NAUGATUCK — From a coaching standpoint, the key to success on the football field is finding players that have the skills to put a spark in the offense and shut down opponents on defense.
“It’s all about making plays,” Naugatuck head coach Dave Sollazzo says. “The difference between winning and losing comes down to making more plays than your opponent.”
More times than not in high school football, those right players who can make plays are the ones that rarely come off the field, known as two-way players.
Playing offense and defense takes a special kind of player that can grasp the different alignments and play calling associated with the offensive and the defensive schemes.
Senior captain Malachi Gatison is one of those two-way players and has left his mark over the past few seasons.
Gatison had the ground game going early for the Greyhounds, racking up 371 yards with three touchdowns in five games before getting injured, and anchored a linebacker corps that helped hold three opponents scoreless in the first five games.
“I don’t find it too hard being a two-way player,” Gatison says. “It’s all about getting enough reps so you get it down and then using practice to get even better with it. Even when you are home and watching the games on TV, you pay close attention to keep your IQ level of the game to where it needs to be.
“You will come to a better understanding of things on both sides of the ball if you have that motivation to go on and play in college. Knowing that if you mess up on a play because you didn’t put the time in to get better, that’s motivation enough when you are playing both ways.”
Seniors Isaiah Williams, Jeff Schebell, Paul Marsh and Dante Miranda and juniors Nick Linton, Jason Spino, Aaron Smith and Connor Maxwell are among the Greyhounds’ two-way players. Senior quarterback Jay Mezzo also played some defense against Watertown Nov. 21.
Schebell, who recently suffered a season-ending injury, wasn’t only a two-way player but also a double-threat on offense. He rushed for 253 yards and six touchdowns and caught 12 catches for 201 yards before getting injured.
“It really doesn’t matter to me, offense or defense, I just love playing football,” Schebell says. “As long as I’m out there trying to help the team win that’s what it’s all about. I go out and play to the best of my ability and it doesn’t matter if it’s offense or defense. If you have a good grasp of both offense and defense, it helps you to know what the other team is going to do no matter what side of the ball you are on.”
The two-way duties also come into play along the line of scrimmage, where senior Josh Lastra, who also missed games this year due to injury, has manned those duties for the past two seasons.
“It’s a grind at the line of scrimmage, but it does become a brotherhood where you are trusting the guy next to you to get it done,” Lastra says.
Being without multiple key players like Gatison, Schebell and Lastra has taken its toll on the Greyhounds, who enter the annual Thanksgiving game against Ansonia with a 5-4 record.
“We graduated 18 seniors last year and that has created a lack of depth,” Lastra says. “Being seniors, we need to set the example for the younger players and we have had several of the underclassmen step up this year.”
“It’s been a struggle that last few games but we stick together as a team,” he adds. “We don’t feel our season is over. We are still going out and giving 100 percent.”
Editor’s note: This article appears in the Citizen’s News’ special Thanksgiving football section published Nov. 28, 2019.