By DAN ORENCOLE
BRISTOL - Having won just three games over the past three seasons it could have been easy for any of the 17 seniors on the Bristol Eastern football roster to give up and stop playing.
But they didn’t and this season the Lancers finally saw success on the field.
While Bristol Eastern has just two wins coming against Newington and Farmington, the Lancers also have close losses to E.O. Smith, Wethersfield and Manchester.
The loss to the Panthers was by seven points, the Eagles by five points and the Indians the most recent loss by one point, meaning the team could easily be 5-4.
But Bristol Eastern enters the Thanksgiving Day game at 2-7 and none of those losses will matter if the Lancers get the win against cross-town rival Bristol Central.
“This [senior class] has shown that through hard work you can be successful,” Lancers head coach Anthony Julius said. “As a group, we’re learning that if we can continue to execute and do what we want to do we’re a pretty good football team.”
While eight seniors have seen more playing time than the others, all 17 have played a role whether it be on the field or off.
“Everybody puts the same amount of work in, just not everybody’s blessed with the same amount of talent,” Julius said. “But to me, that’s where real character shows, is when kids know they aren’t going to play as much but still show up to team events and fundraisers and do what they’re supposed to do and represent the program with class.”
If Bristol Eastern were to come out with a win, tailback and captain Ariza Kolloverja will likely be a big reason as he has led the Lancers ground attack this season with 542 rushing yards.
“He’s a great kid and he’s been a joy to coach,” Julius said. “I’ve coached Ariza for three years now at the varsity level and he’s a kid that the program is going to sorely miss. He’s a do-it-all type player for us. He does everything really well and he represents the program with absolute class.”
Often leading the way for Kolloverja this season has been fullback Steven Hopkins.
The senior has also shown the ability to get tough yardage on the ground with 239 yards this season.
While Hopkins grew up in Bristol, he moved down to Florida and coming back to where it all started and to take the field with the players he grew up with playing on the Bristol Bulldogs makes this last game extra special for him.
“One of my biggest decisions in life was to come back here and graduate with everybody that I grew up with and finish where everything started,” Hopkins said. “The transition was hard and one of my favorite memories was just being here with the people I grew up with and played Bulldogs with. Family and being with loved ones is what is most important in life.”
In front of both Hopkins and Kolloverja are the five offensive lineman and two seniors that had a lot of expectations on their shoulders after struggling last year as a unit.
Both captain left tackle Andrew Consalvo and left guard Keegan Bartis have been a major reason behind the improved offensive line play this season.
“To have him next to me these past few years has been really nice to know that I have somebody that I’ve known for so long there to trust and I trust him like family,” Consalvo said of him and Bartis lining up next to each other on the line.
“He’s progressed tremendously from his junior to his senior year,” Julius said of Bartis. “We struggled up front as a unit last year and the strides these kids have made has been a reason that we had a little bit more success this year and Keegan has had a really good year for us. He’s a good teammate. He’ll be tough to replace.”
Linebacker and captain Tyler Mason has been a pivotal part to the program. His first varsity touchdown this season against Newington was one of his favorite memories and football has had a big role in his life off the field.
“The program has been huge for me,” Mason said. “It really shaped me to be the person I am through these four years of high school. It changed me and changed how I kind of look at things because now I know that nothing is really handed to you in life and nothing comes easy. You always got to work for what you have.”
On special teams, kicker John McPhee has provided the Lancers with a reliable kicking option and will be tough to replace going forward.
McPhee stopped playing football during his sophomore season but decided to come back following his junior season. He considers it one of his best decisions yet.
“I made a lot of lifetime memories with these guys and it’s meant the world to me honestly,” McPhee said. “I didn’t play in my sophomore year and came back my junior year and it made me regret not playing in my sophomore year. I love being with the guys and coming out to practice every day. It’s been fun.”
Defensive tackle Tyler Varasconi has 27 total tackles on the season and a sack.
He is proud this senior group has left the program off trending in the right direction.
“I definitely think we came a long way,” Varasconi said. “We started off my junior year not really winning games and being challenged and coming out on the bottom. It’s been an honor to come out this year and be better than we were and I hope that for the years to come it’s going to be better than it was this year.”
Defensive end and captain Rajon Collins is consistently seen causing havoc on the line whether it be deflecting balls down at the line of scrimmage or shedding blocks to get to the quarterback on a pass rush.
While his play on the field speaks for itself, his improvement off the field is something that has stood out in terms of his work ethic.
“He’s been a kid who has worked hard in the classroom to improve his grades which is something that I’m very proud of,” Julius said. “He’s the type of kid that is going to continue to get better the more he plays and I’m excited to see what the future has in store for him.”
On Thursday, all 17 seniors will take the field donning the Bristol Eastern uniform one last time and all share one common goal, getting that bell back.
“This win on Thanksgiving would be really big,” Hopkins said. “These kids that have been playing here for two years are my brothers. They deserve it. They’ve been working their butts off for two years and I would love to be able to a part of this win and they deserve more than what we’ve got this year and it would be nice to leave with a bang.”
“It would mean everything for me to see these guys be successful on Thanksgiving,” Julius said.
Dan Orencole can be reached at 860-973-1811 or email@example.com
On Twitter: @OrencoleDan