NAUGATUCK — Connecticut high school football fans know new Naugatuck head coach Craig Bruno likes throwing the ball — a lot. So it was no surprise that rising junior quarterback Jason Bradley and a new stable of wide receivers were the focal points of the June 14 spring scrimmage.
Bradley, who started all 10 games last year as a sophomore for the Greyhounds, quarterbacked the first-string offense against the second-string defense and worked on developing relationships with new playmakers after the graduation of All-Naugatuck Valley League players Mick Pernell and Brandon Kuczenski.
“Mick and Brandon were great players and left tough shoes to fill,” said Bradley, who completed about half of his passes in the modified scrimmage on an 80-yard soccer field, which was used as the main football field is outfitted with turf. “But we’ve got at least six or seven guys who can all produce — maybe not to the degree of Mick and Brandon, but they can produce.”
Bradley listed a stable almost 10-deep — Bryan Coney, Maleek Brooks, Ricky Plasky, Ryne Griesenauer, Josh Aviles, Antoine Sistrunk, Jordan Hopkins, Kevin Robinson and Chris Quarles — as his new potential weapons, but a few stood out June 14.
Coney, a rising junior, caught touchdown passes of 57 and 45 yards as the No. 1 wide receiver. Sistrunk, a rising sophomore, started at running back and also caught a 16-yard score from Bradley, and Robinson, a rising junior, also grabbed a 70-yard touchdown pass.
The entire group appeared to settle in throughout the afternoon after dropping a series of passes early in the going.
“We had five or six passes dropped that could have been touchdowns but it’s part of the game,” Bradley said. “We have to get the kinks out early. I had a couple passes that were off-target. We’ll make the plays during the season and we’ll get the timing down.”
Bruno, the former Bunnell head coach who was hired in January, said evaluating wide receivers was his priority during the scrimmage and throughout the 10-day spring session.
“I was mostly looking at the receivers,” Bruno said. “We’ve developed a few guys that I like, and I think we had a great spring. We’d like it to be six or seven (guys who contribute). I’m sure someone will move up the more chances we’ll get to do things.”
Bruno pointed to Coney and Sistrunk as having stood out last Friday, as well as Aviles, who sat out with nagging injuries. The Greyhounds had 31 players dressed for the scrimmage with another half-dozen standing on the sidelines.
“Antoine Sistrunk had a good camp,” Bruno said. “He ran the ball hard and picked everything up. Bryan Coney did a nice job at receiver. We moved him to that position and he’s done well. Josh Aviles didn’t play today because he was banged up but he had a good camp.”
Bradley wowed Bruno, who coached a number of all-state quarterbacks at Bunnell.
“Jason had a wonderful spring,” Bruno said. “He way exceeded my expectations. I knew he was a great player from everything I’d heard, but he exceeded everything I’d heard. He’s been excellent. He listens, he’s a great kid and he’s a great football player.”
On the other side of the ball, Naugy’s first-team defense matched up with the second-string offense. Although Bruno admitted it was difficult to gauge that unit’s performance Friday, there appeared to be good speed and strength in the defensive front, which is bolstered by newcomer Hopkins, a transfer student from Arizona.
“The defense has done well but it’s tough to tell,” Bruno said. “The one thing we don’t have is a lot of depth. We don’t have as many guys as I would like. Jordan Hopkins looked pretty good at middle linebacker.”
Naugatuck is expected to be a contender in the NVL Copper Division this fall. The Greyhounds will visit Crosby on Sept. 13 in the season opener before playing their first game on the new turf Sept. 20 against Wolcott.
Already circled on the Valley football calendar is the Greyhounds’ Week 6 game against Bunnell, which is also Bruno’s alma mater. He said his experience in Naugatuck so far leads him to believe he made the right decision to lead the ‘Hounds.
“I love it,” said Bruno, who lives in Oxford. “The people have been really nice — at least until I lose a game. Everybody’s been exceptionally nice and more importantly the players have been nice. They seem to be happy that I’m here, and I’m really happy with my decision.”