MERIDEN — Turnover is part of the high school game, where leading players wash through in 2- and 3-year cycles.
In the Maloney football camp, the wave of departures from last year was particularly steep. Gone in one fell swoop from the team that posted Maloney’s first winning season since 2010 (and first Stoddard Bowl win since ’07) were three cornerstones:
Chris Dingwell, three-year starter at quarterback and Maloney’s leading passer of all-time.
Jaron Cogdell, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher.
Justin McEwen, a two-way star for three years at free safety and wide receiver.
That’s three big sets of shoes to fill, not to mention those of several offensive linemen lost up front.
But here’s a little secret head coach Kevin Frederick doesn’t mind sharing. Amid the returning tide of starters, the Spartans are gathering their next wave of playmakers to crash the beaches of Division II in the Central Connecticut Conference.
“We’ve got a group of skill guys I really like,” Frederick said. “I think they’re just going to get better and better as the season goes on. A lot of the guys don’t have a tremendous amount of playing experience in a varsity game, but the group is hungry. They want it. They come to work every day. I think a lot of people are going to be surprised at our skills guys.”
Said skill guys start with Larue Graham, who takes over at QB with the backing of fellow sophomore Elliot Good.
The returning cast, meanwhile, is led by Kyle Carlson. The 6-foot-2, 221-pound senior should be among the area’s top players, a two-way catalyst at tight end/slot and defensive end.
Carlson is also a team captain with high expectations for his group. How does he foresee the season ending?
“Undefeated, in the playoffs,” Carlson promptly replies.
For the Spartans to get back to the postseason for the first time since falling to New Canaan in the 2006 Class MM state final, they’ll need to continue the forward strides they’ve made under Frederick. Since taking over a 1-9 program, Frederick has overseen seasons of 5-6 in 2014 and 7-3 in 2015.
There’s no question Maloney has moved back up the CCC D-II ladder. There’s also no question Maloney is still looking up at the ranking powers — namely Wethersfield and Middletown, who beat the Spartans by a combined 89-0 last season.
“We want to keep getting better. That’s the plan,” Frederick said. “We can’t be happy with a 7-3 season. We don’t like to lose any games. The two we lost [to Wethersfield and Middletown] last year, they put it to us pretty good. We learned from those games, hopefully, and we’re ready to keep moving forward and take it day to day.”
The preseason report is a case of two steps up, one step back. Plays that get the fist pumping have been followed by plays that get the head shaking.
“Today was a prime example of what we’ve kind of been like for the past couple months,” Frederick said after watching his team scrimmage Watertown and Berlin at Sage Park on Friday night. “There’s really good moments where we look we really sharp and really good. Then, the very next series, we’ve got too many penalties that hurt us, kill some drives.
“We’ve got playmakers on the field, for sure,” the head coach said. “We’ve just got to clean up the mistakes.”
Like just about every other area team, the Spartans have seen their share of preseason injuries. While most of Maloney’s injured players are getting healthy, senior John Guest is out for the season with a shoulder injury. Last year, Guest was second only to McEwen’s team-high 73 tackles with 57.
A lot of the guys next in line in that department — junior linebacker Mitch McEwen (53), senior defensive tackle Dan Stevenson (49, 13 for loss) and Carlson (43) — are ready to roll.
“The strength is our chemistry,” Carlson said. “We play for each other. I think our No. 1 weakness right now is being displined, both sides of the ball.
“I think we’ve just got to keep working,” the captain added. “We’ve got a lot to improve.”
With a rookie at quarterback, line play will be critical for Maloney. While a number of veterans have graduated from the unit, including four-year starter C.J. Smith, the pool up front remains deep.
Stevenson, a guard, is a returning senior along with R.J Rivera, Alijah Lopez-Stevens, Chadwick Smith, Shaki Rios and Vincent Ubaike.
Juniors Desmond King and Darlin Lopez return with varsity experience. Among the newcomers expected to see time are Jeff Papciak and 6-foot, 220-pound freshman Toby Canales.
The ranks have been further bolstered by the arrival of senior center Ryan Martel, a transfer from Xavier.
“The line is a work in progress right now,” Frederick said Friday night. “We’ve got some big guys up front. We’re a little young, playing some freshmen, playing some sophomores. We get Daniel Stevenson back next week; he was hurt. That will help us out; he’s a great player. We’re just still trying to gel together and find those pieces that fit that line. I think we’re in the right direction.”
The Spartans have a number of candidates to replace Cogdell at running back, led by junior Preston Studley, Mitch McEwen, senior Cadien Rosa, junior Javion Wright and Freddy Hildago.
In the passing game, the Spartans could make some serious noise. Back is senior Alejandro Ortiz, last year’s leading receiver with 43 catches and 697 yards.
He’ll be joined on the perimeter by senior Damian Dontfriad and juniors Jayden Malave and the 6-foot-4 Adam Willians. Sophomore Victor Marquez and freshman Maurice Brackett are poised for strong rookie seasons.
At tight end/slot, Carlson will be backed by junior Cruz Lenhart and Jaylon Nixon.
As they are likely to do on offense, the Spartans will work a number of players into the mix on defense.
Up front, Maloney will deploy Daniel Stevenson and Elijah Stevenson at tackle with Carlson and junior Adam Ortiz at the ends spotted by Markeese Thompson and Austin Vitale. King, Rivera and Trevor Santiago are at the nose.
The linebacking corps is led by McEwen, Smith, Lenhart and junior Josh Oquendo. Ubaike, Lopez-Stevens, Studley, Hildago and Matt Anzoletti deliver the depth.
The secondary features Marquez at strong safety and senior Emilio Muniz at free safety. They’ll be backed by Chris Infante and Malave.
Ortiz and fellow senior Ephraim Myles are at the corners with help from Brackett, Graham and Kevin Gautier.
Date Opponent Time
9/9 at South Windsor 11 a.m.
9/16 HARTFORD PUB. 6:30
9/23 NEWINGTON 6:30
9/30 at Brist. Eastern 7 p.m.
(at Muzzy Field)
10/7 at Middletown 7 p.m.
10/21 at Brist. Central 7 p.m.
(at Muzzy Field)
10/28 FARMINGTON 6:30
11/4 WETHERSFIELD 6:30
11/11 at East Catholic 7 p.m.
11/24 PLATT 10:30 a.m.
Home games, Thanksgiving at Falcon Field