NAUGATUCK — Heading into his third year as head football coach for Naugatuck High, Craig Bruno is excited to get his team on the gridiron and is keeping expectations high for this season’s pack of Greyhounds.
“Each year you try to have a different set of goals with new young men on the team, but the expectations are still very high, and we’re excited,” Bruno said. “We can’t wait to get started. The guys worked really hard. We’ve had a really good offseason.”
The Greyhounds kick off the season Friday at 7 p.m. at home against Kennedy High School.
Naugatuck opened last season on a three-game winning streak before suffering its first loss to Wolcott by a touchdown, 45-38. After shaking off the setback, the Greyhounds went on a six-game spree before meeting rival Ansonia in their annual Thanksgiving matchup. The Chargers’ run-heavy style bested Naugatuck, as Ansonia tallied six out of its seven touchdowns on the ground, while holding the Greyhounds to just 12 points.
The Greyhounds (9-3) ended the 2014 season with an appearance in the Class L Large Division playoffs, where their postseason was cut short in a 42–12 defeat at the hands of Darien in the first round.
The defeats, while devastating, are nothing to be ashamed of, according to Naugatuck High Athletic Director and Dean of Students Tom Pompei.
“Getting our doors blown in by Darien was devastating, obviously, but nothing to be ashamed of,” Pompei said. “Our two league losses were to two really good, state-qualifying teams. The Wolcott game could’ve gone either way. It came down to who had the ball last, and [against] Ansonia we had some tough conditions that day on Thanksgiving. I think it hurt us a little bit more than it hurt them, in terms of style.”
As the ‘Hounds begin their new season they will do so without the arm of recently graduated quarterback Jason Bradley in their arsenal. Bradley tallied an impressive 107 touchdowns and 6,945 passing yards in his high school career as the leader of Naugy’s formidable offensive.
The void Bradley left is projected to be filled by sophomore Mike Plasky. Young and learning, Plasky is a quarterback that has potential and a strong work ethic, Bruno said.
“Mike is a fine athlete and a great kid,” Bruno said. “I mean he is really awesome to coach. He is really working hard, and he’s learning as we go. He’s a sophomore, but I think he’s going to have a really good career.”
The Greyhounds also lost three key components of their receiving squad as Bryan Coney, Chris Quarles and Maleek Brooks graduated, as well.
The departure of Naugatuck’s offensive weapons has left large holes that will need to be filled. According to Pompei, the 2015 season will serve as a transition year for the team.
“We graduated one of, if not the best class of male student athletes that we’ve had in my [10 years as athletic director],” Pompei said.”[There are] huge holes to be filled in Jason Bradley’s departure at quarterback and Bryan Coney at receiver. They were the centerpiece of our offense last year, obviously, but we also had depth everywhere.”
Indeed there is depth in different positions, especially at wide receiver. The Greyhounds have a fairly seasoned squad of hands in seniors Socrates “Etty” Ilunga and James Mezidor, and juniors Tyler Deitelbaum, Jason Datil, Daniel Oladapo, David Verrilli and Josh McFarland.
While the offensive losses may make some cringe, the return of senior running back Antoine Sistrunk Jr. helps to ease any pre-kickoff anxiety. Sistrunk rushed for 1,155 yards and 20 touchdowns, while also making a sizable receiving contribution last year.
The shifty tailback made it to the end zone 26 times in total last season falling five shy of tying the school’s single season touchdown record held by former Greyhound’s running back Mick Pernell. Sistrunk is looking to put on a similar, if not better, performance this year.
Sistrunk will be the go-to guy on the ground, and Bruno is also looking for leadership from his starting running back.
“I expect a lot out of him, because of the type of work ethic he has and the type of kid he is, and we’ve talked about it,” Bruno said. “He’s a captain, and no question he’s ready for his senior year.”
Sistrunk welcomes the extra responsibility.
“I feel like I just have to step up as a leader and lead the team, and do as much as I can,” Sistrunk said.
Defensively, the Greyhounds have lineman and three-year starter Logan Bond returning for his senior year. Bond will serve as the leader for the defense as it goes through its own changes, considering he is the only returning starter.
The 2015 season is shaping up as a transition year for the Greyhounds, but only time will tell if it is to be a smooth one.