BEACON FALLS — It’s going to be a Jack of all trades leading a work in progress in the Woods this fall.
Senior quarterback-running back-safety-linebacker-place holder-kick returner Jack DeBiase is one of few returning starters on both sides of the ball and will probably take up the new role of signal-caller in an inexperienced, new-look offense at Woodland.
The Hawks lost quarterback Steve Petracca, skill players Brandon Fowler, Tyler Slapikas, Colin Grommisch, and Chris Savvidou, and linemen Payten Gallagher, Mike Diurno, Mike Uszakiewicz and Jim Hart from an offense that a year ago led Woodland to a 7-3 record.
DeBiase will move from being an all-Naugatuck Valley League and all-state running back to taking almost all snaps directly out of the shotgun in a modified version of Woodland’s patented wing-T offense—not to be confused with the trendy wildcat formation, according to head coach Tim Shea.
“It’s not a wildcat,” Shea said. “It’s a wing-T offense. If you look at what we’re doing, it doesn’t look like the same thing, but it is. We’re just moving people around to different spots to get there.”
The new style of offense was on display in scrimmages against Oxford and North Haven last week and has a plethora of different formations available. Sometimes the Hawks will trot out a pair of wingbacks; sometimes they’ll send out two wide receivers; other times they’ll overload one side; still others they’ll stick a superback alongside DeBiase. Regardless, it’s number 10 running the show.
“We’ve still got another week to fine-tune some things,” Shea said. “It’s still a little trial-and-error. Jack’s got nowhere to go but up at that position. He’s gotten a lot better than people would think. He is able to throw the ball, which is the biggest concern for us. This is not a gimmick offense. Everything we do is the same; we’re just getting to it differently. The only thing is that if he was tailback, out of 50 or 60 snaps in a game he’s obviously not getting the ball every time. In this case, he’s at least touching the ball every time.”
DeBiase is confident he’ll be able to adjust to the new role.
“I’m still a running back,” DeBiase said. “It’s just a different way of getting the ball, I guess. We’re still running the same stuff so nothing’s changing that much. I believe in whatever the coaches tell us to do. It’s the best thing for the team to help us win games.”
DeBiase was still working out the kinks Saturday in North Haven when he threw just one touchdown pass to three interceptions in the Hawks’ loss. But the senior wasn’t deterred by the performance.
“It will come,” DeBiase said. “I’m not worried. I’ll make it happen. I’ll keep listening to coaches and learn what to do and how to work at it.”
DeBiase isn’t the main concern on offense, though. The offensive line returns just one starter—junior center Tom Gendreau—and is both inexperienced and banged up.
“We had nine kids out on Saturday,” Shea said. “We can look at it as a positive that with some starters out, it’s a chance for the other kids to get some work. When you graduate four out of five starters, it’s tough. It takes a while for them to gel. We feel the starters will be pretty good. I think we have good coaches on the offensive line. Offensive line play is really all five—with the tight end, six—of them working together. They’ve got to have faith and confidence in one other.”
That line will have to come together quickly to pave the way for DeBiase and the rest of Woodland’s offense, including wingbacks Jake Pinho and Craig Genz, running back Matt Zaccagnini and wide receiver Rob Johnson.
“Everybody’s still learning and we’re gelling as a team,” DeBiase said. “It takes time with the young kids stepping up.”
Hopefully for the Hawks, it doesn’t take too much time. They open the season Sept. 16 at home against Ansonia, a team Woodland hasn’t beaten since 2005. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m.