NAUGATUCK — The days aren’t passing fast enough for first-year Naugatuck football coach Craig Bruno. The Greyhounds’ Sept. 13 opener at Crosby is like a dangling carrot that causes insomnia.
“I can’t wait,” Bruno said. “I can’t even sleep; I’m so ready to get started.”
Borough football fans should be just as excited for next week, which will serve as the debut of a new era for Naugatuck football. With Bruno’s track record of success (94-36-1 with two state championships in 12 seasons at Bunnell), expectations are high for the ‘Hounds to return to the consistent greatness achieved by legends Craig Peters, Charlie Bertero, Ray Legenza and Peter J. Foley.
That starts with this season, which could showcase one of the most high-powered offensive attacks in school history.
“I think we’re capable to contend,” Bruno said. “I haven’t seen them play yet officially, but I’ve seen a lot of good things from their work ethic. We have a chance to be very competitive.”
Junior quarterback Jason Bradley returns as the cornerstone of Naugy’s offense, which will operate out of different spread formations. He is mobile enough to extend plays and scramble for yardage, and his strong arm allows him to make most throws on the field. Bradley threw for a school-record 26 touchdowns last season and has impressed Bruno in practice.
“Not only is he performing on the field, but he performs in the huddle and off the field,” Bruno said. “He’s a natural-born leader. He has ability and character. The passing game is the strength of our team right now.”
Bradley’s leadership will be crucial in developing a set of skill players around him, as the Greyhounds return players who accounted for only nine of the school-record 62 touchdowns they scored last season.
Senior wide receiver Ryne Griesenauer is the only returning starting playmaker, and at 6-foot-4 he makes for a big target. Junior Bryan Coney will likely start on the opposite flank, while junior Kevin Robinson could start in the slot. Senior Ricky Plasky should also see time in the wide receivers corps.
“Bryan Coney and Ryne Griesenauer have been playing pretty well,” Bruno said. “We have a few other guys who can make plays, too, but they’re going to highlight the offense.”
Although Bruno’s offense is a pass-and trick-heavy one, the Greyhounds hope to develop a running game to bring balance to the unit. Junior Jordan Hopkins, who moved to the borough from Arizona, is a bruising 230-pounder capable of moving the pile, while senior Tom Douty is a stocky back who can keep the backfield fresh.
Hopkins also figures to lead Naugatuck’s defense, which returns Coney and Robinson to its secondary but will have to replace most of its front. Linebackers Maleek Brooks and Aaron Yourison also return.
“They’ve done well,” Bruno said of the defense. “They’re coming along. Jordan’s tough in the middle and we have some other guys doing well. We have a long way to go, there’s no doubt, but I think we’ll be OK.”
Naugatuck’s quiet strength could be on its lines, where four players who started on Thanksgiving are back. Jack Reardon, Mark Cavagnuolo, Will Paul and Yourison return, and Kevin Mariano would have started regularly if not for lingering injuries.
The Greyhounds open the season Sept. 13 at Crosby, but the first highly awaited game comes Sept. 20. On that Friday night, the school will open its new turf against Wolcott, a team that has made the Class M state playoffs in each of the last two years.
Some, though, may already have their eyes on the Thanksgiving game against Ansonia, which could open the season as the No. 1-ranked team in the state. Although he’s new to the rivalry, Bruno has a message about it.
“I got a sense about it when I was hired,” Bruno said. “We have to get there first, but I do want everybody to know how seriously I’ll be treating that game.”