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BEST OF THE BUNCH: On this gridiron, it’s 5-down territory

BEST OF THE BUNCH: On this gridiron, it’s 5-down territory

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MERIDEN — We kick off the Best of the Bunch series with the fall sport that hit the field first in the heat of August and exited last in the damp chill of coming winter.

Football also features our deepest pool of candidates. 31 players made the All-Record-Journal Team; 15 were named Athlete of the Week — numbers far surpassing those from any other sport.

Does this betray a little favoritism on our part? No. It proves just how good football was in greater Meriden in 2019.

The area’s six public school teams went a combined 50-20.

Four — Sheehan, Southington, Maloney and Cheshire — reached the postseason.

Three — Sheehan, Southington and Maloney — reached the state semifinals.

One — Sheehan — went all the way, winning the Class S championship with a 64-33 victory over a Bloomfield team that had allowed just 29 points all year. 

It was a year of huge numbers put up on offense. Five area running backs went over 1,000 yards, led by Sheehan’s Terrence Bogan, who for a second straight season led the state in rushing, this time with 2,201 yards.

Platt’s Roberto Salas was No. 2 at 2,062. Across town, James Tarver broke Maloney’s single-season rushing record with 1,955.

At Lyman Hall, quarterback Sean Patrick Pragano and wide receiver Shakespeare Rodriguez rewrote a number of school passing and receiving records, with Rodriguez going over 1,000 yards for the season and graduating as the Trojans’ top wideout of all-time.

All this yardage, and yet the season’s most dramatic game came down to half a yard. That was on Thanksgiving, when Southington stopped Cheshire on a two-point conversion try for the win in double overtime in the Apple Classic.

In the end, the acumen of area football players was reflected in postseason awards:

■36 were named All-Conference;■14 were named All-State by the Connecticut High School Coaches Association, including five who polled in the Top 26;■10 were named All-Connecticut by the Walter Camp Foundation, including three named First Team.

In theory, every one of those guys deserves to be a finalist for Record-Journal Football Player of the Year.

In practicality, we’re going with the five who were in the CHSCA Top 26. All five also found a spot on a Walter Camp All-Connecticut Team.

All five are seniors. All five are going on to play football in college. All five are giving us plenty to thinking about between now and June 18.

Terrence Bogan,Sheehan

One of Connecticut’s finest student vocalists is indisputaby its finest running back. Be it on stage or on the football field, Terrence Bogan wowed the crowd during his high school tenure.

Bogan led the state in rushing in 2018 with 2,481 yards, did it again in 2019 with 2,201 and signed off as Sheehan’s leading rusher of all-time with 5,731 yards.

That’s saying something, seeing how Bogan’s immediate predecessor, Zach Davis, holds the state record for touchdowns (10) and rushing yards (543) in a single game, ranks No. 4 for rushing yards in a season (3,588) and finished with 5,232 for his career.

Bogan was named a SCC Tier Player of the Year as a junior (Tier 3) and again as a senior (Tier 2). He was also a two-time Walter Camp Connecticut Player of the Year finalist.

No question, when Terrence Bogan was on the field, you couldn’t miss him. Unless, of course, you were trying to tackle him. In which case, you probably couldn’t catch him. Bogan was the 2019 New England sprint champion in the 100 meters.

Bogan will attend Trinity College.

Billy Carr,Southington

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more versatile athlete than Billy Carr. He was an All-State in football, a State Open champ in wrestling and a key player in Southington’s dramatic march to the 2019 Class LL baseball final.

Carr also has academic chops. He was a multiple Record-Journal Scholar-Athlete and a two-time Academic All-American in wrestling.

So when it came time to figure out college plans, the questions didn’t start with “if” but “which” — as is “which school and which sport?”

The answers turned out to be (a) Springfield College and (b) football, though it must be noted Springfield does have a (c) wrestling program.

Carr was definitely an answer of the multiple choice variety for more than one Southington coach these past few years.  

In football, as an inside linebacker, Carr was at the heart of the 2019 defense that allowed just 719 rushing yards over the course of a 10-2 season. Carr led the Blue Knights with 121 tackles, including 23 for lost yardage. He also chalked up 11 sacks and recovered five fumbles.

Jordan Davis,Sheehan

The comeback for Jordan Davis was complete long before that Saturday in Trumbull last December when Sheehan met Bloomfield in the Class S football final.

It was complete once he healed from injuries sustained in a March 2018 car accident he was lucky to survive. If we described what happened to one of his legs, you’d wonder how he was ever able to walk again.

Let alone win a state track championship in javelin. Which Davis did last spring.

Let alone shred enemy defenses in football. Which Davis did last fall.

Be it by pass, handoff or direct snap, once the Titans got the ball into Davis’ hands, they were in business. His 944 receiving yards, 827 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns fueled an offense that averaged 46 points and 416 yards a game. Davis was also a key piece on defense and special teams.

So no matter what happened that Saturday in Trumbull last December, the Jordan Davis comeback was already one for the ages. He put it over the top with four touchdowns and 186 receiving yards to help Sheehan win its first football state title since 1985.

Davis was named MVP at the team’s awards banquet. He will continue his track and football careers at Southern Connecticut.

Jaylen John,Platt

Jordan Davis isn’t the only local standout heading to SCSU. So is Platt’s Jaylen John, and seeing how John is a lineman, it’s tempting to think about him some day blocking for Davis on Jess Dow Field.

Except that John, for all his power and nimbleness as a guard, is likely to be a defensive lineman with the Owls.

With Platt, John was a three-year starter who made All-State with both the CHSCA and Walter Camp Foundation for two straight years.

As a defensive tackle, John collected 60 tackles in his senior season. All but 10 of those tackles were solo and 17½ were for lost yardage.

Those are remarkable totals for an interior defensive lineman, especially one who was taken heavily into account in enemy game plans. Opponents either double-teamed John or steered clear of him.

With his quickness, John was often able to chase plays down, one reason why the 250-pounder projects as a defensive end at SCSU. He leaves Platt esteemed by coach Jason Bruenn as one of the best to ever play D-line on the West Side. 

Trevor Santiago,Maloney

The city of Meriden had not one, but two elite linemen for the past few seasons. The other was the anchor of the Maloney Spartans, the 6-foot-6, 300-pound Trevor Santiago.

Like Jaylen John, Santiago was a three-year starter. During his tenure, Maloney went 29-7 and reached the playoffs three straight seasons, including the 2018 Class L state final.

As left tackle, Santiago protected the blind sides of quarterbacks Larue Graham (2017), Elliot Good (2018) and Angel Arce (2019). All three put up big passing numbers.

As a defensive lineman, Santiago was third on the team in tackles this past season with 58, including a team-high 10 for lost yardage.

He’s now off to Central Connecticut State. That makes Santiago the area’s lone player from the Class of 2020 going on to play Division I college football.

The Record-Journal Football Player of the Year will be announced on Thursday, June 18 during the airing of the “Best of the Bunch” awards video on the R-J’s Facebook page. Finalists in the various awards categories will be unveiled now through June 18. Up next: Field Hockey.

Our CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE is free, but producing it is not. Please help keep our newsroom on the job by subscribing now.

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