FOOTBALL 2019: Refortified Maloney Spartans set sights on third straight playoff chase

FOOTBALL 2019: Refortified Maloney Spartans set sights on third straight playoff chase

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MERIDEN — The Maloney football team put up 41 points in its game scrimmage with Lyman Hall on Thursday night — 35 by halftime.

The defense allowed 12 — none after halftime.

Plenty to be pleased about. Yet when the Spartans walked off Falcon Field, they weren’t satisfied.

At least their head coach wasn’t, and that has a way of trickling down.

“I think we’re just scratching the surface of how good we can be,” said the skipper, Kevin Frederick. “The film is going to show a lot of missed tackles, some dropped balls on third down that we can’t have. 

“We’ve got to clean those things up. Tomorrow we’ve got to take a step forward in the right direction.”

Maloney’s path the past two years has led beyond Thanksgiving to the Class L state tournament. The Spartans were a 9-2 quarterfinalist in 2017 and a 10-3 finalist in 2019. They have no intention of changing course in 2019.

But it’s more than that. Never mind guarding against a drop-off. This team, after losing handily to Daniel Hand in the Class L final, is driven to raise the bar.

“We’re trying to come out here and dominate every game. That’s the plan,” Frederick said. “We don’t want to have any let-ups from last year or the year before. We feel like we’re a playoff team. We want to make it three years in a row.

“But with that being said, we’ve got to come to work every day. That starts from the coaches down to the players. We’ve got to keep working to get better every day.”

As this second second Sunday in September dawns, the start of the regular season looms six nights away. How does the landscape look for Maloney? In many respects, pretty damn good. 

In others, where young players occupy starting positions — namely, quarterback — much remains to be seen, especially in the face of a schedule that features CCC Division II crossovers with Middletown and Windsor, a non-league tiff with North Haven and, of course, a Thanksgiving date with Platt.

All four of those opponents were in the Class L tournament with Maloney last December.

No question, it will be a grind. Hence, no rest after Thursday’s scrimmage.

“It’s still such a process for our team,” Frederick said. “We’ve got to keep working and we’ve got to do better in school tomorrow morning.

“I think that’s important, too. Improving in the classroom is going to be a key for us during the season. Keeping good behavior in the hallways: We’re looking to stress that. If we get that stuff, I feel good things will happen on the field.”

The Spartans have a nice mix of experienced seniors and underclassmen on both sides of the ball. They have depth on the line. They have depth at the skill positions.

They are young at quarterback, where three sophomores — Angel Arce, Spencer Studley and Jack Fitzgerald — opened camp vying to replace All-State predecessor Elliot Good.

Arce played the first half Thursday against Lyman Hall and looked good. He threw a fine pair of touchdowns on fade balls.

Frederick said Arce is the starter going into Friday’s opener in Farmington. Frederick also said he’s been pleased with the progress of all three of his 10th-grade QBs.

“They’re starting to get it and it’s a good thing. We just need to keep making improvements. Those guys have to watch more game film. They’re young, so they’ve got to keep learning.”

What will help is the presence of a strong ground game led by returning 1,100-yard rusher James Tarver, still only a junior. 

Tarver, though, did not scrimmage against LH, which revealed Maloney’s depth at running back. Sophomores Kuron Wiggins and Stone DeLeone as well as senior Elijah Stevenson all got carries. Wiggins can shimmy and shake. DeLeone, a linebacker, and Stevenson, a lineman, add power.

“We’ll do a lot of that with those guys,” Frederick noted. “You’ve got to be deep at the running back position. We’re going to ask a lot of James on defense this year, too. James is just a dynamic runner but, geez, we’ve got some good guys behind him.”

Likewise at receiver, where Maloney deployed an eight-man rotation Thursday. Seniors Quanell Grimes and Kamron Moreno led the way with the TD grabs.

Senior Andrew Tae Ellison and sophomore Ian Graham looked sharp. Seniors Sean Brackett and Sergio Muniz are in the mix. Junior Vincent Martinez is back.

“We’re deep at the receiver position,” Frederick said. “It’s good because it creates so much competition in practice. I think when you create that much competition in practice it’s going to make them better players and make our team a better team.

“Our big thing with the receivers is, if you want to be a receiver on the team you’ve not only got to be able to catch and run, you’ve got to be able to block, too.” 

One of those good blockers is tight end/slot receiver DeLeone, the transfer from Middletown who started last year for the 9-2 Blue Dragons as a freshman. DeLeone is versatile and Maloney will make use of it.

“He’s just scratching the surface, too,” Frederick said. “He’s one of the guys we’re looking to get the ball to, that’s for sure.”

Like last year, Maloney will build its attack around the boys up front. The O-line is younger than last year, but it is still deep and big and good.

Returning 6-foot-5 All-Stater Trevor Santiago, drawing ample college attention, is the cornerstone at left tackle.

“He’s the leader of the team; he’s the leader of the line,” said Frederick. “Trevor finishes guys on every play.”

Who will line up with Santiago and where specifically will they play? The Spartans are still sorting that out, a testament to their depth up front.

“I’m not sure, actually, what we’re going to do,” Frederick said. “We have to re-evaluate the film because we might shake things up a little bit on the offensive line. We’ve got to find the best five linemen.”

Frederick liked how junior Ethan Hicks played at tackle Thursday night. Junior Josh Pelletier was a steady hand at center.  Two other juniors, guard Jose Rosado and tackle Damian Vargas, were on the right side.

Senior Dan Roldan and junior Eli Henderson were part of the rotation. Sophomores John Veres and Travis Wright are in the mix, perhaps even defensive end Sirtorious White.

“We’re pretty deep on the line,” Frederick said. “We’ve got the best offensive line coach in the state in [Mike] Falis. He’s a grinder; he’s a technician. He’s always preaching the fundamentals to these guys. It’s such a blessing to have him. The kids really respond well to him and they work hard. I tell you, we’ve got a real good offensive line.”

The Spartans are fairly well-situated on defense. Stevenson and White are the starting ends, Santiago and Roldan the tackles. Stevenson is a fourth-year starter. White, also a senior, returns after missing his junior season to a knee injury.

At linebacker, Maloney has a pair of seniors in Henderson and Kody Talento, last year’s leading tackler with 124. They will work alongside DeLeone and sophomore Kenny McMillan.

“They’re young in age, but in experience they’ve got a full year of varsity,” Frederick said of DeLeone and McMillan. “Kenny started for us last year in the state championship game. Kenny’s a bull; Kenny’s a hard-worker. He’s our leader on the defensive side.”

The secondary will be partolled by Tarver and that deep receiving corps. Muniz is a returning starter at cornerback. He had seven interceptions last year. Moreno, the free safety, chalked up a pick-six Thursday against Lyman Hall.

An extra bonus? The arrival of junior kicker Jaden Myles from Wilcox Tech.

As an Indian, Myles played soccer. As a Spartan, he’ll provide an added dimension on the gridiron. The left-footer showed boom and accuracy Thursday on extra points. Field goals will be an option on his watch.

“I feel real confident with our kicker,” Frederick said. “He’s a weapon to have.”

It is indeed something of an armory over on the East Side, which is good. Maloney is going to need it. Here’s the schedule. Home games are at Falcon Field.

■Sept. 13 at Farmington, 6:30 p.m.■Sept. 20 vs. Bristol Central, 6:30 p.m.■Sept. 27 vs. North Haven, 6:30 p.m.■Oct. 4 at Middletown, 7 p.m.■Oct. 11 vs. Bristol Eastern, 6:30 p.m.■Oct. 25 at Newington, 6:30 p.m.■Nov. 1 vs. Hartford Public, 6:30 p.m.■Nov. 8 at Wethersfield, 7 p.m.■Nov. 11 vs. Windsor, 6:30 p.m.■Nov. 28 vs. Platt, 10:30 a.m.