BRISTOL - With quarterback Dathan Hickey showcasing his talents on the field for the Bristol Central football team and its fans in the Rams’ 33-27 Battle for the Bell win, Bristol Eastern got its second strong performance in a row out of sophomore wide receiver and defensive back Elijah Gagliardo and one that has the Lancers looking forward to next year already.
For most of the season Gagliardo wasn’t targeted much, but in the final two games of the year that changed as opposing defenses keyed in on shutting down the Lancers leading receiver and quarterback Justin Marshall’s favorite target, Jaden Laprise.
“The last few teams have schemed to stop [Jaden] so we needed a guy to be able to step up and answer and [Elijah] was able to do that [Thursday],” Bristol Eastern head coach Anthony Julius said. “For our receiving core, the future is really bright and something we’re excited about.”
With opponents focused on Laprise, Gagliardo saw his number called more often and he responded with his two best games of the season.
Against Manchester he had six catches for 87 yards and a touchdown. On Thanksgiving, he added eight catches for 90 yards to combine for 14 catches with 177 yards and a score over those final two weeks.
The eight receptions he had against the Rams on Thanksgiving tied the record that was set by Bristol Eastern’s Rick Schmaltz in 1970.
“Eli is one of the kids who are really quiet, but on the field he’s like the dark horse,” Lancers senior left tackle Andrew Consalvo said. “We didn’t target him as much as we probably should have this year, but [Thursday] he really stepped up for us and he had a great impact on the game.”
While his offensive ability is evident, his performance on defense in the secondary has been just as important for Eastern.
He was named the defensive player of the game against Bristol Central and his interception of Hickey in the third quarter setup the Lancers in good field position that eventually led to a game-tying touchdown run by Steven Hopkins and ignited the Bristol Eastern to its best second half performance of the season with 20 points scored.
Gagliardo finished with a team-leading seven tackles to go with the interception.
“He’s definitely a huge impact on offense and defense,” Bristol Eastern senior linebacker Tyler Mason said of Gagliardo. “He’s quick, he has a good set of hands and I feel like the sky is the limit for him.”
With both Gagliardo and Laprise returning next season along with Marshall, the Lancers offense is in position to have a big year and for opponents, the scary thing about Gagliardo is his frame and the room for it to grow just being a sophomore.
He is currently listed at 6-foot-2 and 165 pounds on the roster and has shown the ability to go up over defensive backs to get the ball with the height.
As Gagliardo continues to develop as a receiver and if he works in the offseason in the weight room to build that frame, he has the potential to become an outstanding player for the Lancers and form a tandem with Laprise that opposing defenses will struggle to stop.
The Thanksgiving Day game against the Rams may have just been the start for him.
“The sky is the limit for Eli,” Bristol Eastern senior defensive end Rajon Collins said. “He can literally do whatever he wants to and coming into this game he didn’t get the ball a lot but when the ball was thrown to him he caught it and he was our star player [on Thanksgiving]. He does his job and he’s going to be a star.”
Dan Orencole can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @OrencoleDan