NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck football team had three legendary head coaches during a span of 50 years of football. Over the last six years, three different head coaches have patrolled the sidelines.
New head coach Dave Sollazzo is looking to get back to the basics this season with a focus on the tradition that made this football team one of the most revered programs in the state.
“We are trying to create a culture where we are doing the right thing all the time on the football field,” Sollazzo said. “Number one, we are a family. Number two, we are all brothers. There are no individuals on this team. It’s going to take everyone playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played in order to be successful.”
Sollazzo comes in with an impressive resume coaching in college. He has surrounded himself with a solid array of assistant coaches, including defensive coordinator and former Greyhound Kevin Cretella, offensive coordinator Ollie Gray, offensive line and linebacker coach Scott Langenheim, and assistant coaches Brendan McWeeney and Joel Balcolm.
“We wouldn’t be where we are without the outstanding efforts of our assistant coaches,” Sollazzo said. “They have all helped tremendously in the transition of bringing in a new system and getting this team ready to go.”
Naugatuck returns a strong core of players to help with the transition to a new coach and a new system. Senior captains Mike Plasky at quarterback, Efe Onakpoma at fullback, Sammy Ayash at offensive line, Jiram Lopez at defensive line and Jaden Bennett at wide receiver will lead the Greyhounds on the gridiron.
“We definitely have a lot of talent and experience coming back on this team, and I expect great things this season,” Plasky said.
“Trying to learn a new system is more of a test of your mental toughness,” Onakpoma added. “You just need to push through it to be successful.”
Naugatuck will need to win the battle in the trenches in order to put more wins than losses on the board.
Ayash will lead the way along with seniors Cameron Litwinka, Ajay Patel and Jevonte Swierbitowicz on the offensive line.
“I think skill and technique matters more than size,” Ayash said. “Our coaches have us more than prepared for what we are going to face.”
On defense, Lopez will lead the way up front along with Onakpoma. Hubert Lutzykowski at linebacker and defensive backs Ricardo Montanez and Nick Boudreau will be in charge of shutting down the opponent.
“I think our defense will be even better than last year,” Lopez said. “We are faster and more physical and can put up the kind of scoreless streak like we did last season, and maybe even more.”
Naugatuck may be smaller upfront, but that is a non-issue for Sollazzo, who was more interested in talking about the experience and dedication that the senior class brings to this team.
“I don’t mean to use a cliché,” Sollazzo said. “But it’s the size of a man’s heart and not the size of the man that truly matters.”
Bennett will team up with junior wide receiver Jayden Anderson and sophomore Isaiah Williams to give Plasky formidable targets in the passing game. Junior Jacob Fazekas was one of the leading rushers last season and can also catch the ball out of the backfield.
“We are very versatile on offense,” Bennett said. “We can run, we can pass and we can put pressure on the opponent by spreading the field.”
With the season starting this week, Sollazzo said learning a new system will be a work in progress.
“There is still work to do and we are going to be working right up until that opening kickoff,” he said. “We have put an emphasis on the line of scrimmage, and we have some experienced skill position guys. That adds up to giving us a chance to be a very good football team.”
Naugatuck opens the season Friday at Derby for a 7 p.m. showdown.
“I don’t care if I was at Maryland getting ready to face Florida State in front of 95,000 fans or getting ready to face Derby, it’s the same butterflies and anticipation,” Sollazzo said. “Football is football at any level, and as a coaching staff and a team we are jacked up and ready to go.”