FOOTBALL 2017: Platt has eyes on extending historic run
FOOTBALL 2017: Platt has eyes on extending historic run
September 2, 2017 10:51PM
By Bryant Carpenter Record-Journal staff
MERIDEN — Sports seasons are built for the long run and the chase for a championship. Platt football has those designs like everyone else. The Panthers, though, are poised for a big celebration as early as opening night.
Platt goes into the 2017 season 299-287-10 all-time. Win No. 300 could come Friday at Falcon Field.
That 11th-year head coach Jason Bruenn and veteran assistants Jason Nelson, Mark Thornton and Brian Frederick will notch the milestone is fitting. Dating back to 2010, Platt is in the midst of arguably its best sustained run ever.
Yes, there was the 1986-1992 stretch in which Platt went 47-25-1 and reached the ’86 state finals.
There was also the 1995-1998 burst in which Platt went 31-11-2 and reached the ’97 state finals.
In the current run, the Panthers are 52-24. They’ve had five winning seasons and four playoff appearances. They added to each total last year by going 8-2 before falling to Middletown in the Class L quarterfinals.
The bar sits high. Can the Panthers of 2017 sustain, if not elevate it?
“In honor of the day, we would like to eclipse last year’s record,” Bruenn said back on August 21, about an hour before that day’s celestial show. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to do that.”
The full preseason still lay ahead at that point. After Friday night’s game scrimmage with Simsbury, Bruenn remarked, “The offense was good, started clicking. Defense needs some work.”
Platt lost key pieces from both sides of the ball from a year ago. All-State Class L playmaker Tylon Papallo (1,705 all-purpose yards) is now at Lackawanna College. Fellow All-Record-Journal players Nick Martone, Messiah Stewart and Jamel Holder have graduated from the defense.
The Panthers do return the all-acronym backfield of quarterback/captain A.J. Marinelli and running back E.J. Dudley. Up front, they are young, yet big. They are deep at receiver.
“I’m pretty happy with our skill positions right now,” Bruenn remarked. “All the receivers have an ability to play in our system. Every kid can catch the ball; every kid can do what they’re supposed to do. And, obviously, returning your quarterback and running back is a huge bonus.”
The defense suffered deeper losses, yet does return its leading tackler, safety Javon James, now a senior captain. Also returning to the unit and moving up the leadership ranks to captain is linebacker Pierce Matias.
“Defensively, we still have some big hitters in there,” Bruenn assessed. “We have our free safety and our middle linebacker back. It’s like having your quarterback and running back back. We expect some other guys to step up in certain roles.”
A potential X-factor is depth. This season, Bruenn is enjoying the largest turnout in his tenure. The roster features 57 players, giving Platt the ability to two-platoon.
There will be exceptions. A few players will go both ways. Others will see spot duty.
“Everybody else is a one-way player,” said Bruenn. “That keeps our legs fresh, our bodies fresh.”
In Marinelli, Platt returns a quarterback who completed 111 of 220 passes for 1,669 yards in his first full season as a starter.
In Dudley, they have a running back who gained 1,020 yards on 198 carries as a sophomore.
Platt’s offense is traditionally high octane. Last year, it averaged 310 yards and 30 points. Don’t expect a dropoff this year.
“Our running back’s pretty freaking good, our left tackle’s back and he should lead the line,” Marinelli said. “And then our coaches: They put us in the right positions a lot.
“Our strength is we all get along,” the QB added. “We all know each other; we all grew up together. We’re coming together. We’re just young.”
Youth is most evident up front. Left tackle Andre Barnes is the lone senior and returning starter.
Center Nehemiah Vargas, right guard Ryan Greene and right tackle Jacob Palmer are all juniors. Left guard Jaylen John is only a sophomore.
The unit has size, though, particularly at tackle. Barnes is 6-4, 255. Palmer goes 6-2, 295. John adds 255 to the mix. Vargas and Greene are both 195.
Junior Elijah Felton (10-74 rec.) brings varsity experience to tight end. At receiver, returning junior Jake Baker (29-413), junior Devon Gardiner and sophomore Carter Tremayne lead a deep unit.
Another weapon: the foot of junior Joey Salafia. For the first time in a few seasons, Platt just might have a reliable kicking game.
The Panthers lost a combined 215 tackles with the departure of Martone (nose), Stewart (end) and Holder (linebacker). They return the team leader with James (104 total, 73 solo), who was All-RJ last year and has All-State potential this year.
“He’s going to have a lot of tackles,” Bruenn said. “He flies down to the ball real quick. He plays with great intelligence. He plays with plain old heart. This kid will hustle like no one else to get to the ball.”
Bruenn says the same of senior Zavian Arroyo, who joins Matias and junior Keaton Caffrey at linebacker. Arroyo played in eight games last year and made 34 tackles. Matias, with 80 tackles, was second on the team to only James.
Platt has experience at the corners in returning starters Chase Bessler and Ethan Dudley, both juniors.
Another junior, Royal Watkins, joins the unit. Dudley will play at the position. The receivers will be deployed as nickel- and dime-backs.
Up front is where the Panthers must rebuild. They’ll do it around junior nose guard Sadique Williams. The 295-pounder will line up between senior Jelani Calloway, who has varsity experience, and Ryan Greene, who projects as one of the few two-way players.
“We lost pretty much lost our D-line and some great backers, but the young guys have some talent,” said Matias. “They’ve just got to learn.”
The Panthers again face CCC Division II-West rivals Newington, Bristol Central, Bristol Eastern and Maloney (the Meriden schools shared last year’s division title). They again crossover against Middletown, Wethersfield and E.O. Smith.
The big addition to the slate is D-II East champ Windsor, which fell to New Canaan in last year’s Class L final and won the Class L-Small crown in 2014.
Platt opens with two opponents not faced last year: Farmington of CCC D-II East and Windham of the ECC. Note: The Week 2 game is on a Thursday night.