As Woodland began to switch back to its spread offense in the offseason, the Hawks’ top three wide receivers — seniors Anthony Scirpo, Rahmi Rountree and Brian Reis — had a bit of a rude awakening.
They had a lot of work — and more running — to do all summer along.
It’s all paid off by now, as the Hawks won their first Naugatuck Valley League Copper Division title since 2007 and are on the brink of the program’s fifth postseason berth in nine years.
But it wasn’t so easy a few months ago.
“Definitely during the summer (it was tiring), but by now we’re conditioned,” says Reis, who was no stranger to lifting his facemask and emptying his stomach on the field every now and then. “All the work we put in during the preseason really paid off. We like to play up-tempo so that’s how we practice.”
Those practices aren’t always easy, the wideouts say. But they have a quarterback one year their junior to crack the whip.
“For Tanner (Kingsley) to be younger than us, he really helps push the tempo in practice,” Rountree says. “Since we’ve been doing it so much, practice gets tiring for us after a while but he really keeps us going. He puts his confidence in us.”
Kingsley’s wide receivers have given him plenty of reason to put his confidence — and the ball — in their sure hands.
“They knew they had to step up,” Kingsley says. “We look to them to make big plays all the time. I have so much confidence in my wide receivers and they’re really leading the team.”
Scirpo, who had the most experience of the trio entering the season, has broken several records in 2012. His 14 touchdown catches entering last Thursday’s NVL championship game against Ansonia are already better than Jeff Jones’ mark of 10 set in 2004, and Scirpo’s 23 career touchdown receptions also passed Jones’ record of 21.
He will finish his career also among the top five in receptions, receiving yards, total touchdowns, total points and return yards.
“I wanted to take on the role as the No. 1 receiver because I have the most experience and I wanted to help lead this receiving corps to the best of my ability,” Scirpo says.
“Scirpo is fast and athletic,” Kingsley says. “We look for him to make the big play.”
Rountree, usually opposite Scirpo, is the other big-play threat. After playing his sophomore year at Woodland, Rountree transferred to Cheshire for his junior year before coming back to Beacon Falls for his senior season.
“I was excited because it was a great feeling knowing I could play with the same people I used to play with and had chemistry with,” Rountree says. “With the new offense, I was excited being a wide receiver.”
Rountree’s seven touchdown catches and 357 yards entering the NVL title game were both second-most on the team. His 12 career touchdowns with Woodland — five came when he was a sophomore — are also good for top-five in Hawks’ history.
“Rahmi is another big-play wide receiver and when I throw to him I know he’s going to catch it,” Kingsley says.
While the two wide receivers on the outside are tall targets (Scirpo is 6 feet tall, Rountree is 6-foot-4), the Hawks’ key slot receiver is anything but.
Reis, who stands 5-foot-7, has carved a niche for himself as a third-down receiver. Woodland’s third-leading receiver had 346 yards and six touchdowns entering the league title game.
“Being small, I have to make sure I run my routes harder and do the little things to make myself get open and catch the football,” Reis says. “I just wanted to take advantage of any opportunities I got to play. Varying from week to week, I wanted to do whatever I could to take advantage of the times when I got the ball.”
Reis had his game of the season in the Copper title game against Holy Cross when he caught two touchdown passes and made several third-down conversions.
“Reis does what he has to do to get open and slip through coverages,” Kingsley says. “I have so much confidence in him to catch the ball and make big third-down conversions.”
While each member of the trio has his own strengths, they’re all eager to point out things the others do better.
“I love (Reis’) smarts,” Scirpo says. “He knows when to sit down at certain times and he really knows the playbook in and out. And I wish I could jump as high as Rahmi. I can get up there but he can really jump.”
“Scirpo’s ability to make these spectacular catches and his overall skill level on the ball is ridiculous,” Rountree says. “Reis knows how to make plays as a smaller guy on the field. He can create space for himself on the field and when the ball is near him he gets it.”
“Those two definitely have the height over me,” Reis says. “They’re great at going downfield and getting the ball. They’re our big playmakers.”
So: It’s third-and-goal from the 5-yard line. Who are you hitting, Tanner?
“Whatever play coach calls and whoever’s open.”