SOUTHINGTON — After a four-year absence, Southington football returned to the state playoff stage last season.
With the leading men the Blue Knights have coming back, it’s unlikely they’ll prove a one-hit wonder. They might even linger longer in the spotlight.
That’s the aim, at any rate, as the curtain opens for the 2013 Blue Knights on Thursday night in Glastonbury against the team that ended their 2012 season.
Quick synopsis: After running the regular-season table at 10-0, including a 28-21 win over Glastonbury, Southington fell to the Tomahawks at home in the Class LL quarterfinals, 23-14.
That final act of 2012 informs the 2013 sequel with multiple themes. Ending a season with a loss always leaves a team, no matter how good, feeling it has something to prove.
Ending a season with a loss and starting the next year against the very same team bubbles the cauldron of revenge.
And playing what will arguably be your toughest game of the regular season right out of the gate also keeps the story from getting ahead of itself.
Virtually every football team goes into a campaign claiming not to be looking beyond Week 1. Some are just blowing smoke. Not the Blue Knights.
“We have a very tough schedule. We have teams that you can’t look ahead on. Look ahead, that’s when you get bit,” said Mike Drury, who enters his third year as Southington head coach.
“Our focus is getting better each day. We’re not looking ahead to anything. We’re not looking ahead to the postseason, to Week 4, Week 5. We’re looking ahead to today’s practice, keeping it in the back of our heads what’s to come.”
Here’s what is in the back of Southington’s collective head: Snaring a state championship that has proven elusive for a talented and ballyhooed cast of seniors that, as eighth-graders, played and lost a state youth final in 2009.
Some of those players cracked Southington’s varsity lineup as sophomores. The quarterback, Stephen Barmore, started multiple games as a freshman.
Barmore has already committed to Yale. Teammates such as fellow senior captains Zach Maxwell and Tyler Hyde aren’t too far behind in sifting through offers. Their future is remarkably bright. For now, the present play is the thing.
“The difference between last year and this year is not only do we have high expectations of ourselves, but the community and, I think, the state, all have high expectations of what we’re going to do,” said Barmore. “Honestly, as a team, we have everything to prove to the state and anyone who still doubts us.”
The Blue Knights know they’ll be playing before packed houses. Cynics and certainly all opponents will want to see them sweat in the footlights.
“Pressure’s always a good thing,” remarked senior Tyler Hyde, a running back and outside linebacker. “It’s good to prove people who doubt us wrong, especially after last year with a huge 10-0 season. Hopefully, we live up to our expectations for the season.”
Bear in mind Southington did suffer deep losses from a year ago. A dozen senior starters graduated, led by lineman Travis Clark (WPI) and linebackers Nick Spitz (Salve Regina) and Justin Rose (Avon Old Farms).
There’s more. Running back Jarrid Grimmett, who led the team in rushing last year as a junior, left the team. Slot receiver Connor John, who established himself as a starter last season as a sophomore, moved out of state.
But at a school as large as Southington, in a program as established and time-honored as Southington football, the Blue Knights never lack for understudies ready to move up the playbill.
“We have a lot of good sophomores coming up that are going to be juniors this year — probably half of our defense is the upcoming sophomores and they’re really solid players. I can’t wait to play with them,” said Maxwell, a returning All-State defensive end. “We suffered a lot (of graduation losses), but I’m really confident in the guys we have coming up.”
With Barmore, All-State a year ago, the O is in proven hands. Last season, he threw for 2,010 yards and 18 touchdowns, ran for 424 and scored 13.
He did lose all but one of his four starting receivers. Anthony Bonefant (46-678) and Corbin Garry (37-647) weren’t big, but they could stretch the field. Connor John (28-326) was a big target out of the slot.
The Blue Knight simply reload. Maxwell, his younger brother Matt Maxwell, a junior, and sophomore Jasen Rose join returning starter Alex Jamele (18-223) in the slot. Senior Joe Daigle and junior Kyle Borawski lead the wide-outs.
“In passing leagues we’ve done as good, if not better, than last year,” Barmore said of this year’s receiving corps.
In the backfield, the Blue Knights lose 860 yards and 12 touchdowns with Grimmett’s departure, but have a solid back in Hyde, who averaged better than six yards a carry in gaining 342 yards last year.
The big key will be up front, where the Blue Knights graduated three starters — Clark and fellow captains Travis Daly and Josh Irizzary. Jim Nardi, a junior center last year, is now a senior captain and left tackle.
Senior Carlos Gil, who moved into the starting lineup midway through last season, is at right tackle.
Between them are first-year starters. Seniors John Rauch and Joe D’Agostino will rotate at right guard. Junior Norm MacDonald is the left guard. Senior Sal Conti centers.
“These kids, they worked harder than any line I’ve ever seen,” Drury said. “They know. We told them they have a big responsibility in being an offensive lineman.”
Indeed. Like any good stage show, it all starts with good lines and blocking.
Southington lost the majority of its starting unit. It will retool around Zach Maxwell at defensive end, senior Zack Jamele at inside linebacker and Hyde at outside linebacker.
Juniors Zach Spooner, the nose guard, and Dan Williams, the other end, will join Maxwell on Southington’s three-man front.
Jamele will also be teamed with juniors at inside backer Steve Hamel and Matt Thomson, son of former Blue Knights/Syracuse star Rob Thomson, who is now an assistant on Drury’s staff.
Hyde and Matt Maxwell man the outside linebacking spots, with senior Chris Kelly and junior Jake Thayer expected to be part of the rotation.
The Blue Knights will have more experienced hands at free safety, where Barmore and Alex Jamele will split time. (Barmore saw some part-time work in the secondary last year.)
The corners are all rookies: senior Mike Lang and juniors Zach Bylykbashi and Peter Majchrzak. Some interceptions from those guys, particularly the latter two, will certainly be a challenge for headline writers.
Such is the challenge of trying to craft a perfect script. The Blue Knights did it last year. Then came the playoffs. Now the story resumes where it left off, only the page is blank.
“Like I told the kids, we haven’t done anything yet,” Drury said. “This class, they were a really strong supporting cast to a strong senior class that had a great season. I told them, ‘This is their year; they’re going to leave their stamp at Southington High School for the 2013 season.’
“But we’re 0-0. We haven’t won a game; we haven’t done anything. We have put in all the preparation, though. These kids have worked hard and they have specific team goals that they want to accomplish.”