MERIDEN — We’re like you. When it comes to Thanksgiving, we stick to our traditions.
That doesn’t mean we won’t tweak a recipe from time to time.
Every Thanksgiving morning, we serve up a story on the area’s top offensive linemen, the guys who do work that is equal parts brawn and brains, toughness and technique, and — it goes without saying — far too often overlooked.
We-a culpa: When was the last time an offensive lineman’s name appeared in a headline? In a tweet?
Hence, our annual dish on the boys up front.
This season, though, posed a problem. Normally, we feature one guy from each area team, the one guy who stands out most of all.
That wasn’t going to work this year. We didn’t have standout guys here and there. We had them across the board — tackle to tackle, as it were.
Each area team can boast of solid line play. There’s a reason
why three of them have qualified for the state playoffs and a fourth could be joining the party today.
There’s a reason why a couple of school passing records have been broken and several quarterbacks have thrived in their first year as varsity starters.
There’s a reason why three area running backs have gone well over 1,000 yards and two others are on the verge.
There’s a reason why the six area teams playing each other this morning are a combined 40-14.
It’s the five or six guys up front working as one.
How do you slice them them up? You don’t. This year, you get the whole pie.Maloney
■The Personnel: LT Trevor Santiago (sr., 6-5, 295), LG Damian Vargas (jr., 6-4, 275), C Josh Pelletier (jr., 6-1, 270), RG Jose Rosado (jr. 5-10, 270) and Travis Wright (soph.), RT Ethan Hicks (jr., 6-1, 225).
They are large and they’ve got skill. What was true of last year’s Maloney O-line is no less true this year even as it retooled around lone returning starter Trevor Santiago.
Santiago is the sort of guy you do want to build around. The senior left tackle is a returning All-State and All-Record-Journal player who has drawn the attention of college scouts.
The rest of the guys are first-year starters. Wright and Rosado have been rotating at right guard since Wright filled in for Rosado earlier this year. Wright, the youngest guy on the unit, also started at center against Bristol Eastern when Pelletier was out with an injury.
The line has Maloney at 8-1 and back in the Class L tournament for a third straight year.
The Spartans are averaging 38.6 points and 357.7 yards a game, as effective on the ground (177.0) as they are through the air (180.7).
The linemen have paved the way for junior running back James Tarver to gain 1,508 yards on 236 carries. They have protected first-year starting quarterback Angel Arce, a sophomore who has thrown for 1,561 yards by completing 113 of 188 passes.
“We’ve been successful running and throwing this year,” Maloney coach Kevin Frederick said. “These guys are good at both and I think we are really young with four juniors, one sophomore and a senior. We are big in size and are physical up front. This is a good group to coach overall.”Platt
■The Personnel: LT Andres Salas (soph., 6-3, 245), LG Jaylen John (sr. 5-10, 245), C Clayton Bruenn (jr., 5-7, 165), RG Lashaun Hill (sr., 5-10, 265), RT Cristian Calero (sr., 5-10, 175).
This is the group that can boast of blocking for the state’s rushing leader. Junior Roberto Salas has gained 1,890 yards on 266 carries.
It’s quite personnal. Andres Salas is the “little” brother of Roberto Salas and Clayton Bruenn is the son of head coach Jason Bruenn.
Andres Salas is the new kid on the block. He’s the youngest and he didn’t join the starting unit until Week 2. Bruenn is a first-year starter, but was with the varsity team on last year’s run to the Class L semifinals.
The three seniors are where Platt’s experience up front truly lies. Jaylon John, Lashaun Hill and Cristian Calero are third-year starters.
John and Calero were both All-Conference and All-Record-Journal as juniors. John was also named All-State and earned a spot on the Walter Camp All-Connecticut Second Team.
“We are very experienced and we have three guys that literally have been starting since their sophomore year,” noted Coach Bruenn. “When you have guys with that kind of experience, it’s invaluable.”
Platt is averaging 23 points and 313.4 yards a game — most of it (223.1) on the ground.Lyman Hall
■The Personnel: LT Brendan Mitchell (jr., 6-2, 240), LG Joe Pieper (so., 5-11, 240), C Jaiden Garcia (sr., 5-8, 211), RG Mark Franco (sr., 5-8, 221), RT James Dadio (sr., 6-2, 275).
Quarterback Sean Patrick Pragano rewrote Lyman Hall single-season passing records this fall operating behind these five guys. Those new records are 2,122 yards and 21 touchdowns heading into today’s Carini Bowl.
The 2,122 yards also put Pragano in the top five for passing yardage statewide this season. That’s good stuff for a front five that returned just two starters — right guard Mark Franco and center Jaiden Garcia.
“I’ve been very pleased with our offensive line, especially from a pass-protection perspective,” said Lyman Hall coach Bill Weyrauch. “We have over 200 pass attempts and they have done a great job protecting S.P.”
Franco has enjoyed a fine season. This week, the senior was named All-SCC Tier 3.
Next year, it will be on the boys on the left side, tackle Brendan Mitchell and guard Joe Pieper, to carry the torch.
“We have to work on getting more aggressive with the run,” Weyrauch said. “Overall, I’ve been pleased with our offensive line. I think it’s one of the strengths of our team this year.”
The Trojans are averaging 27.1 points and 337.4 yards a game — 235.8 of them through the air. Weyrauch is right about the run. LH is a traditional running team. This year has been an outlier.Sheehan
■The Personnel: LT Cameron LaChance (jr., 6-0, 260), LG Mickey Deming (sr., 6-0, 245), C Bill Gorry (jr., 5-11, 240), RG Tom DiPasquale (sr. 5-10, 225) and RT Garrett Harrison (jr. 6-0, 215).
Sheehan’s O-line is much like Maloney’s O-line. Both returned just one starter off a 2018 playoff-qualifying team and neither has missed a beat in 2019.
The Titans lost All-Record-Journal and All-SCC linemen Luke Willette and Willie Seay to graduation, yet reconfigured their line around four new starters and, with a victory today in the Carini Bowl, will be back in the state playoffs for a third straight season.
Right guard Tom DiPasquale is the lone returning starter — at least on the O-line. Mickey Deming, a starting defensive end since his sophomore year, joined the offensive front this season at left guard and wound up earning All-SCC Tier 2 recognition. (So did DiPasquale — at linebacker.)
The juniors — Bill Gorry at center, Cameron LaChance and Garrett Harrison at tackle — cracked the starting lineup this year and will be the cornerstones in 2020.
Behind this line, senior running back Terrence Bogan, the SCC Tier 2 Player of the Year, has rushed for 1,589 yards in eight games and senior quarterback Kyle Simmons has completed 47 of 69 passes for 1,029 yards.
Overall, the Titans are averaging 44.3 points and 423.5 yards a game
Tight end/H-back Braedon McCarthy, a 6-2, 250-pound senior who made All-SCC Tier 2 at D-end, is a big part of it, too.
So is 6-3, 320-pound junior Ryan Remillard, the “sixth man” who rotates in and comes on in short-yardage situations.
“Any great team or great offense is as good as their offensive line,” said Sheean coach John Ferrazzi. “We had to replace four starters from last year’s squad. We knew it would take some time to do that. We’ve had four new starters on the O-line step in and embrace the role to keep us on track to where we have been.
“We’ve been built around a strong run game over the past few years and that’s the case this year. We have some talented backs, but we have a great offensive line. They are physical.”Cheshire
■The Personnel: LT Colin Crowe (jr., 6-1, 210), LG Chisom Okoro (jr., 5-9, 200), C Dan Bourdeau (jr. 5-11, 180), RG Sean Cangiano (sr, 6-2, 250) and RT Will Bergin (sr., 6-3, 260).
This O-line digs deep for All-SCC Tier 2 running back Jake McAlinden, so the senior who is at 989 yards heading into today’s Apple Classic digs deep for them, occasionally treating his blockers to meals at local eateries.
That’s 1,100 pounds coming to the table. Wonder if Jake leaves the tip, too.
As much as the Rams knew they had a proven commodity in McAlinden, their third-year running back, they also had full confidence in their offensive front. The two seniors, guard Sean Cangiano and tackle Will Bergin, were returning cornerstones on the right side and the three juniors had also logged varsity snaps in 2018.
“They all played,” noted Cheshire coach Don Drust. “They all had an opportunity to play last year.”
Dan Bourdeau is a first-year center. Cangiano, Bergin and left guard Chisom Okoro also play on the D-line and are among team tackling leaders. Okoro, in fact, has a team-high 75.
Bergin is a senior captain. Cangiano has already committed to play at Trinity College. Both have been named All-SCC Tier 2. (So has Chisom — on defense.)
This group has been an integral part of Cheshire’s return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2009 Class LL state championship season. They have the Rams averaging 38.5 points and 321 yards a game, as senior QB Jason Shumilla has completed 80 of 151 passes for 1,169 yards on the year to complement the running of McAlinden and Christian Russo.
“They care about each other,” Drust said of his linemen. “They work hard together and they are a real fun group that has fun together. They embrace who they are. They embrace being an offensive line. Because of that, they love what they are and who they are.”Southington
■The Personnel: LT Ryan Andrews (jr., 6-3, 275), LG Jacob Vecchio (sr., 5-8, 225), C Tommy Nardi (jr., 5-9, 207), RG Luke Deangelis (jr., 5-10, 215) & Josh Brilla (sr., 5-11, 205), RT Dave Sullivan (sr., 6-0, 210).
A testament to Southington’s depth is measured not just at the skill positions, but up front. The Blue Knights graduated an All-State and All-Record-Journal tackle in Sam McCarty, who is now at Suffield Academy, and replaced him with a guy like 6-foot-3, 275-pound Ryan Andrews.
The result? Another CCC Division I West title and another trip to the Class LL playoffs, Southington’s seventh in the last eight years.
“We tell them every year, ‘We go as far as they go.’” Southington head coach Mike Drury said. “That’s the importance we place in that group.”
Southington’s O-line is led by left guard Jacob Vecchio, one of the senior captains.
With their run blocking, the linemen have sprung Dillon Kohl, M.J. Bennett and the running backs for 1,472 yards.
With their pass blocking, they’ve bought time for junior Brady Lafferty, who has come on strong in his first year as starting QB. Lafferty goes into the Apple Classic at 124-for-200 for 1,643 yards.
All told, Southington is averaging 36.3 points and 369.3 yards a game behind its front line.
“They are asked to do a lot of things within our offense. They have to be able to pass block, run block and make a lot of adjustments each week,” Drury said. “They are the hardest working group on the field every day.”
It’s likely Drury’s colleagues from the other five area teams would agree. And so, on this day, in this space, the pie is all theirs.
Ron Buck contributed to this story