The sweat behind the glitter

UNDER THE HEADSET — There will be plays that will come off exactly as designed today in the “Super 100 Classic.”

There will be stylin’. There will be highlight reel flyin’.

It’s an all-star game, right?

Truth is, for all the talent that will be on Rentschler Field when the All-Connecticut football showcase kicks off this afternoon at 4:30 p.m., the odds are against precision, which is why precision should be doubly applauded when it comes to pass.

For starters, it’s not football season. Players have been away from the game and its day-in, day-out rhythms for half a year.

And they’ve been practicing together for only two weeks — two weeks that, for high school seniors, encompass graduation and the distractions that follow graduation. The group that shows up for practice one night is rarely the same group that shows up the next night.

As it is, teams need more than two weeks to mesh, especially on offense. (Defense is a more basic animal: See ball, run to ball.)

Above all, there’s the task of gathering guys from different schools that run different systems with different terminology and getting them on the same page in the playbook. It’s probably not going to happen in fortnight. Ask the guy who played in a double-wing system for four years and has two weeks to learn spread option.

As Team Nutmeg head coach John Ferrazzi of Sheehan put it, “You have to teach them how to speak a new language.”

This is the challenge Connecticut’s all-star football players and coaches face every June. It might just be a high school-going-on-college affair, but it’s more demanding than, say, the Major League All-Star Game. You can’t just fly in, hit a few home runs in the derby and play an inning or two in the game.

“It’s getting everybody in sync and on the same page,” said Xavier head coach Sean Marinan, who leads Team Constitution. “Individually, they’re great athletes, but if they’re not playing together, in this sport, it’s just not going to work.”

Hence the sight (and considerable sound) of Marinan sternly calling out his stars after a practice at Middletown High earlier this week, insisting they put individuality aside or invite failure.

Hence Ferrazzi, at his practice the next night at Sheehan, saying matter of fact to one of his players, “You’ve got to learn this or I can’t use ya.”

The head coaches and their respective assistants have not coddled their players over the past two weeks.

Time was too tight, for one thing. For another, getting players ready for the more strict demands of the college game is part of the All-Star charge.

The practices at Middletown and Sheehan mirrored the college pattern: Two-platoon, pre-practice meetings, practice itself, post-practice meetings.

“You try to give these kids what they’re going to see when they get to college: practicing on one side of the ball, being disciplined, making good habits, learning how to practice,” Ferrazzi noted. “We’re trying to get them ready to make that transition.”

Platt head coach Jason Bruenn, who is on the Team Nutmeg staff as a defensive coach, credited Ferrazzi’s organization toward that end.

“It’s all scheduled out and it’s explained to them: In college, they are not going to walk you to your meeting; you’re expected to be there and you better be there with a paper and a pencil and you better be taking notes and you better know what you’re doing,” Bruenn said. “It’s a good transition for them.

“I think the whole experience for the kids is good,” he added.

“It’s just another whole level of football.”

Which is why, come this afternoon, against the odds spelled out above, Team Constitution and Team Nutmeg will make plays and will wow the crowd ... and maybe even the coaches who, over the last two weeks, witnessed more ebb than flow.

“We’ve got good kids on both teams; we’ve got two really good teams,” Marinan said.

“For the fans, it’s going to be exciting. They’re not going to see what we see as coaches, so they’ll think, ‘Yeah, that was a good play.’”



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