Cornerstones of the gridiron

Woodland senior running back Edit Krivca (34) has rushed for over 1,000 yards and 20 touchdowns in back-to-back seasons behind an offensive line led by senior right guard Joe Shea and senior right tackle Josh Hassan, the only returning starting linemen from last season. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — Four years ago, Edit Krivca and Joe Shea had only about a half-year’s worth of football experience between them.

Now, as their careers on the Woodland gridiron wind down, they’ve become cornerstones of the best team the Hawks have boasted in a half-decade.

“I actually played one year in Pop Warner and I got a really bad concussion, so my mom didn’t let me play anymore,” says Shea, the team’s starting right guard. “Then I just brought home all the papers in high school and I was like, ‘Sign these.’ And she was like, ‘All right.’”

“I didn’t play any sports in middle school,” Krivca recalls. “A couple of guys — Joe Shea, Carter Amore, Josh Hassan — they were like, ‘You should try this. You’re an athletic kid. You should give it a shot.’ I was like, sure, why not?”

The Hawks would look a whole lot different without the pair. Shea and senior right tackle Josh Hassan — the only returning starting linemen from last season — have led a strong unit in the trenches, one that has paved the way for Krivca and junior quarterback Tyler Bulinski to pick apart opponents most of this fall.

The coaching staff’s first memorable experience with Krivca came on Thanksgiving eve in 2015. Krivca dressed as a freshman for a game in which Seymour buried Woodland, 53-7, at DeBarber Field. It was the final game of Chris Anderson’s second tenure as head coach.

“He walked into my office in tears and said, ‘Thank you for giving me the opportunity this season,’” says Anderson, who returned to the Hawks this season as the offensive coordinator. “That’s rare — you don’t see many players do that, especially a freshman. I knew he would be something special.

“Sure enough, look at what he’s done in the last couple of years,” Anderson continues. “Back-to-back 20-touchdown seasons? He’s so tough. He never misses one practice. We have to tell him to get out when he’s banged up. It’s like, ‘Get out. We know what you can do.’ He’s a workhorse.”

When Chris Moffo took over as head coach before the 2016 season, he and his staff felt Krivca had earned playing time as a linebacker and a blocker in the offensive backfield. Krivca finished that season with 42 tackles, an interception and 30 carries for 102 yards.

Krivca enjoyed a breakout year as a junior, rushing for 1,185 yards and 20 touchdowns while recording three defensive takeaways. He’s continued that success this season, topping the 1,000-yard mark just halfway through the season and reaching the 20-touchdown plateau again.

But the manner in which Krivca is respected by his teammates has little to do with his stats. They speak about him with glowing reverence.

“People often say he’s the heart and soul of the team,” Shea says. “He’s a fierce leader and he’s intense. He brings it every day in practice and it shows on the field.”

“I can always rely on him,” Bulinski adds. “I can give him the ball and he’ll make a play. That happened at Oxford — we were at the 30-yard line and he broke a shovel pass for a 70-yard touchdown. He’s the hardest working kid on the team. You can ask anything of him and he’ll get it done.”

Krivca attributes his success and leadership abilities to strong teamwork driven by “the emotion and passion for this sport.”

“We’ve been together since our sophomore year, and now these younger guys with the respect and discipline, that builds our group of guys together,” Krivca says. “It makes you want to come together to build a program.”

Moffo is happy to say about Krivca what the running back won’t say about himself.

“He’s very humble. He’s never about him,” Moffo says. “He’s always been like that. It goes back to when he was a freshman and he was put in different positions to go against older guys, and he did whatever was needed. As a sophomore, we asked him to block and not touch the ball much. It never fazed him. The kids see what he does on a daily basis, and the way he works and the way he’s committed goes a long way with the team. He’s a tremendous all-around person and role model.”

Woodland’s Nicholas Rousseau (26) runs behind a block by Joe Shea (55), one of two returning starting linemen from last season, versus Wilby early this season. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

His on-field success has been driven by the growth of the offensive line, which was a major question mark entering the season. Shea and Hassan took it upon themselves to provide extra guidance to those without their starting experience.

“(We) have helped out the younger guys,” Shea says. “We were the only two returners, and they’ve been understudies of us. We’ve helped them out a lot, and it’s helped out (Krivca and Bulinski), too. We can make a small hole for him, and he’ll just run through guys. He refuses to go down.”

The rest of the starting offensive line includes senior left tackle Peter Rosato, junior left guard Alek Tolboe, junior center Ryan Knobel and senior tight end Jason Hicks.

“It comes back to them working together constantly and jelling as a unit,” Moffo says. “In meeting rooms they’re together as a group, talking about different defenses and skill sets that they see. They’re very knowledgeable about what they’re seeing, and that’s a tremendous asset. They do a very good job of understanding and executing the game play. They ask questions. They take care of the whole offense. They make sure the young running backs understand.”

The play of the offensive line has helped younger players such as sophomore Nick Rousseau and freshman Jason Palmieri make positive marks as underclassmen.

“Those kids are students of the game,” Anderson adds about the line. “Their football IQ has raised tremendously throughout the season. They understand line techniques, and you can coach it like you’re coaching in college. They play hard and with a lot of heart.”

That grit and hard work put the Hawks in position for a chance at postseason football for the first time in five years.

Editor’s note: This article appears in the Citizen’s News’ special Thanksgiving football section published Nov. 22, 2018.