home.
Sheehan’s first three games — Law, Stratford and Guilford — are on the road. The home opener isn’t until Week 4, on Sept. 28, against Fairfield Prep.
It’s a gauntlet, but the Titans appear to have the right mindset to once again be playing after Thanksgiving.
“If we play to our potential, I know that with the guys we have we can make the playoffs, but that’s way beyond anything that we’re thinking about right now,” said Wes Terzi. “We’ve got our eyes on the first game and we’ll go game by game. If we make it to the playoffs, then that’s a great goal that we have.”
”I think we do a good job of holding our players accountable to we can get them to play at the highest level possible,” Ferrazzi said. “The difference now is we have more players holding themselves and others accountable because of the experience that’s returning.”