Like most other teams across the state, the Bristol Central football team is facing a rebuilding year with plenty of new faces and very little experience as it prepares to return to the gridiron. But the Rams have a few solid blocks to build on with two players, including the number one public high school recruit in the state, who each have 20 varsity starts under their belts and head coach Jeff Papazian is relying on them to lead the Rams to a successful season in their new CCC Tier III schedule.
“We had an idea coming in that it would be this way,” said the veteran coach, “but it’s definitely been a different preseason. The players are trying to learn the game. They’re trying to do the right thing and it gets a little better every day. Maybe not so quickly as we would like but it’s a work in progress.”
The Rams return two veterans who started every game as both freshmen and sophomores in Victor Rosa and Dan Lauretti and Papazian will rely on them along with a few others who had limited varsity experience as sophomores. Both were all-conference selections as sophomores.
“We have Victor and Dan who both were legitimate starters as freshman, so it is a nice luxury that a lot of teams don’t have,” said Papazian. “These are guys who earned their starting spots because they were the best at their positions. It’s not like we had to start them as freshmen out of necessity. We have relied on them a lot to set the example for the younger kids”
Rosa, who has committed to UConn, will again start under center for the Rams where he will have the opportunity to handle the ball on every play. Rosa rushed for 1,146 yards and 19 touchdowns as a sophomore and completed 31 of 79 passes for 475 yards and two touchdowns. He earned all-conference honors in the defensive secondary as a freshman and was honored for his play on both sides of the ball as a sophomore. In two years he has combined for 1,966 yards on offense and accounted for 164 points. He will again be the main cog in the attack for the Rams.
Lauretti has been a starter on the line since the first game of his freshman year. He will move to linebacker this season where he is expected to anchor a stingy defense.
The Rams also have a small group of players who saw some varsity action as sophomores who have also stepped up in the preseason. Zach Vanasse at defensive back and Malachi Jones and Ashton Zabka on the line will give the Rams some experience as they step into leadership roles. Jarrett Boxley, who saw a lot of action two years ago, is injured at the start of the season, but is expected to be a force once he is healthy.
Beyond that group there is very little varsity experience. “We try to keep in mind that the inexperience is not just a Bristol Central thing,” said Papazian. “A season away has hurt everybody and we have to show a lot of patience in everything we’re doing.”
“We are excited to have Damion Glasper back on the football fold,” Papazian added. “We are happy that he decided to come back to football after not playing his sophomore year. He is a really talented player and very good athlete who will really help our team.” Glasper took time off from football to concentrate on basketball and helped lead the Rams’ hoopsters to the state’s number one ranking a year ago.
The Rams opened their preseason scrimmage season against Waterbury Career Academy, a matchup that proved to be a learning experience for all. “We were very average at best, but we followed that up against Wolcott and saw some good improvement,” Papazian said.
The Rams have traditionally ended their preseason scrimmage schedule against cross town rival St. Paul, but the Falcons opted out for this season so the Rams travelled to Meriden on Thursday and more than held their own against a Maloney team that is coming off back to back state playoff appearances and is expected to contend again this year. Maloney has been on the Central regular season schedule for 62 years, but with the realignment of the CCC, the Spartans moved up to Tier I while the Rams are in Tier III, so the teams will not meet for only the second time since the schools came into existence in the late 1950’s.
The Rams open their season on Sept. 10 at perennial Class S power Bloomfield, a team that moved up to Tier III this year. It will be a good opening test for a Central team that has playoff aspirations of its own. “We’re excited to compete against a team that is consistently a state championship contender,” Papazian said.
The Tier III schedule includes a lot of new opponents. Wethersfield (in a non-conference matchup), EO Smith, RHAM and Bristol Eastern are the only teams that repeat from the 2019 schedule. “There’s a lot of new schools, but we’ve played against most of them at one time or another in the past,” said Papazian. “But we’re all trying to figure it out at this point so we’ll just take them one game at a time.”