SOUTHINGTON — Talent in high school football is rampant and Southington doesn’t lack for it. But that’s not what separates the Blue Knights from the rest of CCC Division I and most Class LL teams in the state.
“Our idea is get a lot of kids playing the field at a given time,” said Southington head coach Mike Drury after his team blanked Glastonbury 20-0 on Friday night to improve to 7-1, including 7-0 against CCC teams. “Tonight, we probably had close to 40 kids that played.”
In football, it’s not an exception when someone gets hurt, it’s the expectation. With their depth — the roster numbers 76 — the Blue Knights are better positioned to cope with injury.
“It doesn’t matter where you are. A lot of different stuff happens in the course of the season. We need guys to step up,” Drury said. “If someone is down, who’s that next guy?”
Exhibit A: Marion “M.J.” Bennett.
With fellow senior running back Dillon Kohl, the team’s rushing leader with 843 yards and 10 touchdowns on 105 carries, out with an injured left hand, Bennett has been Southington’s next man up in the backfield.
In the first game Kohl missed — Oct. 25 against East Hartford — Bennett rushed for 82 yards on 15 carries.
Kohl came back a week later against Simsbury, aggravated his hand injury and returned to the sidelines this past Friday night. Bennett hit the Glastonbury turf field and collected 69 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries.
“I knew when Dillon hurt his hand he wasn’t going to be getting in that much,” Bennett said. “Me and Angelo [Plantamuro] both had to be ready to go in whenever.”
Plantamuro, a linebacker by trade, spotted Bennett in the backfield on Friday and took 11 handoffs for 28 yards.
“We all practice like we’re starters,” Bennett said. “We always have to be prepared.”
Exihibit B of Southington’s depth comes at wide receiver. Shane Laporte, the junior hybrid receiver and quarterback who had been splitting duties behind center with classmate Brady Lafferty when not catching passes from him, suffered a hand injury against East Hartford. He exited that game early and has been out since.
Lafferty went on to throw five touchdowns against East Hartford, four more against Simsbury and one against Glastonbury. After throwing eight touchdowns over the first five games, he has 10 in the last three.
With LaPorte out at wide receiver, other targets are stepping up, such as Jack McManus and Jake DelMonte. McMaunus had seven catches for 154 yards and three touchdowns against Simsbury. DelMonte scored his first career touchdown against East Hartford and came away with six catches for 79 yards in Glastonbury.
Seen this way, the Blue Knights are a hydra. Cut one head off and two or three grow in its place. This relentless regeneration has a way of wearing down opponents.
“It is [an advantage],” Drury said of his team’s depth. “Because of how we’re able to practice and prepare, it really helps us out a lot.”
Best of all, that depth is built into the Southington fabric.
“In practice, we usually do junior varsity against varsity, so coming up, I’m expected to play at that varsity level,” Bennett finished. “That’s how it is for everyone: We’re all just ready for this.”