MERIDEN — It’s the mantra Trevor Jones repeats at the end of every Thanksgiving Eve game since he’s been head coach of the Wilcox Tech football team and even in the years when he was an assistant to program founder Bruce Haney.
“We’ve got to get bigger, we’ve got to get stronger, we’ve got to get faster.”
Those are the words that ring in the ears of the Indians as they head into the offseason. Turns out this past year, more ears were tuned into the message.
The Tribe opened preseason this week with a team Jones considers the biggest and strongest since he arrived on Oregon Road. He even quantifies it.
“We’re 9,000 pounds stronger than we were a year ago,” Jones reported after practice Thursday. “9,000 pounds: That’s squat, clean and bench press.”
That’s the big three, the measure of football muscle when it comes to pumping iron. Whether benching, squatting and cleaning translates into winning games will be seen starting on Saturday, Sept. 13 when the Indians open the 2014 season in Torrington against Wolcott Tech.
What’s for certain is the Indians head into the campaign coming off, for them, an offseason like no other. Wilcox enjoyed unprecedented success at state weightlifting and linemen competitions. For the first time, Wilcox went to summer camp as a team, dove into a cross-fit training regimen for the first time as a team.
These activities no doubt seem old hat to established programs. For the Indians, entering their eighth year as a varsity program and still in search of their first winning season, it’s critical progress in laying a foundation.
“We keep making those first steps,” Jones said. “We’re changing the culture. Where we are now at Wilcox is — and the student body knows this — if you don’t want to do the offseason stuff, you can’t play football here.”
This offseason, 30 Wilcox players stuck to Jones’ prescribed weight training program. The previous year, that number was eight.
Senior linebacker Dan Chesmar helped set the tone. In March, he benched 315 to win the 181-200 division at the annual Connecticut High School Football Weight Lifting Competition in New London.
Team goals were set: 11 guys to bench 250 or more, 11 to squat 400 or more, 11 to power clean 225 or more. The Indians aren’t quite there, but they’re closing in.
“We didn’t make that goal, but we set it high on purpose,” Jones noted. “We’ve come a long way. Last year, we had two guys who could bench over 250 and one was a skill guy. You can’t move anybody on the front like that.”
Anchored by tackles Alex Milslagle and Jacob Matteson, Wilcox has an offensive line that Jones believes will be able to throw its weight around this fall. The Indians, led by returning quarterback Jack Berryman, will continue to spread the field on offense, but Jones takes great comfort in knowing if his boys need to get a yard, they should be able to get a yard.
“We’re still going to do what we do and show formations all over, but we also want to be able to line up and say, ‘Here’s our power-I. We’re going to run it right [at you]. Try to stop us.’”
The Indians will need to execute on diverse fronts because their league, the Constitution State Conference, continues to grow more challenging. Three teams made the state playoffs last year and only one was a tech school (Prince-Hartford). The others were Capital/Classical/Achievement First, a Hartford magnet school co-op, and Quinebaug Valley, an old ECC conglomerate combining one tech school (Ellis-Danielson) and two publics (Putnam and Tourtelotte).
Next year, two of Bridgeport’s three public schools — Bassick and Harding — will join the CSC after years of struggling against their wealthy suburban neighbors in the FCIAC. The CSC voted in the two schools this spring.
Jones, one of the movers behind the original Connecticut Technical Conference, which was formed in the late 1980s to give tech schools a level playing field, is unhappy with the decision.
“It should never have happened,” he said. “They’re losing the integrity and foresight of why we did what we did and why we built this conference.”
Be that as it may, the CSC remains home to Wilcox and, more than ever, the Indians will need to muscle their way to a better seat at the league table. They press on into the preseason knowing they’ve put themselves in position to do so.
“We’re going to keep moving forward,” said Jones. “That’s what we’ve got to do: Keep moving forward. We expect to put W’s up this year.”