Greyhounds turn weakness into strength

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Naugatuck’s Brandon Papp (4) broke his leg on the second play of his freshman season. Papp, a senior, fully recovered to become an impact player on a resurgent Naugatuck defense that shut out three straight opponents this season. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI
Naugatuck’s Brandon Papp (4) broke his leg on the second play of his freshman season. Papp, a senior, fully recovered to become an impact player on a resurgent Naugatuck defense that shut out three straight opponents this season. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

One of the key ingredients to success is how well one overcomes adversity. For Naugatuck senior Brandon Papp, adversity struck on the second play from scrimmage his freshman year.

Papp, a running back on the JV team at the time, hit the hole and went down on impact. The result was a broken leg.

“I honestly wasn’t sure if I would ever walk again never mind play football again,” Papp says. “At least that’s how I felt at the time. It was pretty scary having never been injured before playing football.

“Originally the doctor said it was a six- to eight-month recovery. But I worked hard and did my best to cut that time in half. I missed the next year of spring football just as a precaution but I was back at 100 percent by the fall of the next season.”

Papp was back in action for his sophomore year playing JV and starting on special teams for the varsity. By his junior year he was a varsity captain as an outside linebacker and the road to recovery was well behind him.

Now, the senior defensive end is an impact player for a Greyhounds’ defensive unit that greatly complements their high-flying offense.

“Coach (Craig) Bruno always finds a way to get the offense going,” Papp says. “But this defense has really helped to carry this team. Coach always stresses that a defensive touchdown can really change the momentum of a game, and we have been able to do that a few times this year.”

The Greyhounds’ defense came into its own after an early loss to Seymour. Naugatuck followed the loss with a five-game winning streak in which the defense gave up just 26 points, including three straight shutouts. Naugatuck had only two shutouts in the first three years under Bruno, and Naugatuck set the record for shutouts in a season with seven in 1990.

“After the Seymour loss we knew we really had to come out and turn the defense from a weakness into one of our strengths,” safety Jacob Fazekas says. “We really developed a bond together and started to anticipate what each other was going to do.”

The Greyhounds are opportunistic on defense. Senior defensive back Dan Oladopo and junior linebacker Hubert Lutrzykowski both have two interceptions, including a pick-six each. Junior defensive end Cameron Litwinka also returned a fumble for a touchdown.

The defense will need to take advantage of opportunities on Thanksgiving morning against an Ansonia team that is scoring 49.4 points per game this year.

“Defense on Thanksgiving is like a whole new season,” Papp says. “We need to keep Ansonia’s offense on the sidelines and get our offense on the field to make something happen. It won’t be easy but that is the job we need to do to be successful.”

It will all start up front with junior Efe Onakpoma along with sophomores Tyrell Allen and Andrew Balkman applying the pressure. Senior linebacker Devin Biancarelli, sophomores Jaden Anderson and Michael Natkiel will have to make sure tackles to prevent long gains.

Senior defensive back Josh McFarland and sophomores Nick Airoll, Derek Sampaio and Fazekas represent the last line of defense to keep the Chargers out of the end zone.

Seniors Edison Sanchez, David Verrilli and Joequan White along with junior A.J. Patel add to the defensive unit that could very well decide this year’s Thanksgiving matchup.

The last time a Naugatuck defense shutout Ansonia on Thanksgiving was the 1993 state champion Greyhounds, who defeated the Chargers 22-0. While another shutout would be nice, a win would mean a playoff berth.

“We worked hard to put ourselves in the position to make the state playoffs,” Fazekas says. “We will be ready on Thanksgiving Day to make plays. We know Ansonia is a tough team but if we stick together and play to our ability we will be all right.”

Editor’s note: This article appears in the Citizen’s News’ special Thanksgiving football section published the week of Nov. 25, 2016.