He’s also excited about the on-field piece. The Spartans have put together back-to-back 7-3 seasons, leaving the memory of a collective 8-22 from 2011 through 2013 very much in the dust.
Led by a pair of returning All-Record-Journal players, senior quarterback Larue Graham and senior linebacker Mitch McEwen, the Spartans are poised to keep the resurgence rolling.
Perhaps they’ll roll it into the playoffs. If so, it will end an exile. Maloney has not seen the postseason since 2006.
“It is a big goal. We want to leave our mark here at the school,” said Graham. “We want to be the team to make it to the playoffs and break the playoff [drought].”
Toward that end, Maloney takes extra motivation into the season. The last we saw them, the Spartans were trudging off Falcon Field on Thanksgiving after at 38-22 loss to Platt, a result that returned the Stoddard Bowl trophy back to the West Side after a brief one-year residence on the East.
“It kind of ended off a little bad last year. I have a chip on my shoulder to come back stronger. Everybody does,” McEwen said. “Everybody’s upset about how we ended the season last year. Everybody wants to come back and get after it.”
The Spartans do have big shoes to fill. They graduated All-State Class L wide receiver Alejandro Ortiz, who signed off with virtually every Maloney receiving record. They also graduated two other All-Record Journal players, lineman Dan Stevenson and end Kyle Carlson.
That said, the Spartans do return a team with speed and size. They also go fairly deep.
“We have a lot of depth this year,” Graham elaborated. “Last year, we had good key players, then after that there was a big drop to our next best players. This year, we have players right under us to push us and make us better.”
Perhaps an even greater attribute of the 2017 Spartans? Cohesion.
“From last year to this year, the biggest difference is our team chemistry,” Frederick said. “We’ve got guys who really get along with each other. Not to say we didn’t have that last year. We just didn’t have that brotherly bond. Every good team that I’ve coached on has that team chemistry.”
After preseason culminated Thursday night with a successful scrimmage against Ledyard, Year 4 continued to come into focus for Frederick.
“We’ve got some good team speed; we’re big up front. The biggest thing is, with a high school football team, we’ve got guys buying in and guys who are hungry and want to play,” he said. “We’ve got a good senior leadership group. We’re going to take it one day at a time and the battle cry is to try to get better every day.”
For a second straight year, the Maloney attack will be directed by Graham, who was named the All-RJ Team’s quarterback after leading the area with 197 completions, 2,203 passing yards and 26 touchdowns.
Graham’s leading target, Ortiz (89-1,120), will be replaced by a deep committee. It’s headed by junior Victor Marquez (47-508), last year’s second leading receiver. It’s fleshed out by seniors Cruz Leinhart, Preston Studley, Jayden Malave, Michael Valentin and punter Adam Williams, who at 6-foot-4 and with a 4.6 GPA is drawing interest from NESCAC programs.
Juniors Chris Infante and Maurice Brackett, along with sophomore Kameron Mareno, will also factor significantly into the receiving mix.
Those are Graham’s targets. The QB will operate behind the starting line of sophomore left tackle Trevor Santiago, junior left guard Max Gainter, junior center Ryan Martel, sophomore right guard Toby Canales and senior right tackle Darlin Lopez.
There are some big boys up there. Santiago is 6-4, 315 pounds. Martel goes 6-3, 280 and Canales 6-0, 220.
Senior center Desmond King, junior guard D.J. Posey and sophomore tackle Sirtorious White provide the depth.
The biggest question on offense for Maloney, just as it was last year, is who will run the ball.
Freddie Hidalgo, only a freshman, emerged as the answer by the end of 2016. He led the team in rushing with 561 yards. Unfortunately, Hidalgo tore up his knee at a camp this spring and will miss his sophomore year.
Maloney will look to seniors Aden Valentin, Preston Studley and Josh Oquendo to fill the void. Valentin, who transferred from Wilcox Tech after that school dropped to sub-varsity football for 2017, led the Indians in every statistical category last year, including 804 yards rushing.
Another back to watch in Green & White is freshman James Tarver. And then there’s Graham. The one-time fullback will have more license to tuck-and-go this season.
Frederick sized it up: “We’ve got some good skill players, some good linemen. We’re young at certain spots, then at our quarterback spot we got a guy who played a full year in our offense last year.”
This unit benefits from having its leading performer back at middle linebacker. Mitch McEwen led the Spartans in tackles (91; 13 for a loss) despite missing time to injury.
McEwen will again be flanked by weakside linebacker Cruz Leinhart, who was second on the team in tackles a year ago with 66. Junior Jaylon Nixon will line up on the strong side.
The line will feature Desmond King and Sirtorious White in between senior ends Adam Ortiz and O’Neal Ward. Ortiz had 52 tackles as a junior. Ward returns after missing last season. On Thursday against Ledyard, he was unblockable.
In the secondary, Jayden Malave and Maurice Brackett are at the corners. Aden Valentin is the strong safety, Victor Marquez the free safety.
“Our outside linebackers, our inside linebackers all have a year under their belt,” Frederick said. “We’ve got some experience some places, some inexperience other places. But the best thing we got: All those guys work hard.”
The Spartans look to defend their CCC Division II West title, which they shared last year with Platt, against long-time rivals Newington, Bristol Central and Bristol Eastern. Platt awaits on Thanksgiving morning.
Maloney crosses over against E.O. Smith, Farmington, Wethersfield and Hartford Public of D-II East. Middletown is off that crossover grid, but Windsor, a playoff participant in five of the last six years, is on it.
Maloney still plays one game up against Division I. This year it’s Conard instead of South Windsor.