Longtime coaches hold Naugatuck together

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Naugatuck interim head coach Shawn Kuczenski, a 1987 graduate of Naugatuck High School, watches from the sidelines during the Nov. 3 game versus Watertown. Kuczenski is in his 12th season on the Greyhounds’ staff. –KEN MORSE

Even the best laid plans can unravel a football team. Distractions, injuries, miscues and just plain bad luck can lead a championship path into a roadside ditch. But that is the marvel of sports: overcoming adversity and watching the underdog rise up and become victorious.

What the Naugatuck football team had to endure this season was a true test of every coach’s and player’s character.

Three weeks before the start of the 2012 season, head coach Rob Plasky resigned after 11 years at the helm. An investigation into recruiting violations forced the fiery coach to step down after leading the ‘Hounds to two Naugatuck Valley League titles and state playoff appearances in 2001 and 2010.

The CIAC concluded in September that Naugatuck was guilty of several violations and levied several punishments, including a $7,500 fine and a two-year probation on the football program. It didn’t include a postseason ban but any further violations during the probation period would certainly entail such a consequence.

In the immediate aftermath of Plasky’s resignation, which occurred just days into the Greyhounds’ preseason conditioning week, Naugatuck athletic director Tom Pompei appointed assistant Shawn Kuczenski as interim head coach. The school administration decided there wasn’t enough time to post the full-time position with the season all but underway.

It was the worst of starts for any team entering a season but the Greyhounds used an “us against the world” mentality, according to Kuczenski, to rally around each other and put the situation behind them — and it’s all resulted in a winning season.

“It was a rough few days after coach Plasky resigned,” said Kuczenski, a 1987 Naugatuck High grad in his 12th season on the Greyhounds’ staff. “We had to come together quickly to get the kids to concentrate on football again. I knew we had a talented team and it was just a matter of getting them back on track.”

Kuczenski already had a good rapport with the kids after spending nine years as the freshman coach. During that time, he posted just one losing record with the young ‘Hounds.

His attention to detail as defensive coordinator helped the Greyhounds shut down a potent Ansonia offense as Naugatuck stunned the Chargers to win the 2010 NVL title at Jarvis Stadium.

“Coaching at my alma mater was the only place I wanted to coach,” Kuczenski said.

What helped the players the most during those first few weeks following the turmoil was having a coaching staff with whom they were familiar.

Offensive coordinator Chico Echevarria has been coaching for seven years and was the offensive line coach in 2010 when his son Aaron was a key figure in that year’s league title game.

“I’m very happy with the way this team has responded,” said Echevarria, a 1984 Naugy grad. “We have a lot of young kids who really have stepped up. Patrick Murphy, Will Paul and Jack Reardon are all sophomores and playing very well on the line.

“Jason Bradley is also a sophomore and has really surprised a lot of teams in the NVL this season,” he continued. “I believe getting them back to thinking about football right away after the switch was the key to getting them through this.”

Assistant coach Chuck Rek has been roaming the sidelines for 25 years. He has seen many of championship seasons and many of lean years. But it’s that kind of stability manning the sidelines that got this team back on track.

“We all accepted what happened and came to terms with it right away and that was the key,” said Rek, a 1981 Naugatuck graduate who started as a volunteer coach under the legendary Craig Peters. “The sooner we did that the sooner we could start concentrating on football again. We had a few games with Derby and Holy Cross that were decided by one play. We may not be playing for a postseason spot but the Ansonia game is our Super Bowl every year.”

Naugatuck High School football coaches, from left Chuck Rek, Bryan Coney, Tom Tousignant, Shawn Kuczenski, Chico Echevarria, and Jeff Scanlon. –KEN MORSE

Tom Tousignant, a 2007 Naugy grad and a former player at Western New England College, is the junior varsity coach and directs the lineman. Under his tutelage the young Greyhounds line has opened holes for Mick Pernell to set the school’s single-season record for touchdowns and provided Bradley time to throw for more than 1,000 yards.

“It’s pretty awesome to be back coaching at Naugatuck,” he said.

Jeff Scanlon is in his fourth season as freshman coach and many of his young players are playing key roles in the Greyhounds success this season.

“I coached a lot of the kids at the Pop Warner level and the travel flag football team,” said Scanlon, a 1996 graduate of Holy Cross. “Shawn asked me to help him out with the freshman team a few years back.”

Bryan Coney, a Naugatuck police officer, serves as a volunteer coach in his first year with the Greyhounds.

This tight-knit group of coaches, along with the players’ resilience, have allowed the Greyhounds to overcome adversity and achieve a winning 2012 season.