Greyhounds looking to take next step

Naugatuck High seniors, front row from left, Jeff Schebell, Kyle Carey, Alexis Chacon, Dante Miranda, Amarion Akinsanya, Jay Mezzo; back row from left, Herve Tshibamba, Malachi Gatison, Tyvias Dippelhofer, Syed Ahmad, Isaiah Williams, Anson Lau and Paul Marsh will lead the football team this season. -SPENCER DREHER

NAUGATUCK — Naugatuck High football coach Dave Sollazzo’s first two seasons leading the Greyhounds have been nearly perfect. Since he took over in 2017, Naugatuck is 20-2 in the regular season and qualified for the state playoffs each year.

There has been one thing standing in the Greyhound’s way, and those who have been around the borough long enough can probably guess what that is.

Since 2000, Naugatuck has beaten Ansonia — the Greyhounds’ longtime Valley rival — just twice. Last season’s 34-22 loss on Thanksgiving was the closest Naugatuck played Ansonia since winning the Naugatuck Valley League title in 2010.

Sollazzo knows the importance of the Ansonia rivalry, but Thanksgiving is still months away. He’s focused on taking it one day at a time, as the Greyhounds prepare for their season-opener Friday.

“The thing we preach as a coaching staff is that our number one opponent is ourselves,” Sollazzo said. “We are just going to keep focusing on ourselves and take it one day at a time. We are not looking ahead and we are not looking behind. We are just looking to improve each day.”

The Greyhounds are looking to build off a dominant 2018 regular season, where they held opponents to just eight points per game. The average score of their first nine games last year before Thanksgiving was 50-5, including six shutouts.

Naugatuck finished 9-2 overall last season, which ended with a 12-6 loss to Platt in the Class L state quarterfinals.

The Greyhounds lost seven of their ten leading tacklers from that stout defense a year ago, including Mike Natkiel and Jayden Anderson. In total, the team graduated 18 seniors in 2018.  Sollazzo said that several seniors this year have looked solid in practice and can fill some of those voids.

“We have some really good seniors this year that have been doing a great job,” Sollazzo said. “Herve Tshibamba will be a presence at nose tackle. Malachi Gatison has been doing a great job at linebacker. Isaiah Williams, Paul Marsh and Jeff Schebell have all been here since their sophomore year and have been great for us.”

On the other side of the ball, the Greyhounds’ offense is almost entirely reloaded from a year ago. While their top receiver from 2018, Zack Koslosky, is now playing in college, Marsh, Williams and Schebell were each a top-five receivers on the team last year. They also return their leading rusher in Gatison, as well as an experienced offensive line to protect senior quarterback Jay Mezzo.

“Some key offensive linemen will return for us, including Josh Lastra and Anson Lau,” Sollazzo said. “Our quarterback, Jay Mezzo, has been doing a great job for us and looks good so far.”

With the experience and talent on the roster, there are many reasons to believe that Naugatuck could be 9-0 heading into Thanksgiving for a third straight year. When asked about the recent level of success, Sollazzo pointed to trying to build a connection with the team and community.

“Since we got here, we have tried to build a family between the team and the town,” Sollazzo said. “We have made an effort, and still make an effort, to bring the borough of Naugatuck closer together. This town used to have that, and when I got here, I don’t think it was still here. So, I tried to embrace the community and get that back in the fold, and the team has really bought in on that. That helps us and motivates us to do what we are supposed to do.”

The Greyhounds kick off the 2019 campaign at home against Wolcott Friday at 7 p.m. Naugy will be on the road the next two weeks with matchups against Crosby and St. Paul.