‘Hounds have unfinished business

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Naugatuck seniors, from left, Andrew Balkcom, Aaron Brito, Mike Natkiel and Tyrell Allen are part of large senior class returning to the football team this season as the Greyhounds look to get back to the playoffs. –KEN MORSE

NAUGATUCK — In his first year at the helm, head coach Dave Sollazzo guided the Naugatuck football team to a 9-2 record and the quarterfinals of the Class LL state playoffs last season. The Greyhounds are hard at work preparing for what they hope will be at least a repeat performance.

It won’t be an easy task after graduating 11 seniors.

“We did lose some talented guys, but we have a huge senior class coming in this year with 17 guys,” senior defensive end Tyrell Allen said. “We all gained a lot of experience and are ready to go out strong.”

Naugatuck will need to replace several key positions, including quarterback Mike Plasky. Junior John Mezzo takes over behind center this season.

“We do have a young quarterback, but [Mezzo] is mature and has a good arm,” senior fullback Mike Natkiel said. “He has a lot of senior leadership around him to take the load of pressure off him.”

“Mike Plasky was a great quarterback for us but more importantly he was a real good leader,” Sollazzo added. “But I really like Jay Mezzo. He’s a very smart young man and needs to learn how to be a leader, and that will come.”

The Greyhounds do return a stable of running backs and All-NVL receiver Zach Koslosky.

It all starts up front in the trenches, where the ‘Hounds lost key personnel at the line of scrimmage.

“We lost all but two guys on the line, but the guys coming up got experience last year and are more than ready to take over,” senior offensive lineman Andrew Balkcom said.

Sollazzo said the offensive line is coming along fine.

“Josh Lastra, Ray Hess, Syed Ahmad are very good football players on the line. You mix that with the experience up front with guys like Derek McGrath, Balkcom and Anson Lau, and we will be all right up front.”

The strength of this team may be in the defense, which gave up 81 combined points to Ansonia and Windsor in the final two games — both losses — last year.

“Our defense looks pretty strong,” senior defensive lineman Aaron Brito said. “That unit will definitely be a key for us and we have some pretty big hitters. Coming into this year, we feel like we have something to prove.”

The Greyhounds have established themselves as a contender, Sollazzo said, but also have some unfinished business to take care of.

“[Last season] didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but we proved that we are a team to be reckoned with,” Sollazzo said.

He added, “When you get yourself to that point you need to embrace it. That’s where you want to be, and we are going to go out and enjoy being the hunted.”

Naugatuck kicks off the season on Friday at Wolcott and will host Crosby on Sept. 14.