High school football and I have a whole lot in common.
We’ve both been built with tradition at our foundations. We’re both cornerstones of Small-Town America. We’ve both always had the reputation of being tough, physical and rugged character builders with the ability to make mothers cry tears of joy.
(I giggled as I wrote that entire last sentence.)
Seriously, though, high school football and I are both in a time of fluctuation and instability.
I’m 24, a few years out of college, a year and a half removed from writing every week in this paper — by the way, it’s nice to see y’all who unfortunately don’t subscribe to the Republican-American — and, sooner than later, will have even more big life decisions to come. Will I be writing this back-page Thanksgiving column again next year? Who knows?
Connecticut high school football is in a similar spot. It’s going through an era of many changes that include many more rules — many of which are to appease lawmakers and doctors — far fewer players and a substantially lower level of play than we were used to seeing even just a few years ago.
The standard in the Naugatuck Valley League has fallen. The level has dropped off around the state, too. Rules and mentalities have softened the game — defenses, in particular — and it very may well never recover without making major structural changes in the near future.
But the one thing we — high school football and I — can always count on is Thanksgiving. So here we are once again. I’m back in my original newspaper for a cameo, and y’all get to feast on my leftovers.
I’ve done a lot of work over the last few years to organize local football records for occasions like these, when McAllen is finishing up a record-setting career. Here’s a little bit of perspective on the numbers he’s posted.
McAllen has 4,470 career rushing yards, good for fifth most in NVL history and 21st in state history. He eclipsed the pair of Woodland All-State running backs, Jack DeBiase and Pat Krakowski, on the career charts earlier this season.
McAllen also has 64 career touchdowns, two shy of Krakowski. As it stands, the total is among the top seven in NVL history and the top 25 in state history.
He’s been fabulous this season, with all of his state-leading 1,748 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns when opponents knew he was going to get the football. When it ends, it’ll rank among the top 15 individual seasons in league history.
It’s impossible in today’s age of poor defenses and inflated numbers to assess a player just by his stats, but McAllen has always passed the eye test. His toughness would make him fit in any era.
Naugy’s Interview Affinity
Earlier this season, a few Naugatuck players tagged me in an ongoing comment thread on a photo posted to Instagram by Antoine Sistrunk. I didn’t get dragged in until there were about 500 comments, but I’m glad someone invited me to the party.
See, a lot of players see a lot of reporters as the stilted enemies of a team’s success. They see us as guys and gals who want to stir up trouble and get in the way. They see us as boring. There are some like that. I’m all about fun. So I hopped in and joined their fun.
Before I knew it, several of the players had labeled me the GOAT. (That’s the Greatest of All Time, for those unfamiliar.) All I had to do was engage for a little while. It was unexpected to them. They were thrown into a tizzy.
Then, almost all at once, a bunch of Greyhounds professed their desire to be interviewed. Matt Johnson, Tyler Waters and Brandon Papp were the ones I remember. I unfortunately only made it to Johnson after a game this year — it was as if Santa Claus himself had walked onto the sideline — but hopefully this shout-out suffices for the other two.
It should be noted that I was quickly stripped of GOAT status when someone tagged Sacred Heart basketball star and Auburn recruit Mustapha Heron. He commented. I was cast aside by most, although Wolcott’s Bobby Stoeckert clamored for Heron and me to square off in a game of one-on-one for the GOAT title.
I’ll save us all the trouble.
Happy (For Some) Anniversaries
I like to dig back into the Thanksgiving archives to see what happened in milestone anniversary years past. Headlining this year’s slate were three local games: Naugatuck’s last win over Ansonia in 2010, Woodland’s 2005 loss to Seymour that snapped a 22-game winning streak, and Naugatuck’s 1990 defeat to Ansonia that ended one of the Greyhounds’ all-time greatest teams.
There’s a lot more about all three of these games in the Republican-American’s Thanksgiving section and on our new high school sports website — thezone.rep-am.com.
Sags and Steve Celebrate 40
My fourth season as the play-by-play broadcaster for NVL football on 1320 WATR-AM is coming to an end (we’ll be on the call for both local games this week). It’s been a nice four years so far — even if most of our games have been terrible during that stretch — but my partners have been at it much longer.
Bob Sagendorf posted a photo on Facebook early in the season letting us all know that this is the 40th season since he and Steve Gesseck started calling local high school football on the radio.
They’ve seen a lot of good (and bad) football and done a lot of big (and bigger) things since they started with WOWW-AM in 1976. Bob was a national radio producer for decades, and Steve’s enjoyed a successful career in his own field.
I’ve learned a lot from Bob over the years, and Steve’s been a terrific on-air partner. Hopefully you can join us for a little bit of fun during our two holiday broadcasts.
And, if you see them, tell ‘em how stylish they were a few decades ago.
Pinho Trophy Comes Full Circle
Perhaps the best event we have on our local high school sports calendar each year is the Woodland-Naugatuck football game for the George Pinho Trophy. The Hawks won the third edition of the rivalry game, 50-24, earlier this month.
It’s been a special game for Woodland each time the Hawks have played for the trophy named after their late assistant coach and Naugatuck native. But this year included another unique twist.
This bunch of Woodland seniors was the last group to call George Pinho its coach before he suddenly passed away in January 2013.
“When we look back at freshman memories that were so important to us, he was a great coach and a great motivator,” McAllen said. “He taught us that family was everything. We showed that (against Naugatuck) because we bonded and worked through adversity.”
McAllen surely made Pinho proud on Nov. 6 when he ran for 462 yards and six touchdowns. That yardage total is the fifth highest in state history, and much of it came as Woodland kept feeding the ball on the same power play all game.
“It means everything to us,” senior lineman Paul Pronovost said. “This whole season, we’ve been waiting for this game. We wanted redemption for last year. He was our freshman coach and we played hard for him when he came in. He led us to victories after a losing season, and when we lost him right after the season, it was a hard loss for us. We’ve wanted this for our whole high school careers.”
They got it. For almost a half-hour after the game ended, the trophy stood as the centerpiece of photo after photo. One of the last pictures taken was of the players who started their careers on Pinho’s freshman squad in 2012.
It wasn’t a big group — only about eight or nine players — but it was a bunch that might not have existed at all had it not been for Pinho, who stepped into his role that final season when the team was in danger of having no coach at all.
That possibility, for George, was simply not going to happen.
“His energy and love for the game were awesome,” McAllen said. “Practice freshman year was fun. He made these guys love football, and he made our team stick with it. Players who were going to quit, they love the game now because of him.”
Editor’s note: This column appears in the Citizen’s News’ special Thanksgiving football section published the week of Nov. 27, 2015.