New era for Hawks football

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Woodland seniors and football captains, from left, Joe Poeta, Jake Laliberte and Max McSperrin will lead the Hawks on the gridiron this season. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI
Woodland seniors and football captains, from left, Joe Poeta, Jake Laliberte and Max McSperrin will lead the Hawks on the gridiron this season. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — Woodland comes into the season with a new look in the huddle and on the sidelines.

The Hawks are passing the torch with senior Mike Kenney stepping in at quarterback and head coach Tim Phipps taking over the reins after 13 seasons as an assistant coach.

“It’s exciting, I won’t deny that,” Phipps said. “I have played in the Valley and have coached the past 13 seasons in the league I played in and now I get to be the head coach for a school that I just adore.”

The transition is still in the working phase as Woodland breaks the huddle without the Kingsley name on the back of one of the uniforms. The Hawks graduated quarterback Tanner Kingsley, who holds state records for touchdown passes in a season with 51 and in a career with 113 and has two Copper Division titles.

In 10 of the 13 seasons for Woodland football, there has been a Kingsley in the huddle, starting with Shane in 2002, Cody in 2004 and Tanner in 2010. Phipps was there for all of the transitions as an assistant coach and was on the staff when Woodland won two state championships.

The new era of Woodland football has begun, but don’t expect the results to change very much. The Hawks will be very much in the thick of the fight for another post-season appearance, but equaling last year’s 12-3 ledger and appearances in the NVL and state title games may be difficult.

“There shouldn’t be much of a transition since I have been here since day one when this program started under coach Anderson and then for the past six years under coach Shea,” Phipps said.

The biggest transition, if any, will be on the shoulders of Kenney who moves from the team’s best receiver at 57 catches, 15 touchdowns and 1,014 yards to quarterback.

“Mike has worked extremely hard over the summer learning the playbook and all the facets of the offense,” Phipps said. “He does have a bit of an advantage seeing the passing game from a receiver’s perspective. How much that helps remains to be seen. But we have all the confidence in Mike and we are not asking him to be Tanner, we are just asking him to bring that same passion into the huddle and let the rest of the team feed off that confidence.”

Woodland does return junior Sean McAllen to the backfield. McAllen netted over 2,000 yards last season while setting the new school rushing record. He busted out in his sophomore season with 1,586 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns to go along with 27 catches, 516 yards and two touchdowns receiving.

McAllen won’t be alone in the backfield. The Hawks can load it up with a pair of workhorses in juniors Coby Vaccarelli and Dave Bobbie. On the receiving side of the ball seniors Joe Poeta (30 catches, 439 yards) and Dylan Abarzua (21 catches, 258 yards) combined for five touchdowns and a lot of big plays last year for the Hawks and will be looked on to lead the receiving corp.

But in order to move the chains up and down the field it will all start at the point of attack. That is where Woodland will have its biggest advantage. Seniors Jake Laliberte, Max McSperrin, Will Flormann, Alex Varhol and Dylan Fidalgo have the experience in the trenches to lead the Hawks to success.

“The bread and butter will be the running game with McAllen back there and a pair of workhorses in Vaccarelli and Bobbie,” Phipps said. “But it all starts at the line of scrimmage with an experienced group of linemen. They are the cornerstone of this team. But we won’t be a one dimensional offense. On the receiving side I can’t say enough about the amazing effort that senior Pat Hale has done as he’s worked himself into a starting position.

“Senior Jason Rodrigues is an excellent athlete and will be a key member of that group along with senior tight end Chris McDonald. Senior Connor Shaw and junior Guy Massimo should also be in the mix.”

On defense, the line will lead the way, Phipps said.

“Defensively we should be just as effective with the guys on the line leading the way and McDonald as our returning linebacker. Every player on this roster will play an integral role to our success. They know what it means to be a Hawk football player and it’s all about the tradition that has been built here,” Phipps said.

As Phipps prepares for his first game as head coach, he couldn’t be happier.

“I can’t say enough about the work of our coaching staff getting these kids ready. As far as my first season as head coach, I’m coaching a game that I love, at a school that I love and for a group of kids that I love. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Woodland kicks off the season Friday at Watertown and will visit Torrington Sept. 12. The Hawks’ first home game is Sept. 26 when they host Wolcott.