NAUGATUCK — The Greyhounds’ offensive and defensive linemen clip-clopped in their cleats down the practice field hill on a hot, Wednesday afternoon, having just completed a series of contact drills with visiting Amity.
“How’d we do?” was the question posed to two-way lineman Dan Mariano by Naugatuck’s skill position players.
Without hesitation, Mariano replied, “We beat them up.”
In actuality, Mariano was not part of the line that did the beating. His left ring finger, broken at two knuckles during Naugy’s first scrimmage four days earlier, was taped and splinted. The rest of him was clothed in black wind pants and a black sleeveless shirt—an ensemble that, though immeasurably more comfortable than his team’s pads and uniform, felt unbearably restrictive.
“It’s so painful,” Mariano said, referring not to his own injury but rather to the pair of missed tackles by teammates that had just enabled Amity to score a touchdown.
Mariano was back on the line last Friday for the Hounds’ final scrimmage, a rain-shortened affair, at Veterans Field. But just as the Garnet and Grey regained one senior captain, they began to cope with the loss of another: linebacker Mike Kennedy, who tore his ACL in an inter-squad practice with Wilby and is out for the season.
The common denominator is Jake Yourison. The athletic sophomore earned the starting job at fullback while Mariano was out, meaning head coach Rob Plasky won’t have to move his best lineman to another position. Now, Yourison also will be called upon to fill the linebacking void left by Kennedy.
Naugatuck opens its season Thursday night at Seymour, last year’s Class SS runner-up. In 2008, the Greyhounds, who finished the season 3-8, watched the Wildcats score the game’s first 27 points and lost, 48-20. On Monday, Plasky said the key to a different result would be containing running back Taylor Searles and quarterback Connor Shugrue.
Shugrue’s Naugy counterpart, Erich Broadrick said he is confident this year’s contest will at least be closer.
“We’ll give them a run for their money,” he said. “We’re not going to lay down—not like last year. They’re good. We’re good.”
In the Amity scrimmage anyway, he appeared to be right, as the Hounds moved the ball well in both seven-on-seven drills and the full-squad scrimmage. Broadrick was accurate on short- and medium-length throws, indicating Naugatuck will throw the ball this season because it wants to, not because it is forced to by a large deficit. Still, Broadrick said establishing a formidable ground attack is the team’s first priority.
“We’re going to run the ball first,” he said. “Settle that, and we’ll go from there.”
The Hounds are blessed with depth, if not experience, in the backfield. Plasky said NHS will employ a three-back rotation that includes senior Marty DeJesus and juniors Dashawn Wingate and Andrew Cirino. In addition, he said Yourison will get carries at fullback; based on preseason observations, junior Marquan Williams also may be in the mix.
Not typically flashy on offense, Naugy experimented and succeeded with a new wrinkle against the Spartans. On one play, Broadrick handed off to Williams at tailback, who rolled to his left and fired a touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Tyler Conklin, eliciting enthusiastic cheers from the sideline.
Led by a slimmed-down Dan Bergeron, the defensive line looked strong, even without Mariano. Junior Iman Farimani anchors the linebacking corps and is clearly more comfortable on the field this fall than he was as a sophomore last year.
Taking charge in the secondary, will be Conklin and senior Matt D’Agnone, whom Plasky said emerged as a talented cornerback during spring practice.