With only four seniors on the roster, including one who hasnâ€™t played in almost two years, many would believe the Bristol Central football team may be in for a long season as they face a stepped up schedule that includes three playoff teams from a year ago.
But coach Jeff Papazian and his staff are confident their juniors and sophomores, many with lots of varsity experience, will provide the veteran leadership that will set the stage for a successful season.
â€śEven though weâ€™re young, we have a whole bunch of guys who have played for a year or two,â€ť Papazian said. â€śWeâ€™re going to rely heavily on our juniors and sophomores to pick up some of the slack. But at the same time weâ€™ve got guys like Galen Hickey and Ian Staubley and a couple of other seniors who are going to have to step up and give us the leadership.â€ť
Injured Colton Pelletier and Jacob Rodriguez are the other seniors on the roster.
The young Rams have shown some promise in their early scrimmages.
â€śWeâ€™ve seen some good things and weâ€™ve seen some things that we know we have to work on,â€ť Papazian said. â€śThe kids have given us enough in our early scrimmages to be optimistic but we know there are still things we have to do to be ready for E.O. Smith on opening night.â€ť
Papazian believes defense will be the strength, especially in the early going, but with a new quarterback and a couple of dynamic athletes in the backfield there is plenty of reason to be optimistic about the offense as well.
â€śThe defense has shown flashes of being really good,â€ť the coach said. â€śItâ€™s just a matter of being consistent with it and thatâ€™s what we need to work on in practice.â€ť
Sophomore Victor Rosa will take over at quarterback. He had a solid season as a freshman where he was used mainly as a blocking back while rushing for 290 yards and two touchdowns. But he will handle the ball much more often this season.
â€śVic is pretty dynamic with the ball in his hands,â€ť Papazian said. â€śAnd heâ€™s got some pretty good guys to work with in the backfield. Itâ€™s nice to be two deep at the skill positions pretty much across the board.â€ť
Juniors Shawn Rodriguez and Orlando Baldwin will handle the running back duties for the Rams. Papazian has a solid group of skilled players to mix into the receiver slots, led by seniors Ian Staubley and Galen Hickey, who missed all of last year and much of his sophomore year with a knee injury. Juniors Dâ€™Ante Ross and Eli Rodriguez and sophomore Jarrett Boxley are also part of a very talented receiver group. Piotr Nizielski and Jorge DeJesus will battle for the tight end spot.
The offensive line is anchored by two year starter Jakob Salinas along with sophomores Eric Facey and Dan Lauretti and juniors Dom Ford, Jesse Johnson, Javon Paloka and Dom Amara.
Defensively Salinas will be the anchor at the linebacker position where he has earned all-conference honors as both a freshman and sophomore. Joining him in the linebacker mix are Orlando Baldwin, Tre Jones, Eli Rodriguez and Shawn Rodriguez, all juniors.
The Rams will have a solid defensive front line with a fair amount of experience. Nizielski and DeJesus will be at the ends with Lauretti returning after seeing plenty of action as a freshman a year ago along with Facey, Paloka and Noah Collins.
Staubley and Ross will be the cornerbacks with Hickey and Boxley also in the defensive backfield. Rosa returns after an all-conference season as a safety a year ago with Tony Lopez, Zach Vanasse and Marcos Ocasio all battling for a slot at the position.
The Rams have had an upgrade in their schedule even with Middletown dropping out of the CCC crossover rotation in this cycle. Maloney, Platt and Windsor were all Class L playoff teams a year ago. Class LL Conard and perennially strong Masuk replace East Catholic and Capital Prep while RHAM returns to Division II after dropping to Division III for several seasons.
â€śWeâ€™ve only got a handful of seniors,â€ť Papazian said, â€śbut with the kids weâ€™ve got weâ€™ll take our chances against anybody on the schedule.â€ť