A culture change is needed if the Bristol Eastern football team is going to rise from a cellar dweller in the CCC and, really, the state of Connecticut.
Senior quarterback Bryce Curtin and senior lineman Jake Dauphinee both know that. So does head coach Anthony Julius.
For Julius, entering his fourth season leading the Lancers, that begins with a focus on making sure his players’ actions match their words.
“I feel like it’s a good lesson for young kids to learn in life is when you say that you’re going to do one thing and say you’re going to be a certain way, then you need to act a certain way,” Julius said. “You’re going to preach team, togetherness and family, and you’re in it for the team. You’re not in it for yourself. You need to act like that too. You can’t just say it. I tell kids all the time you don’t want to be fake with people. You want to be yourself and be honest, and a lot of that just means your actions need to match your words.”
That’s the way it was in the not-too-distant past for this program. No one knows that better than Julius, a 2006 Eastern grad, whose teams struggled his freshman and sophomore season before he says they underwent a “culture” shock prior to his junior year under new head coach Paul Philippon and subsequently turned a corner.
That paved the way for a 10-0 record in 2007, followed by finishes of 8-3 and 9-2 in two of the next three seasons.
There were great players during those runs. But there was also a high level of buy-in, says Julius, and he says he’s hopeful this Lancers season will be the first step in turning things around from an 0-10 finish in 2018 and a 2-28 mark in Julius’ first three seasons.
“We’ve had some good runs, and we’re hoping to get back to that,” Julius said. “I think we have the capability as a program to eventually get back to that level where we’re competing and pushing to be a playoff team. You want to compete at the highest level, and it’s hard to get to the playoffs.”
No, they almost certainly aren’t going to flip a winless season into a transcendent 9-1 run to the playoffs and a state championship. But they don’t have to. There just needs to be progress.
“You don’t want to sell your team short, but obviously we’re looking for improvement,” Julius said. “That comes with building that confidence that you can win. You’ve got to learn how to win sometimes, and that’s the cycle we’re in right now.”
One of the biggest steps is finishing off games the Lancers should have won, or at least were in prime position to win last year. That includes close losses to Farmington, Hartford Public and Bristol Central by an average of 5.3 points.
“We were up big against [Farmington] in the first half, and they came back to beat us,” Curtin said. “Hartford Public was a really close game, so we just have a bitter taste in our mouth. We kind of look at those teams as we’re going to bring it to you. Those are the games we’ll probably be a little more focused and a little more hyped going into it.”
But before the Lancers can go out and win any games, they will have to establish themselves on the practice field, building the program day by day.
“Knocking [teammates] down doesn’t get you anywhere,” Dauphinee said. “You get on somebody, and you tell them why. It only gets them better. You need that leadership.”
Dauphinee, a left tackle and defensive end, says he doesn’t want to look back and think “what if” when he leaves the field for the last time. He wants to win, but he also wants to leave his mark on the program and set the stage for its turnaround.
“I don’t want to go out here with another crummy record. It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth,” Dauphinee said. “No one likes losing, right? So we’ve been out here with a win mindset. Expect to win. That’s what we’re coming out here every day to try and do. I don’t want to have any regrets when I leave this season, so I want to give it my all and hope my teammates will ride with me.”
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or email@example.com