By KEVIN ROBERTS
Southington football won its final game in 2017, but it came at the end of the regular season.
The Blue Knights prefer to be playing in December and not having their season end on Thanksgiving morning. That’s what happened in 2017. Southington beat archrival Cheshire 30-22 at the Maclary Complex, but didn’t get the help it needed to sneak into the Class LL playoffs.
The Blue Knights ended the season 8-2 and finished ninth behind No. 8 Fairfield Prep.
You can bet Southington is motivated to get back to the postseason, especially given it’s the last go-around for 28 seniors.
“It’s a strong group of guys who have been playing together for a long time,” head coach Mike Drury said during preseason practice. “These guys have had a lot of success, whether it’s an undefeated freshman football team, they’ve been undefeated JV, so they’ve had a lot of opportunities to get out there and compete and play with each other. These guys put the work in. They’re dedicated to the program. They understand the tradition that comes with being a part of this team. They know it’s a special thing to be a part of.”
The Blue Knights did lose over 20 seniors from last year’s team, including all-conference selections Will Barmore (quarterback), JJ Clark (offensive lineman), Ian Hall (linebacker), Joe Koczera (linebacker), Jake Monson (offensive lineman), Ryan Montalvo (running back/linebacker), Tim O’Shea (wide receiver), Sam Thomson (cornerback) and Jimmy Starr (offensive lineman). But Southington had a number of players ready to step in and fill those roles.
Stepping in for Barmore is senior captain Jacob Drena, a smart player that the Blue Knights will be able to throw a lot at.
“He’s a first-year starting quarterback, but a guy who has played quarterback in our program for three years now,” Drury said. “He has a really good grasp of the offense, has really developed his leadership role with the team, elected by his peers.”
Senior captain Tanner LaRosa will provide strength on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. He will be playing running back and defensive back. “Vocal guy, tough player, a high motor-style kid,” Drury said.
Kyle Messenger, another senior captain, had a lot of snaps as the first substitute at linebacker in 2017. He will now be a leader for the Blue Knight defense. “A guy who’s just really intense,” Drury said. “He’s probably our most intense leader, a no-nonsense kind of kid.”
The final senior captain is Owen Bouchard, who is moving from offensive tackle to guard to better help Southington. “A guy who has really demonstrated what it means to be a member of this program,” Drury said. “A guy who takes his academics very seriously, a high-academic kid. His offseason preparation is second to none, and just a really quality character guy.”
Southington will again be its multiple-spread self on offense and looking for a balance of run and pass.
“You got to be able to do both,” said the coach. “We’re in New England, so you got to be able to run the football.”
Drena will have returning senior receivers Will Downes, Jacob Flynn and Jamie Lamson to throw to. When it’s time to run, LaRosa will get the ball, as will junior Dillon Kohl and Angelo Plantamuro. Bouchard, senior Sam McCarty, senior Ethan Agli and junior Jacob Vecchio bring varsity experience to the offensive line.
On defense, Messenger and LaRosa lead an aggressive group that also includes senior safety Matt Thompson, senior defensive lineman Ryan Gavronski and senior defensive end John Miller. Thompson has very good vision and instincts, Gavronski is physical on the interior and Miller is another physical player who plays with a high motor. Senior JT Martin brings new energy to the defensive backfield, and junior Plantamuro will be in the linebacker corps.
Oh yeah, and don’t forget senior kicker Evan Johanns, who is a game-changer with his big right leg.
“He has the ability to both kick and punt,” Drury said. “He has a big leg and will be a threat for us in all phases of the kicking game.”
Johanns was 5-for-5 on field goals as a junior and is four off of the career record held by former standout Kyle Smick. He was an incredible 47-for-50 (94 percent) on extra points in 2017.
There are some holes that need to be filled for Southington 2018, but don’t expect the Blue Knights to aim for anything other than a return to the state playoffs. It’s where Southington expects to be every year, and it’s a place the Blue Knights didn’t reach for the first time since 2011.
“It’s the next guy’s opportunity,” said Drury. “It’s your time to lead the program. You’re in charge.”
Drury said he liked the hunger and the work ethic displayed during the offseason and preseason, but the first real test arrives on Friday. Southington hosts rival Glastonbury in the season opener at 7 p.m. at Fontana Field.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com.