BRISTOL - Experience is going to be a problem for high school football teams across Connecticut as CIAC canceled the 2020 season due to the covid-19 pandemic.
The only student-athletes returning with any varsity experience were the few who played as freshmen and sophomores in 2019, meaning players’ skill levels and potential are widely unknown.
Bristol Eastern might be considered lucky compared to other programs as it returns five players who spent legitimate time on the field in 2019. A potentially important advantage as the Lancers look to start anew with a year off after a 2-8 season most recently.
Some of these players’ experience consists of consistent snaps at a position they will now likely start at, but senior Alex Marshall was an all-CCC selection as Eastern’s lead running back and a starting linebacker two years ago and brings a strong foundation to lead the team.
Joining Marshall as experienced seniors are linemen Alex Vida and Luke Dauphinee, wide receiver Conor McCormick and defensive back Nate Shorette who will all take on lead roles with their team this year.
“[Players] with serious varsity experience, we have about five, which is not bad when talking to other coaches,” Lancers head coach Anthony Julius said. “Alex Marshall, Alex Vida, Luke Dauphinee, Nate Shorette and Conor McCormick all played a lot of snaps when they were sophomores. It was definitely good for us to have them back as like a little core for us. We’re relying on our juniors and sophomores to kind of pick up the rest of the slack. So far, they’re rising to the occasion, and we just have to continue to get better every day.”
An every-down runner like Marshall is a good place to build an offense from, and Julius hopes it will play a hard-nosed and well-paced brand of football. The goal is similar on defense as Eastern looks to improve upon a season in which it allowed more than 30 points in seven games.
“We hope that we can control the line of scrimmage,” Julius said. “We have a couple of seniors up front that are good players for us and Alex Marshall is a workhorse. Hopefully, we have some younger athletes on the perimeter that we’re going to start to be able to take advantage of when teams give us [a chance]. That’s going to be our identity, we’re going to hang our hat on being able to control the ball and play sound defense and make teams earn it. Hopefully we come out on the right side of things.”
Julius said recovering from a year off sent the team back to working on fundamentals as most kids do not get much, if any, tackle football experience outside of high school. Usually there is some consistency to the routine of a yearly football season and getting back to hardening the basic skills took up much of this preseason.
“A lot of it is just reacclimated to playing tackle football again,” Julius said. “I think sometimes we might be a little bit too much in seven-on-seven mode, where it’s tag off on the hip. A lot of it is the kids getting used to being in pads again and they’re starting to get more acclimated as we go.”
The Lancers took the field with New Britain, Newington, Wilby and Morgan at a scrimmage it hosted Aug. 28 and got its first opportunity to compare itself to other teams. Simulating game speed mah never be more important as most of these players on the field are yet to play their first varsity game.
“It was definitely a good measuring stick for us,” Julius said. “We practiced with Xavier earlier [last] week and we did some good things there and [had] some things we needed to improve on and we definitely improved on those things [Saturday]. It was good to see the kids get out and compete, to see kids happy playing tackle football again is a good thing.”
The Lancers have a scrimmage with Middletown on Thursday as their last piece of preparation before game week. Then, Eastern opens its season hosting E.O. Smith on Sept. 10, which is when it will truly start to be clear how the team stacks up this year.
Regardless of how the season plays out, the excitement of having football back is what everyone is feeling most.
“The kids are smiling, they’re happy, they’re having a good time,” Julius said. “They are excited to be a part of something again. Even though we were together last fall, it still felt a little bit empty, it felt a little bit different. So to get the kids out here and playing the sport that they love is a good thing.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org.