The Hawks’ heart beats in the trenches

A veteran offensive line led the way for the Hawks this season. LARAINE WESCHLER

Editor’s note: This feature appeared in the Citizen’s News special Thanksgiving football section. This version has been updated to include statistics from the Thanksgiving game versus Seymour.

The body of a football team is assembled with diverse parts that make up the whole unit. The quarterback is the head, while the running backs are the legs that churn the body forward to move the chains and pick up crucial first downs.

The arms of the team are the fleet-footed and sure-handed wide receivers, hauling in passes with fearless bravado as the defense bears down on them. The backbone is the defense that holds opponents in check, allowing the offense to work its magic.

It’s a total team effort. But the heart of the team beats across the line of scrimmage and that honor is reserved for the guys in the trenches.

Most football teams have players to fill the skill positions, but the difference between success and failure falls squarely on the shoulders of the guys on the front line of battle.

The Woodland football team came into the season with two players thrust into the spotlight with first-year starting sophomore Tanner Kingsley at quarterback and senior running back Matt Zaccagnini, who earned All-Copper Division honors at linebacker last season.

The fortunes of the Hawks season rested on the performances of these two players who had to try to replace the output of Jack DeBiase, who ran for 1,577 yards and 14 touchdowns and threw for 948 yards and 11 touchdowns on last year’s playoff squad.

But Kingsley and Zaccagnini needed some help, and the Hawks returned a veteran line led by senior captain Tom Gendreau along with seniors Vigan Mulahu, Dave Alves, Ryan Wilkinson and junior Jeremy Clark.

“Tom is a three-year starter and one of our captains,” Woodland head coach Tim Shea says. “The line is a cohesive unit and they all started last year. Offensive line coach Chris Moffo has done a great job with them and we knew going into the season that they would be the strength of the team.”

How well did the line play as a unit? Kingsley had enough time in the pocket to throw for 1,387 yards and 14 touchdowns on the season. Zaccagnini rushed for 1,304 yards and 13 touchdowns while the team compiled over 1,500 yards on the ground and 13 touchdowns total in the rushing game for the year.

The Hawks have averaged 28 points per game and topped the 40-point mark three times.

“Having guys up front that had the experience that we had was a tremendous confidence builder for the offense,” Gendreau says. “I’m sure Tanner and Matt would have gained the yards no matter who was up front. But our experience put us at a different level right from the start.

“We worked real hard together in the offseason to get ready for this year,” Gendreau says. “We are a close-knit unit and we can see different fronts and spot the blitzes coming because of our experience.”

At one point, Woodland had a 4-1 record, outscoring the opposition, 154-81. Then came the tough part of the schedule with Torrington, Naugatuck, Holy Cross and Wolcott, in which the Hawks went 1-3 to fall to 5-4 overall.

“Every week teams would load up the box to try and stop the run and put pressure on Tanner,” Shea says. “But these guys led by example. They helped Tanner get acclimated at quarterback and helped Matt to establish the running game. The leadership that they showed helped all the younger players to step up.”

On Thanksgiving eve, the Hawks’ offensive once again paved the way to a 28-7 over Seymour.