A new era in Bristol Central football opens this week. Playing in a new division of the CCC with a new quarterback and a new, more balanced attack, the Rams will launch their 2022 season at home against Manchester Friday night.
The Rams are coming off a 9-2 playoff season a year ago and take on an opponent that won just one game a year ago and is preparing to embark on a new era of football. Despite their record from last year, the Red Hawks are expected to be a good opening day challenge for the Rams who have not faced a Manchester team on the gridiron in more than a decade.
It will be a whole new look for the Central coaching staff.
“Based on the one scrimmage film we’ve been able to look at, they are very athletic,” Central coach Jeff Papazian said. “They have a quarterback who played very well in that scrimmage against Glastonbury and they have some dangerous skill people who can hurt you in a big way very quickly if they have the chance. We have to do what we can to slow them down if we want to have a shot on Friday. They have the potential to fly around and get to the ball very fast. The fullback and the linebackers are very active and they have a big defensive line. They will be a tough opening day challenge for us.”
The Rams will be led by a new quarterback. Senior Nik Salinas will step under center as a starter for the first time against the Red Hawks.
“Nik has done a real good job all summer long and in practice the last few weeks,” Papazian said. “I think he’s ready to step in.”
It will be a different kind of attack for the Rams with multiple people expected to handle the ball.
“We will be a little more balanced on the attack this season – we have to be,” Papazian added. ”But I like our depth offensively.”
Tre Blair will be the most experienced performer on the offense for the Rams. The senior wide receiver caught 16 passes for 302 yards and three touchdowns a year ago. He also rushed for 342 yards and a score.
“Tre is going to bring some good experience to our attack,” Papazian said, “and will get plenty of action. But we have a good mix of other skilled guys who are ready to step up.”
Sophomore running back Carmelo Thompson has “the chance to be as good as he wants to be over the next three years,” according to Papazian. “Giovannie Colon will also see some action at running back.”
The Rams have some good returning experience on the offensive line with veteran center Jack Jones, 6-foot-8 tackle Julius Powell and Jonmanual Gomez all returning to a line that was a key to Rams success a year ago. They will be joined by Luis Padilla and Andrew Sarkis.
Blair is a returning veteran in the defensive backfield along with Anthony Paulino. The linebackers are young but the lack of experience is made up for in depth with Jones, Aiden Lamarre, Caleb Simard, Jaden Colon and Tim Sample all expected to contribute. Powell, Gomez and Padilla give the Rams some experience on the defensive line. Carmelo Thompson, Can Tomak and Dylan Simard are also in the mix on the defensive side.
Last year Central lost their opener to Bloomfield 7-6 when they failed to convert an extra point. They went on to win nine in a row as the lack of a kicking game did not hurt the Rams the rest of the way. But the kicking game is a place where Papazian expects to see some big improvement this year. The Rams scored 392 points last season, but only two by kicking the ball through the uprights, and the coaches are hoping that things will look better on that front this year with some new additions.
Oscar Kuzniar has brought his booming foot over from the soccer pitch and is expected to provide a big boost to the kicking game. And Papazian expects an even bigger contribution once the big athletic junior learns to play the kind of football where he can use his hands.
The Rams will be taking on Manchester for the first time since 2009 when they lost 17-14. Once annual opponents in the old CCIL, Central and Manchester have met only three times as CCC rivals and only once since back-to-back meetings in 1986 and 87. Manchester holds an 11-5-1 series edge over Central. With the Rams stepping up to the CCC Tier 2 this season, the Red Hawks will be one of the three LL teams appearing on the Central schedule.