- Front Porch
WALLINGFORD — A high level of reading comprehension is hardly required to know what the motto means on the back of the Lyman Hall football team’s t-shirts.
Two words: “Never Again.”
Should they be necessary, here are the Cliff Notes: In 2012, the Lyman Hall Trojans went 0-10 and were outscored by an average of 45-12.
“Anyone can put two and two together on that one,” said head coach Rob Marone, applying the basic math to the T-shirt equation. “We committed to a hard-working offseason and we had a pretty strong showing throughout the preseason so we don’t have any repeats of last season. I’m not out here to predict records or how many games we’re going to win or lose, but I think the way that we play football is definitely going to change.”
Marone heads into his second season as head coach of a program for which he once played quarterback, back in the 1990s, when a winless Lyman Hall football season was unheard of. Going 0-10 wounds more than just coaching pride for Marone.
And it wounds the Trojans, who are determined to leave 2012 in the rearview mirror. (There’s a reason “Never Again” is on the back of those jerseys and not on the front.)
“Pretty much just throw away everything that happened last season and just start anew,” said Lucas Furgalack, a senior captain along with Dan Calcagni. “ A whole new attitude and just work hard every day and see a progression.”
How did Lyman Hall fall on such hard times last year? Losing their best and most experienced player, lineman Jared Bias, for the entire year to a broken thumb suffered in preseason was the first domino.
Beyond that, chalk it up to a soft pocket in the progression of classes. Cold, hard fact: Lyman Hall won just one game in the major boys sports in the 2012-13 school year.
The pendulum can only swing the other way. This year’s football team will be built around returning seniors and a deep group of juniors, many of whom jumped into the deep end of the varsity pool last year as sophomores. Quarterback Kyle Smith even saw time as a freshman.
The roster is not deep —only 35 for varsity — and will require a lot of two-way service. But Marone is OK with that. It is, he said, a group forged by a demanding offseason regimen.
“We’ve cranked up the intensity of how we do things and the way we do things, and some kids found out it’s not for everybody,” the head coach said. “So what I want everyone who reads this to know is, the 35 kids who are out here on the team, these are the 35 who belong, who have given everything and deserve to be out here.”
Obviously, the Trojans will need to avoid injuries. So far, so good, which is already a step up from last year.
LH was also more competitive in scrimmages, and certainly, after a winless season, that is Building Block No. 1. The Trojans must compete to a far higher degree than they did in 2012. Two losses were by one point. The eight others were 30- and 40-point affairs.
“I expect some good games, close games and exciting games, to be fighting to the end,” said Furgalack. “We expect to win games, and a lot of change.”
“We need to come out and play tough football,” Marone echoed. “With a thin roster, if we play hard, for four quarters, I’ll definitely be proud of these guys and I am so far.”
The Trojans stand to benefit from the experience of Ron Carbone, a veteran head coach, most recently at Hamden Hall, who has joined the staff as offensive coordinator.
Carbone has revised the playbook. With Smith’s throwing ability, the Trojans will deploy a lot of spread formations. But with the likes of senior Koby Mensah at running back and junior Justin Brown at fullback, they’ll also run plenty out of I- and offset-I formations.
“We’re so lucky to have (coach Carbone), but like anything else it takes time to gel,” Marone said. “I’m sure we’re going to come around and put some points on the board.”
Brown was Lyman Hall’s leading rusher a year ago with 546 yards. Mensah, a sprinter in track, joins the offense full-time after excelling last season at linebacker.
Smith, 789 yards passing in 2012, will by and large have a new cadre of receivers. The group features the two captains, Furgalack and Calcagni, along with fellow senior Jerry Rodriguez, junior Brett Bilodeau and promising sophomore Cam Egana. Junior Nick Vendetto returns as starting tight end.
Three other starters return to the line — senior left guard Tymar Greene, junior center Tucker McClure and junior right tackle Dylan Koval — and junior right guard Shane Selander saw considerable time last year.
The newcomer is a first-year senior, Chris Ruggiero. At 6-4, 300 pounds, Ruggiero is the big boy of the bunch.
The play of the line will be key, The backs need holes, Smith needs time. In Friday night’s game scrimmage against Coginchaug (a 24-9 defeat), Smith was too often under pressure.
Fortunately for the Trojans, Smith is typically unflappable.
“He’s been absolutely phenomenal,” Marone said of his QB. “Quite honestly, there are times I could walk off the field and he can run the offense. He runs the scout team without a lot of coaching. We’re just hoping good things happen.”
Smith is one of the few players who won’t stay on the field when the ball goes the other way. Greene and Selander will stay right in the trenches at D-tackle, McClure at end. They’ll be joined by 295-pound tackle Jaylen Murphy and end Brenden Medina, both juniors.
Brown and Mensah are the linebackers, flanked on the outside by Calcagni and Egana. Most of the receivers play in the secondary, including Pat Patrell and fellow junior John O’Malley, the backup running back.
Junior James Burnham provides depth. Furgalack will be at free safety.
“The numbers are tough,” said Marone. “There’s not going to be many guys coming off the field, but that’s the way we’re going to play it this year.”
Exhibit A is Brown. The rugged junior will also handle the punting and kicking. He’s an upback on kick returns.
Mensah, Patrell and Rodriguez are the principal return men.
That’s the cast of characters as Lyman Hall looks to turn the page and begin a new chapter.
“‘The measure of who are is what we do with what we have,’ ” said Marone, quoting Vince Lombardi. “Once again, I don’t have a record in mind. I expect us to come out and line up every single week and be in a football game. We should be competitive. I don’t think anybody should be coming out saying, ‘Let’s mark Lyman Hall for our Senior Night.”
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