Hello friends, and happy Thanksgiving!
This is one of my favorite columns of the year because I get to talk about whatever I want for a few paragraphs. I looked back at last year’s column and noticed that I got really sappy (borderline pathetic) so I promise I won’t do that this year.
We live in strange times. I’m putting the finishing touches on this column during one of my last days as a student teacher at City Hill Middle School, so I asked a few of my kids, “What’s a problem in the world today?” One girl answered succinctly: “People.”
In many ways she’s right. But in many other ways, we can make sure that’s not the case during this holiday season.
It doesn’t cost money to be a good person. Be kind to others. Have some patience in stores and in traffic. Offer a helping hand to someone who seems overwhelmed. Support your friends and family. Share a laugh. Volunteer your time. Trust that there’s a silver lining and a reason why something isn’t working out in your favor. Have fun.
The student sections at our two local high schools have been great role models for what we all can strive to be for the rest of this year (and beyond). The Hawk’s Nest and the ‘Hound Pound show up in unified force, all decked out in black or garnet or some other hue, to support their friends and classmates. They cheer no matter the score. They’re reminders of why high school sports are great.
So this Thanksgiving weekend and throughout the holiday season, take a page out of these kids’ playbook: With the right perspective, you can always find some cheer.
THE FOUNDER COORDINATES
There’s nothing quite like the original. Chris Anderson is Woodland football.
Anderson began the program as the school’s first head coach in 2001, leading the Hawks to Naugatuck Valley League and Class SS state titles in 2004 and 2005 before leaving to coach at the University of New Haven in 2008. He returned to Woodland for a one-year stint as head coach in 2015, but he resigned after the season to spend more time with his family.
After two years away from the program he created, he came upon an opportunity he wasn’t sure he’d have again.
“Chris (Moffo, the head coach) had a position open, and it was kind of a last-minute thing,” Anderson said. “It was about a week before the season, and I walked into the weight room and told him I would do it.”
It was going to be an adjustment for Anderson, who hadn’t been a high school assistant coach since his days at Shelton during the Dan Orlovsky era from 1998-2000.
“I was a little worried at first,” Anderson said. “I’m a pretty A-type personality and I’ve been a head coach for a long time, and if I see things I disagree with, it’s hard to keep my mouth shut.”
But Anderson said he’s enjoyed a great working relationship with Moffo, the third-year head coach who was a defensive assistant to Anderson in 2007 and 2015.
“It’s been a very positive experience, and I say that because of Chris Moffo,” Anderson said. “He’s allowed me to call the shots on offense and allows me to speak my mind on things that maybe a head coach ordinarily wouldn’t let an assistant coach say. That’s a sign of great leadership by him. He puts his ego aside and lets me be myself.”
Moffo said it was a no-brainer to bring Anderson on staff.
“Chris is a great football coach,” Moffo said. “He’s helped me out tremendously. I’m very happy to have his wisdom and knowledge. We’ve always tried to keep him involved. To have him be a part of what’s going on is a tremendous asset to us. His knowledge of the game — you can’t say enough about him.”
The Hawks he helps on the offensive side have enjoyed tremendous growth. Junior quarterback Tyler Bulinski, in particular, has played well enough to escalate himself from a game manager to a playmaker.
“He’s had a tremendous role,” Bulinski said. “We have double sessions in the morning, so I’d go to a quarterback meeting and then a team meeting. Just that 15 minutes of time (in a quarterback meeting) helps a lot. He’s just so passionate about it.”
Senior offensive lineman Joe Shea said in some ways it’s a surreal experience to have Anderson back on the coaching staff.
“He’s the guy who set up this program, the one that we play in and one of the best in the NVL,” Shea said. “He just brings a piece of how things used to be around here and the passion he has for this program and this school. We all just feed off that, and we’ve learned how to love each other, love this school, and love this program.”
Records fall almost every year in Connecticut high school football, but nowadays, it’s almost exclusively the offensive records that go down.
This year, though, Naugatuck has done some damage in other areas of the record book that are usually fairly safe.
Elijah Robinson’s four kickoff-return touchdowns this season — two against St. Paul, one against Oxford, and one against Seymour — place him tied for third on Connecticut’s all-time single-season list. The leaders have five. That total is also good for a first-place tie in NVL history for both single-season (with Derby’s Jordan LaRue in 2013) and career (with LaRue and Woodland’s Jeff Jones) kickoff-return scores.
The two scores Robinson ran back against the Falcons on Sept. 21 also placed him for a tie atop the state (and NVL) record book for most in a game. The only other players to accomplish that feat while playing in the NVL were LaRue in 2013 against Watertown and Woodland’s Will Volage in 2007 against Ansonia.
The Greyhounds’ defense has also been among the best in the state, statistically speaking. Naugy entered Thanksgiving allowing just five points per game, helped by six shutouts. Naugatuck hasn’t pitched that many shutouts since 1990, when the ‘Hounds blanked opponents seven times. It’s also the highest total in the NVL since Ansonia stymied opponents six times in 2007.
Another shutout by Naugatuck would make the Greyhounds the first NVL team to throw up seven goose eggs since Woodland in 2004. Naugy’s school record for single-season shutouts is eight, accomplished by the 1915 squad (in 10 games).
No matter the result of the Thanksgiving game against Ansonia, Naugatuck will host a home quarterfinal game in the Class L playoffs Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. It’ll be the first home playoff game for the Greyhounds since 2010, when they lost a 21-12 quarterfinal decision to eventual runner-up New Canaan. Naugy will appear in the playoffs for the fourth time this decade.
Woodland has clinched a Class S playoff berth — the Hawks’ first since 2013. If things fall right, Woodland will host a quarterfinal Tuesday.
Editor’s note: This article appears in the Citizen’s News’ special Thanksgiving football section published Nov. 22, 2018.