The Southington football team knows the importance of a strong offseason. It helps set the tone for the months ahead. Really, it sets the foundation for what the Blue Knights hope is another championship run.
This summer was no different. Everything from 7-on-7’s to weight lifting competitions, linemen challenges and scrimmages were treated with playoff environments.
“We’ve put in the work,” senior lineman Jacob Vecchio. “We’ve been in the weight room since the winter. We’ve been conditioning, we come out here and grind it out. Everyone knows they have to be ready.”
Expectations are once again high at Southington and with good reason. The Blue Knights believe they have the talent to compete with anyone in the state. They just have to go out and execute. Even the players who have yet to play a snap at the varsity level are expected to fill in seamlessly for a team that went through the regular season last year 10-0 before falling to Fairfield Prep in a close game in the opening round of the Class LL playoffs.
There are, of course, some big names and productive players who have to be replaced.
Starting quarterback Jacob Drena, along with Southington’s top three receivers, Will Downes (52 catches, 843 yards, 5 touchdowns), Jacob Flynn (44, 816, 11) and Jaime Lamson (29, 421, 5), running back Tanner LaRosa (160 carries, 1,054 yards, 13 touchdowns) and three-fifths of the offensive line highlight the team’s losses on offense. All three wideouts were Division I players, with Downes now at Marist, Flynn at UConn and Lamson at Maine.
Still, there appears to be plenty of talent left to go around.
Dillon Kohl (72 carries, 545 yards, 8 touchdowns), Angelo Plantamuro, who will be one of the team’s few two-way players, and M.J. Bennett will share the touches at running back. Carter Uhlman (12 catches, 149 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Josh Vitti (6, 80, 1) will take over in the receiving corps.
“It’s coming together,” head coach Mike Drury said. “They’re all working their butts off. Offense is all about executing at a high level. We have to be able to be perfect on every play. The offensive line is a tight-knit group who work their tails off and I’m proud of them. Our skill guys have been in the program for several years now who understand what it takes to play at the level and we have a couple of good running backs.”
The biggest question mark will at quarterback. Junior Brady Lafferty won the quarterback competition over senior Sam Bouchard and fellow junior Shane Laporte, officially winning the job after the final scrimmage of the summer. But of the three, only Bouchard has attempted a varsity pass. As Drena’s primary backup last season, he completed three passes for 10 yards.
Despite the inexperience, Drury is confident in Lafferty.
“We’re excited about him,” Drury said. “He did a good job in the preseason and leading up to the preseason as well. He’s able to drive the ball down the field and has really good pocket awareness.”
The losses on defense aren’t as stark as they were a season ago, but there will once again be plenty of new faces. Three of the Blue Knights’ top six tacklers - linebacker Kyle Messenger and defensive linemen Jon Miller and Ryan Gavronski - have departed. Southington will also have to replace three quarters of its secondary, including the loss of safety Matt Thompson, who led the team with five interceptions.
Plantamuro and Billy Carr - the Blue Knights’ top two tacklers from a season ago - as well as senior safety Johnny Carreiro will be relied upon heavily just as Thompson was at the beginning of last year.
Carreiro, however, believes that while the offense will get a lot of attention, and deservedly so, teams shouldn’t be overlooking a unit that allowed just 13.2 points per game and finished with 63 tackles for loss, 29 sacks and 14 interceptions.
“Week in and week out, we love [not getting that respect],” Carreiro said. “We love being the underdog and knowing no one really wants to talk about us, but on the field Friday night, you’re going to know. It’s called the Dungeon because of defense, not offense. We’re 100 percent underrated. We’re ready to go and those guys who are moving up are good too.”
Should everything go right, Southington sees no reason it shouldn’t have high expectations. Around the program only one thing matters.
“State Championship baby,” Carreiro said. “State championship.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or email@example.com