FOOTBALL 2019: Southington Blue Knights remain a blue-chip brand

FOOTBALL 2019: Southington Blue Knights remain a blue-chip brand

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SOUTHINGTON — It’s all about branding these days, right?

Or rebranding.

And in the TM age, where less=more, acronyms are BAE. Hence your KFC.

And as fried chicken goes, so goes the ultimate tailgating sport. Once upon a time, Southington football was called “The Air Raid.” Such a mouthful for something so no-huddle. Better to get to the point just like Blue Knights Football can get to the end zone.

Hence your BKF.

Now kick your PAT.

The catch is, this is no window dressing or cheap marketing ploy. BKF remains a product as profitable as The Air Raid in its glory days.

Returns are sound. Southington has secured six playoff trips and two state titles in the last seven years. Shelves stay stocked. The roster perennially numbers 1-99 with only a few gaps

A lot of new names punctuate the 2019 line. It’s merely the next wave coming through.

“These are the guys who have prepared and they have to be ready to step up and execute,” said head coach Mike Drury. “They’ve been within the program for three, four years now, so they know what’s expected. They know how to practice, they know how we prepare and what we need to do to execute out there. That’s just it: having a great mentality and being a great teammate.”

There’s vertical integration for you.

The ’19 Knights will look to ascend to the heights of their immediate predecessors, and then take it higher. BKF went a spotless 10-0 in the 2018 regular season — the fifth time that’s happened on Drury’s nine-year watch — but then fell 28-21 in the Class L quarterfinals when Fairfield Prep made a successful goal-line stand late in the game.

That loss fueled the returning players in the offseason and the fire carried into the preseason.

“Practices have been energetic,” said Drury. “We haven’t had to pull a lot out of the guys, which is always a positive thing, [and they’re] really receptive to coaching. We talk about how important that is: to make sure you’re taking the coaching and making the corrections that you need to. It’s been a good preseason. We stayed relatively healthy.”

Are the Blue Knights where they want to be?

“You’re never where you want to be,” Drury replied. “You’re always looking to clean this up, tighten this, install that. It’s always something. It’s a continuous process throughout the season. You don’t get all your stuff in, everything prepared, fully ready to go for Week 1. You want to get as much as you can that you’re doing well. Then you tweak as you go and find your identity as a team.”

The big question for Big Blue heading into the season was at quarterback. In the wake of Jacob Drena’s graduation, there was a three-man battle between senior Sam Bouchard and juniors Brady Lafferty and Shane LaPorte.

The 6-foot-3 Lafferty, who stands tall and throws long, has won out. 

“He has the ability to stretch the ball down the field,” Drury noted. “He’s got good pocket awareness and brings a lot of intensity and energy.”

This isn’t to say LaPorte won’t see snaps. At 6-foot, 200 pounds, LaPorte will enable Southington to present different packages on offense. Beyond that, he’ll also be one of the team’s leading receivers.

“He’s a great athlete,” Drury said of LaPorte. “The guy’s going to be able to do several different things for us on the offensive side of the ball. He’s going to be moving around that whole offense.”

The quarterbacking position is a microcosm of BKF ’19. There is depth and versatility across the board.

Consider wide receiver. LaPorte and Carter Uhlman, one of five senior captains, leads a troupe that will also feature returning slot man Josh Vitti, fellow senior Jake DelMonte and juniors Donnell Mackey-Woodson and Jack McManus.

Uhlman, who had 26 receptions for 372 yards last year, is poised to break out.

“He’s had a monster offseason, just been dynamic for us in everything we’ve been involved with — the passing leagues and camps we’ve gone to,” Drury said. “We’re excited about him to have a great year.”

The backfield is a multi-headed monster featuring Dillon Kohl, Angelo Plantamuro and a third senior who worked his way into the mix with a strong offseason, M.J. Bennett.

Kohl has the most experience. Last season, paired with 1,054-yard rusher Tanner LaRosa, Kohl collected 545 yards and eight TDs on 72 carries.

Kohl and his new crew will deploy behind a line led by two returning senior starters: right tackle Dave Sullivan and left guard Jacob Vecchio, one of the captains.

Junior Ryan Andrews, who Drury identified as the line’s biggest, most physical presence, is at left tackle. Another junior, Matt Marisola, steps in at center.

Senior Josh Brilla and junior Luke DeAngelis are vying for the right guard position. Juniors Mike Long and Tom Nardi provide additional options on the line.

“We’re deep there,” Drury said. “We’ll have guys to be able to rotate through. Guys get banged up there in that position, so we’ve got to be ready.”

The exclamation point to the offense will again be the kicking game. The program that enjoyed the recent services of Kyle Smick and Evan Johanns loads up another big leg in sophomore QB Jack Barnum.

“He’s hitting 40-yarders and he’s only a sophomore,” said Drury, adding that Barnum put three kickoffs into the end zone in last Friday’s game scrimmage with Xavier.

Having a field-position weapon such as that will be a boon to the defense, which brings back its leading tacklers at linebacker, senior captains Billy Carr and Plantamuro. The two were All-CCC and All-Record-Journal a year ago. Plantamuro put up 119 tackles. Carr collared 106.

Senior Max Casella steps in for, Kyle Messenger, the one linebacker to graduate. Casella was on every special team last year and rotated in at linebacker.

“He’s a guy who really put a ton of work in the offseason,” Drury said. “He’s an extremely physical player, very strong player, a guy who’s going to be a real good downhill player for us at the Mike.”

Depth at linebacker will be provided by Kohl and juniors Jeff Wyskiewicz and Ryan Walsh.

Up front, Southington opponents are going to confront a number of different faces, which should translate into fresher legs. Bouchard and fellow senior Jayden Renehan lead a front four that will also feature underclassmen Riley Clingan, Elijah Sheen, Giancarlo Dominello, Anthony Henderson, A.J. DeJesus and Long.

In the secondary, it starts with Johnny Carreiro, a senior captain and returning starter at safety.

“Emotional leader of the team, a guy who brings energy and intensity and holds everyone accountable,” Drury said of Carreiro. “A great leader.”

Vitti, who started a few games last year on defense, is back at safety. Uhlman and senior Derek Bedner are as well.

The cornerbacks are a fast fleet of juniors — Weston Brick, Dylan Rodriguez and Mackey-Woodson — in combination with senior Troy Kiera.

All told, is this a group capable of extending a considerable legacy?

“We hope so,” Drury said. “We as a team, we’re in control of our destiny. We’ve just got to be one game at a time and do it that way.

“A lot of things can happen; it’s a long season. We just have to take care of our everyday business and get out there and compete to the best of our ability on Friday nights.”

The lights go up this Friday in West Hartford against Conard. Then comes the big Week 2 showdown on the Connecticut Football Alliance schedule: Southington at Darien, Sept. 20, 7 p.m.

The Blue Wave defeated the Blue Knights in the playoffs in 2015 and again in 2016 en route to state Class LL titles.

“The kids are excited about that,” Drury said of the Darien matchup. “You’re always excited about that big game.

“But we haven’t talked about it, we haven’t thought about it.” he added. “We’re focused on Conard. That’s Week 1. They’re a great program and Coach [Matt] Cersosimo has them doing really solid things, so we are not at all looking past them.”

Conard, Hall, Simbury and New Britain are the teams Southington must subdue to claim a sixth straight CCC Division I West flag. Four of the five D-I East teams will be played in crossovers: Enfield in the home opener, then Manchester, East Hartford and Glastonbury.

Cheshire, as has been the case since 1996, awaits on Thanksgiving morning. Southington has won the last seven Apple Classics.

■Sept. 13 at Conard, 7 p.m.■Sept. 20 at Darien, 7 p.m.■Sept. 27 vs. Enfield, 7 p.m.■Oct. 4 at Hall, 7 p.m.■Oct. 11 vs. Manchester, 7 p.m.■Oct. 25 vs. East Hartford, 7 p.m.■Nov. 1 vs. Simsbury, 7 p.m.■Nov. 8 at Glastonbury, 6:30 p.m.■Nov. 15 vs. New Britain, 7 p.m.■Nov. 28 at Cheshire, 10 a.m.