NAUGATUCK — Still nearly four weeks shy of his 16th birthday, Naugatuck High junior quarterback Jason Bradley’s maturity is way beyond his years.
He described his role as “the Commander in Chief of the offense” who needs to make sure everything is done right. But Bradley added that he is just one of many leaders on this youthful squad, which features less than a dozen seniors.
“I’m willing to take a leadership role if called upon,” said Bradley, who turns 16 on Sept. 9, just days away from the Greyhounds’ season opener at Crosby on Sept. 13. “But we have a lot of players who are leaders.”
Everyone can share in the responsibility, says Bradley, as the Greyhounds begin practice Monday, the first of five, two-hour conditioning practices.
The 34 varsity players will be welcomed by first-year head coach Craig Bruno, the ex-Bunnell of Stratford head coach, who was hired in the early spring and oversaw 10 days of spring practice to get acclimated to the job.
Bruno, 45, an Oxford resident, succeeds last year’s interim head coach Shawn Kuczenski, who filled in admirably, guiding the Greyhounds to a 6-4 record in 2012. Longtime head coach Rob Plasky resigned last August just days into the preseason.
All of that is behind the Greyhounds, Bradley said.
“I had a strong bond with the (previous) coaching staffs and it was tough to deal with. Change is never easy and it left a giant challenge in front of us,” Bradley said.
“But In football, things happen and coaching changes do occur and you have to deal with it. We, as players, need to come in with a (strong) mindset and be ready to work hard and get conditioned and then get down to business. We don’t have time to mess around.”
Bradley, who threw for 26 touchdowns and only six interceptions with 1,492 yards last season, likes the offensive weapons around him with receivers’ Bryan Coney and Ryne Griesenauer leading the way.
One of the strengths of the team is the offensive line, anchored by right offensive guard Kevin Mariano and right tackle Mark Cavagnuolo.
With the graduating loss of all-purpose player Mick Pernell (31 touchdowns), who is taking a postgraduate year at Taft School, the Greyhounds will look to several players to fill the void.
Expected starting tailback sophomore Antoine Sistrunk, has transferred to a Bridgeport school, leaving the entire running back depth chart wide open, according to Bruno, who said that there is plenty of competition to fill the spot.
Defensively, Bruno and defensive coordinator John Pereira, the ex-Pomperaug and Southington assistant, likes the core of the defense, featuring a linebacker trio of Jordan Hopkins and twins’ Bryan and Matt Burke.
Not putting any emphasis on wins and losses now, Bruno is basing his initial season on what he learned from his mentor, Bob Mastroni, at Bunnell. Bruno is a 1986 graduate of Bunnell and was an assistant coach with Mastroni before being elevated to the head coach spot.
He compiled a 94-36-1 record in 12 seasons with the Bulldogs, guiding them to Class L state titles in 2006 and 2007 and a perfect 13-0 mark in ’07.
“I was lucky enough to learn a lot of the values of football, on and off the field, about loyalty and commitment and dedication that I used throughout my career,” Bruno said. “I was talking with my staffs the other day and said that loyalty doesn’t come by in one day.”
Bruno believes that loyalty is shown daily with a trickle-on-down effect from the players and coaches and that will lead to success.
“They’ll see my commitment and the players will care about that and that will naturally come,” Bruno said. “That’s when the season will be successful. Teaching football is my favorite classroom. Football has been such a big part of my life.”
And Bruno wants to bring that same passion to his players.
“The message I will send to the kids on Monday is that time is short and let them enjoy the next three weeks,” Bruno said. “It’s an exciting time in their lives, even though they are working hard. The anticipation of opening night is incredible. That creates the hard work they will be putting in.”
Thinking back to his first day as head coach at Bunnell in 2001, Bruno said he had a vivid memory of walking off the field at the end of practice.
“That was a good day, a fun day,” he said. “I expect that it will be the same way here on Monday.”