Success on the field of athletic competition is 60 percent physical and 40 percent mental. To prove that theory, sports is filled with stories like the Amazing Mets of Tom Seaver and company, who won a World Series without one batter clocking 100 RBIs.
Then there’s the story of the 22-point underdog Jets of Joe Namath winning the Super Bowl on the strength of five turnovers. The Knicks won the NBA title with their center, Willis Reed, standing under the basket with braces on both legs, unable to even run up and down the court.
What did these teams have in common? The kind of belief that overcame any physical shortcomings, as they went on to make sports history with their amazing tales of mind over matter.
I don’t know what head coach Rob Plasky told his team on the bus ride heading down to Ansonia last Thanksgiving, but I sure hope someone got it down on a tape recorder so they can play it again.
Naugatuck was 3-7 and clearly outmatched against the 9-1, three-time defending Naugatuck Valley League champs, who had racked up 395 points in 10 games. The numbers, combined with playing on enemy turf, certainly wasn’t a recipe for success, and a 40-point blowout was on the mind of everyone in attendance.
The Greyhounds believed and recovered fumbles on the first two drives of the game. When Ansonia headed to the locker room at the half, you could see the disbelief in their eyes, as they clung to a 12-0 lead.
Somehow, Naugatuck was in a game that most people felt they had no business being in. Sure, Ansonia went on to win by a 20-0 margin, making it 20 victories in the last 22 meetings, but it didn’t come without a few anxious moments on the Chargers’ sideline.
The mind can be a powerful thing, and sometimes it can play tricks on you, having you believe in something so strongly that you can turn the inevitable into the improbable. That’s what happened in Nov. 13’s amazing, 8-0 win over previously undefeated Holy Cross.
That feeds the belief that on Thanksgiving Day, anything is possible.
This year’s Naugatuck freshman football team is perpetuating what last year’s varsity squad started: A reason to believe. The Naugatuck varsity team has been through a rough patch the past few seasons, and the turnaround starts with the proper mindset.
Of the 54 players on the varsity roster, 17 are sophomores who bring positive attitudes built on last season’s 8-3 freshman record. Several players have stepped up and made an impact as the Hounds struggled with injuries.
Freshman head coach Shawn Kuczenski, along with assistant coaches Jeff Scanlon and Bruce Kosa, have this year’s young Hounds believing in themselves, as they are off to a 7-1 start.
“They came in here with a little bit of football experience from the Pop Warner program,” Kuczenski said. “But they didn’t have a lot of experience with success, as wins were hard to come by. We needed to change their attitude and get them to learn the way we do things at the high school level.
“Jake Yourison, Ryan White and Connor Campbell are just a few of the players from last year’s freshman team who have moved up and made an impact on the varsity level.”
Six games into the season the starting defensive unit had allowed just six points and five first downs, led by Brian McGrath, Charles McClain and Ron Parker, along with Devin Aponte and Jon Pyshna.
Quarterback/defensive back Brandon Kuczenski has thrown three touchdown passes and rushed for two touchdowns, while compiling a team-leading four interceptions at cornerback.
Nick Kosa leads the team with 11 rushing touchdowns and has thrown three TD passes. E.J. Geyer has four rushing touchdowns and one kickoff return for a score, with Mick Pernell booting 26 of 27 extra point attempts to go along with four rushing and three receiving touchdowns.
Ryan Lewis has added two receiving touchdowns with Ashin Sajad adding one touchdown reception, giving the Hounds a deep core of scoring threats.
The freshman Hounds have scored 210 points and have allowed 59, their only loss coming at the hands of Woodland by a slim, 13-7 margin. Naugatuck goes into its final game with Ansonia fresh off a 34-14 win over Holy Cross.
“Coach Plasky is really excited about the success of our freshman team,” Kuczenski said. “We have a lot of weapons, and last year’s team is already making a difference at the varsity level.”
Plasky is indeed excited because he knows the ninth-graders’ success bodes well for his program’s future.
“Any time you’re winning at the lower levels, you know what kind of product you have coming ahead of you,” he said. “You know what’s gonna to be coming up, so you can get excited about [it]. You probably look at about five players at the freshman level each year that might be able to step right in and play varsity somewhere, whether it be special teams or something. So when you have a team right now that’s 7-1, maybe you have more than five.”
Naugatuck is skilled on both sides of the line of scrimmage with an offensive line that has Xavier Washington, Aireaus Atkinson and Matt McClain along with Donovan Mam and Nils Anderson in the trenches. Wide receivers Sean Gonzalez and Mike D’Agnone add depth to the Hounds’ offensive unit.
The defensive front of Nick Grosso, Matt Dowling and Devon Watkins, along with Dennis Murphy and Steve Fairbrother, has been the key to holding opponents off the scoreboard.
“The strength of this team is our defense, and that began right from the first game of the season,” Kuczenski said. “We have depth at all positions, as we have 32 on the roster and have maintained those kind of numbers for the past three or four years now.”
Solidifying the strength of the team on defense are linebackers Pernell Sturdivant, Lewis Hassenfelt, Ryan Caulfield and Rick Viveiros. The defensive backfield is manned by Anthony Pihonak, Steve Santos and Conner Mohan, along with Austin Furrari and Syed Hashaun.
The future of the Greyhounds looks bright with the continued development of a strong freshman program that will lead to success down the road for the varsity unit.
“The best thing we have going for us is we treat our JV and our freshman programs with a lot of respect, in terms of letting them get a lot of reps in practice and getting it done,” Plasky said.