NAUGATUCK — One of the hardest things to do in sports is to repeat as champion. That is the challenge that faces the Naugatuck football team as they get set to defend last year’s Naugatuck Valley League title.
The Greyhounds lost a lot of personnel from last year’s 9-2 team that won the Copper Division with a 5-1 mark and then defeated Ansonia on Thanksgiving Day to claim its first NVL title since 2001. The ‘Hounds also qualified for the Class L playoffs for the first time since 2001 and narrowly lost to FCIAC power New Canaan.
The ‘Hounds will not only need to show the same kind of talent level that produced last season’s title run, they will also need to be on the same page as far as a daily commitment is concerned.
“Guys are going to have to step up and right now we are not getting that across the board,” Naugatuck head coach Rob Plasky, entering his 11th season with a 62-43 record, said recently. “One of our guys is injured but will be back (Sept. 13). One of our other guys didn’t even bother to show up today. Where is his commitment? So far in the preseason we have looked like a young team. We are trying to build off every practice and every scrimmage.”
The Greyhounds will be led by senior tri-captains Jake Yourison (quarterback/running back), Nico Cari (offensive/defensive line), and Mike Giugno (offensive/defensive line).
Seniors Tim Woodfield and Kevin Velardi will bring a little depth and experience to the trenches where the Greyhounds will need to control the line of scrimmage.
“We are counting on a running game to get us started,” Plasky said. “What we need to do offensively is to have an answer to what the defense is giving us. I’m not too concerned with having a balanced running and passing attack. That will come. What we need to do is eliminate mistakes and take a harder look at ourselves and the commitment we are showing out on the field.”
The Greyhounds have some playmakers in Yourison, who will be the feature running back and sometimes take snaps as a wildcat quarterback. Senior Mike Schebell will likely see plenty of carries from the running back slot, and senior quarterback Zack Mercer will lead the charge.
The ‘Hounds will also use a pair of juniors who will have an impact on the offense with running back Nick Kosa and wide receiver/kicker Mick Pernell adding to the points on the scoreboard.
“We have a solid nucleus of veteran players who can carry this team,” Plasky said. “We have had a lot of success with our freshman and JV programs. It gives them a little taste of success but will that translate to the varsity level remains to be seen.”
Senior wide receiver/defensive back Matt Harris along with senior tight end and strong safety Besim Bomova will be key contributors on defense. Juniors Mike D’Agnone and Kyle Bruneau add to the depth along with senior lineman Dan Morton.
Naugy will need its weapons and depth to help because teams around the league know the ‘Hounds are the defending champions.
“The biggest obstacle we will face is coming out here with a target on our backs,” Plasky said. “Everyone will be gunning to knock off the defending champions and we need to be ready to come out and play our A-game week in and week out. But it’s a good challenge. We just need to keep it simple, one play at a time, and one game at a time.”
Naugatuck will kick off the season on Saturday at East Longmeadow, Mass., for a 1:30 p.m. contest. The Greyhounds will host Derby in their home opener next Friday at 7 p.m.