Sheehan goes into the 2013 season facing the same challenge it always does: Taking on opponents of superior depth from bigger schools. But the Titans also go in with the same attitude: We’ve got good players, we’re going to compete and we expect to win.
Never in John Ferrazzi’s nine-year tenure as head coach have the Titans gone into a campaign thinking they had little chance, and that’s not changing here.
“We’re in a great place right now,” Ferrazzi said the night after Sheehan throttled North Branford, a Class S finalist a year ago, 61-14 in a scrimmage. “Our guys have had a phenomenal summer and they’ve bought in to what we’re doing. They worked hard. We’ve challenged them. We put them through a tough preseason and we didn’t lose anybody.”
Which is good, because the Titans can’t afford to lose bodies. They have nine two-way starters.
“The other schools, they’re repping like three kids at a time. We’ve got people on offense and defense,” noted senior running back Rafael Dominguez. “That’s why we’re out here conditioning every practice nonstop.”
Whether 2013 will be of mythic proportions or prove another Thermopylae -- Sheehan hasn’t had a winning season since 2008 -- will be seen in the 11 weeks that lay ahead, starting with Thursday night’s season opener at home against Trinity Catholic in the SCC-FCIAC Challenge.
That game, and that game alone, commands Sheehan’s attention. The Titans are ready to challenge reigning champ North Haven for SCC Division II East supremacy. They’re ready to take on the likes of Class LL Amity and Cheshire in SCC crossovers.
For now, nothing lies beyond Trinity Catholic.
“We’re hanging our hat on one game at a time this year. It’s kind of been one of our mottoes since Day 1,” said Ferrazzi. “Our most important motto is to compete hard every day. One of the others is, ‘One game at a time.’”
The Titans have some lightning bolts at their disposal. They’ve got a small, but fast team laden with returning skill players. They’ve got a two-quarterback system featuring seniors Jeremy Gannon and Justin Lange that they hope will give opponents fits.
They lost size and experience on the offensive line, but retooled with a faster unit. The feel better about their defense, an attack-oriented squad, than they have in years.
To make it work -- to have a chance of making it work -- this band of Titans must hang tight.
“Hard work, commitment, all the basic stuff, all of us being on the same page with everything,” said Gannon, ticking off the ingredients to success. “These guys, I have more respect for them than anyone. We’ve been through everything here. We’re sticking together.”
In recent seasons the Titans have spread the field and worked in read option to create space for their speedy play-makers.
With every skill-position player back save for Kyle Paolella, they’ll continue to do so under returning assistant coach Chase Mayoussier, now the offensive coordinator.
The twist will be rotating quarterbacks. Gannon and Lange can both throw and run, though Gannon is more the prototypical mobile QB and Lange the more prototypical pocket passer.
They can also catch. When not taking snaps, they’ll likely be at receiver.
There’s a position where Sheehan is deep. Senior Brandon Gauthier, last year’s lead receiver (16-226), is back with junior Bobby Carey, junior slot Bruce Rutkowski and senior slot/tight end Brandon Selvaggi.
Opponents, game situations will dictate what Sheehan does at quarterback.
“Both (Gannon and Lange) have been in the program for four years. They know the offense. The terminology hasn’t changed. They have a good grasp of the whole offense no matter where they’re playing,” said Ferrazzi.
“You can look at it as two different schemes, which is going to make it tough to prepare for.”
Dominguez, who at 5-foot-5, 140 pounds embodies Titan tenacity as much as anyone, returns as lead running back. He paced Sheehan last year with 782 yards, averaging 7.5 a carry.
Dominguez will be operating behind a new line. Two-way linemen Sean Merrill, Billy White, Mike Casey and Trevor Sprouse have graduated. The only returning starter is senior left tackle Greg Suplinskas.
Those joining him, though, aren’t entirely rookies. Most started last year on defense: left guard Jordan Lytle, center Riley Konopka, right guard Mike Moscato and right tackle Tom Francis.
All are seniors except for the junior Moscato. None have the size of the 6-4, 275-pound All-Stater Merrill, who is now playing Division-I ball at Sacred Heart, but they have good feet.
“One of our weaknesses is rebuilding the offensive line, but we are a more athletic, faster offensive line, which we think can be as good or better than the O-line we had last year,” said Ferrazzi.
“I have no doubts in my line this year,” said Dominguez. “I’m going to work with them and they’re going to work with me.”
There were losses along the line. Leading tackler Rich Radomski leaves a big vacancy at linebacker. Ditto for Kyle Lorenzana in the secondary.
Overall, though, the unit returns many starters and Ferrazzi, who is back overseeing the defensive side of the ball, is pleased so far.
Francis and Lytle are experienced defensive ends. They will flank Moscato, the rookie nose guard.
Konopka, who had 54 tackles a year ago, is at inside linebacker along with Rutkowski and junior Dave LaPlante, the backup running back. Selvaggi is a returning starter at outside backer. Junior Peter Abate is a first-year starter at the position.
Gauthier, the free safety, is a gamer. He’ll be starting for a third straight season. Cornerbacks Gannon, Carey and sophomore Nolan Cloutier, the third-string quarterback, round out the secondary.
Rutkowksi will handle the punting, Gauthier the kicking. Gannon should again be dynamic as a return man.
In the big picture, the onus would seem to be on the defense. The offense is a proven commodity, averaging 25 points a game last year and with so many play-makers back. But the defense, too often an Achilles heel, must tighten up. Giving up 34 points a night, as the Titans did last year, isn’t going to reverse the fortunes of a 4-6 campaign.
The other key is avoiding injuries like the one that cost Gannon more than half the season in 2012. Sheehan simply does not have the depth to fill such a breach.
“We’re thin in numbers, there’s no doubt about that, and that’s probably our challenge,” said Ferrazzi.
“If we stay healthy, we will be very competitive. There’s no doubt about that. What the future lies, I don’t know, but I have faith in our team this year for what they’ve shown through the preseason and they’re ready to play in Game 1.”