THANKSGIVING FOOTBALL: Demand-side economics on these production lines

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For all the whiteboard-room schemes of coaches and fast-heeled talent of skill players, Thanksgiving Day, like most days in the football year, is dictated by who controls the line of scrimmage.

Football is still a blue-collar business at heart, and today’s rivalry games will be shaped by the front-liners who punch the clock.

The premium this season has been on run-blocking. Every area team save for one has run for more yards than it has thrown. The exception has been Southington, yet even the Blue Knights are balanced, averaging 168 rushing yards to 177 passing.

The data points squarely to the offensive lines. Teams that have been able to ground-and-pound have had success.

“It’s been great,” said Maloney coach Kevin Frederick, whose Spartans, at 8-1, already have a Class L playoff berth sewn up. “We’ve taken care of business up front and we’ve been able to run the ball.”

Maloney averages 186.7 rushing yards a game behind area rushing leader Josh Boganski (172 carries, 1,189 yards, 12 TDs).

The junior will be the first to say he owes those numbers to 230-pound fullback Stone De’Leon and the O-line of junior left tackle Howard Stedford (6-3, 220), senior left guard Travis Wright (6-0, 295), senior center Randy De La Cruz (6-2, 310), sophomore right guard Rafael Rodriguez (6-0, 215) and senior right tackle Luke Falis (6-1, 190).

“Travis Wright should get a lot of credit as the leader of the line,” Frederick noted. “The engine starts with him. He’s talented, physical and coachable. He’s a great kid to have on the team.”

Falis is the grandson of Mike Falis, the longtime Maloney assistant coach who works primarily with the offensive line.

”Having an assistant coach Mike Falis on the team is like having a college coach on staff,” Frederick said. “The kids work hard for him and respect him. We have good thing going.”

Seniors Nick Gural (6-0, 225) and Michael Reddick (6-2, 220) are also in the rotation up front for Maloney.

Bottom line on this line? It continues the string of formidable fronts that have led the Spartans into the postseason for four years running.

In today’s Stoddard Bowl, Platt will counter with a front five that has paved the way to 192.6 rushing yards a game, second in the area only to Sheehan (196.6).

Platt’s line is anchored by senior tackles Andres Salas and Reggie Darkah. The 6-3, 245-pound Salas, who started as a sophomore, is on the left side. The 6-1, 225-pound Darkah, who just received an offer from Central Connecticut State, is on the right.

Darkah has done particularly well at tackle considering that, up until this season, he was a tight end.

“We had a need and Reggie gave that up to play on the line," said Platt coach Jason Bruenn.

Junior left guard Hunter McMahon and senior center Anthony Coscuna are first-year starters. Senior Ray Almanzer returned to his slot at right guard.

Combined with Salas and Darkah, they’ve taken an all-for-one approach.

“They bonded before and during the season,” Bruenn said. “They want to be blockers and they have no dreams of being a receiver or a tight end.”

Platt’s O-line has enabled the Robinson brothers, junior quarterback Avery and sophomore running back Amari, to gain varsity footing in their rookie seasons.

Avery Robinson is the area’s second-leading passer with 1,305 yards. His completion rate of 61.4 percent (105-for-171) is the area’s best.

Amari Robinson is the lead man in a three-back attack that also features seniors Zyair Coleman and Corey Ford. Robinson (135-940) is on the verge of a 1,000-yard season.

At Sheehan, senior running back Jacob Shook is already there. Fueled by a 300-yard game and a pair of 200’s, Shook is at 1,166 yards on 162 carries.

He’s amassed that acreage behind the push of tackles Apollo Dubuc (6-2, 210) and Shaine Salvador (5-11, 190), guards Jamesohn LaValley (5-11, 235) and Jonah Caponera (5-11, 255), and rotating centers Luis Cruz (5-8, 325) and Jon Leclerc (5-10, 280).

It’s a young line that, like many after the lost year of 2020, needed a good portion of 2021 to find its mesh. Injuries and quarantines delayed the initial progress.

While the two guys on the left side, Dubuc and LaValley, as well as the center Cruz, are seniors, they did not start in 2019. Ditto for Salvador, a junior. 

Leclerc and Caponera weren’t even in high school. Leclerc is a sophomore, Caponera only a freshman.

The previous number of Sheehan freshmen who started on the O-line during head coach John Ferrazzi’s tenure, which dates back to 2005?

“For our line, that’s not ever been thought of before,” Ferrazzi replied.

Dubuc and Salvador are two-way players. They are linebackers on defense. On a more seasoned line, Ferrazzi noted, they’d likely be tight end/H-backs instead of tackles. So, like Platt’s Reggie Darkah, they sacrificed for the team.

In the middle of the line, Cruz was the starter early, but got hurt, and he’s been an every-down defender since returning.

Hence the rotation with Leclerc, who stepped in at center in Cruz’s absence and continues to get snaps.

It was a learning curve all around for the Titans, but given that they’ve produced the area’s leading ground game at 196.6 yards, they have certainly rounded it.

At 6-3, they’ll be looking to stay in Class S playoff contention when they hit up Fitzgerald Field for today’s Carini Bowl.

“Our kids have grown,” said Ferrazzi. “They’ve really grown and they’ve developed and they matured. We’re in a good place now.”

Across town, Lyman Hall has not lacked for elder statesmen on the O-line. Four of the five starters are senior captains: center Mason Williams (5-10, 280), right tackle Denny Casorla (5-8, 215) and guards Joe Pieper (6-1, 250) and Tony Nakis (5-10, 265).

Left tackle Aiden Barron (6-0, 290) is also a senior.

The Trojans have needed that senior leadership up front given the relative youth of their backfield. Aside from senior Ryan Bannon (95-379 rushing), it’s an all-sophomore enterprise:

■Quarterback Kadin DeWallace (575 yards passing, 410 rushing);■Running backs Gavin Janowski (25-178) and Cristian Roman-Koenig (46-161).

Southington also features an all-senior line. You could say it is of “orNate” construction, anchored by tackles Nate Hunt (6-2, 240) and Nate Pierce (6-1, 190), with guard Nate Smole (5-9, 240) a left-side pillar next to Hunt.

Right guard Aiden Szczepanik (5-10, 245) and center Joe Mazzarella (6-1, 290) complete the architecture.

These five have opened up lanes for the twin-turbo backfield of Javon Thomas (107-699) and Lincoln Cardillo (75-667). They have provided time for area passing leader Jack Barnum (113-for-191, 1,520 yards).

As with most O-lines, the tone is set at left tackle with Hunt.

“He’s a vocal guy, as tough as they come,” remarked Southington coach Mike Drury. “He’s our leader. He’s kind of got that old-school toughness, but he’s a very athletic lineman.”

Hunt’s approach for the Blue Knights fits right in with our blue-collar theme.

“We preach all year, ‘Hold the rope.’ Everyone working together; everyone giving their all, all the time,” Hunt said. “Just show it out on the field.”

There is legacy on the Southington line. Mazzarella’s dad, Tony, was the center on Southington’s 1998 state championship team and his grandfather, Tony Sr., was an assistant coach in those days under Jude Kelly.

Likewise, there is legacy on the O-line Cheshire will bring to Southington today for the Apple Valley Classic.

Junior right guard Michael Patrick Bowman (6-1, 240) hails from the extended Bowman family of Cheshire football renown and senior left guard Kevin D’Errico’s older brother was a leading player on the standout teams of 2013 and 2014.

Senior center Colin Majeski (5-9, 250) lines up in between them. At the tackles are junior Riley Wilson (6-4, 220) on the right and senior Joe Volpe (6-2, 255) on the left.

It’s not a line that boasts the most size, yet as the 6-foot, 215-pound D’Errico says, “We like to get down and dirty in the trenches; we’re coming to hit you in the face.”

Majeski is head coach Don Drust’s field manager.

“Colin has been tremendous all year,” Drust said. “He's super-smart, calls out assignments. He's the guy who gets us lined up to be successful.”

Cheshire’s O-linemen helped spring Christian Russo for 760 yards before the senior running back started to encounter injury issues.

They’ve blocked for the various backs who have stepped into the breach, pushing out 188.7 rushing yards per game. They’ve protected Michael Simione and Matt Jeffery, who have rotated at quarterback.

“They work very hard together, but it all goes back to their genuine care for each other,” Drust said of his linemen. “They know that whether it’s Christian back there or somebody else, they approach it real work-like. They are going to get down and do everything they can to help these guys be successful.

“That has never changed and it goes back to Day 1 and their maturity level, who they are as people,” Drust added. “They just work very hard as people."

There’s that word again: work. Today might be a holiday, but it isn’t for everybody.

Contributing to this story were Sean Krofssik, Ron Buck and RIley Millette

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