By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Off a 5-5 campaign in 2012, the Bristol Eastern football team will look to crack the .500 barrier in what should be a more than competitive season.
Hopefully, the Lancers won’t have to call in the M.A.S.H. unit as it did last year because seemingly each week, player after player fell due to injury.
Depth will again be an issue for the squad but experience won’t be as several veterans will again make appearances for Eastern and that, in turn, should be a major strength of the program.
With high hopes to start the year, here’s a look at Eastern’s up-coming campaign:
Head Coach: Mike Archangelo (22-19 overall in four seasons for the Lancers).
Last year: 5-5 overall (2-3 in Division II-West play, 3-2 in Interdivisional action, did not qualify for the state tournament).
Strength: Leadership; significant amount of returning starters.
Key losses: Aaron Harris (Captain, G/T); Dreu Tucker (C/T); Richard Szymczyk (T); Nick Crowley (Captain, TB/LB); Gabe Kurasz (Captain, TB/LB); Juan Gonzalez (WR/CB); ); Harrison Sacharko (TE/E);
Players to watch: Sean Aiudi (sr., T); Kyle Porter (sr., T, NG); Kyle Baker (sr., G/LB); Brandon Lumbra (sr., G); Naqi Hasan (sr., C); Tommy Curtin (jr., QB); Alex Hunter (so., WR/ QB/ DB); Kenny Smith (sr., WR/ E); Rafi Hamzy (sr., LB/DL); Alex Macias (jr., TB/CB); Dimmery Thurston (sr., WR/ DB), Gerry Ouellette (jr., TB/S); Jozef Hermann (jr., WR/CB); Roderick Green (sr., WR/E); Jeremy Meccariello (jr., WR); “Big” Pete Roche (WR/ DB); Shayne Harris (sr., T); Steven Goodrich (jr., LB); Ramiro Sanchez (jr., DE); Cyrus Tyler (jr., WR/ LB); Allen Arbuckle (jr., LB); Jacob Bernier (jr., DL/ OL).
Analysis: “We’re looking forward to the season,” said Eastern coach Mike Archangelo. “We have a difficult schedule as you can see but we’re looking for some challenging games this year.”
Bristol Eastern has a big chunk of its 2012 team coming back to the fold and with that experience, there’s reason for optimism on both sides of the ball.
“I think we have one more year of experience under our belt,” said Archangelo. “We had a lot of young kids last year that had to take the field either due to injury or lack of depth. Those kids have one more year of experience and are much smarter on the football field.”
The Lancers will ride the power of that returning core.
At quarterback, the position is a lot more stable than it was in 2012 where at one point, Eastern had a “three-headed monster” in terms of players.
Junior Tommy Curtin (15 completions, 266 yards, three touchdowns) will be the starter this season and sophomore Willy Bonaparte will serve as his back-up.
In a pinch, sophomore Alex Hunter – who will start the season at wide receiver and is as versatile as they come – could man the position as well.
Against Wethersfield last season, Hunter threw the ball for 240 yards in the losing effort so everyone knows he can do it.
But Curtin is the man of the hour and when he’s healthy, he can chuck the ball with the best of them.
“It’s nice to have a quarterback back from the year before and he’s got some experience,” said Archangelo of Curtin. “We’ve given them both (Curtin and Hunter) an opportunity to shine, and realize that Hunter is going to help us at the wide receiver and running back positions.
“We moved Hunter over (to receiver) and Curtin moved himself in the starting role as quarterback for us this year.”
On the wide receiving front, Eastern is loaded with several athletes ready to catch the ball.
The wide receiving outfit consists of seniors Dimmery Thurston and Roderick Green, along with juniors Jeremy Meccariello, Jozef Hermann, and “Big” Pete Roche – and the crafty Hunter.
Kenny Smith is the dangerous man in the mix at receiver and last year, he snatched a team high 19 receptions for 365 yards and three touchdowns.
Once he’s in motion, forget about catching up with him.
Green can make some things happen offensively as well while the rest will be big targets for Curtin to throw to.
Seniors Sean Aiudi and Kyle Porter (All CCC South) line up at tackle while seniors Kyle Baker and Brandon Lumbra is positioned at guard.
Senior Naqi Hasan is up to the task at center to round out the offense.
Defensively, Eastern has some impressive tools as well.
Porter is a dominant force on defense, has the ability to block out the sun and is an imposing sight from about a mile away.
The nose guard made three sacks in 2012 while nearly making two tackles for losses.
At the end position, Green was third on the squad in sacks while Smith led the way with six takedowns last season.
Cornerback Hermann was leading the squad in tackles early on last season before a concussion at Windsor derailed his season.
At linebacker, Aiudi and Baker, along with junior Steven Goodrich, should be up to the task while Roche will be at defensive back and Ouellette will be over at safety.
“I think our defense is pretty solid,” said Archangelo. “We return many starters from that group. We were young in the secondary last year. Like I said, now they have a year of experience under their belt and are already two steps ahead where they were at this point last year.”
Health will once again be a factor for Eastern as halfway through the campaign in 2012, the Lancers were being held together by bubble gum and duct tape.
It won’t take much for a position or two to be wiped out by the injury bug this year.
“Our depth is a huge (weakness),” said Archangelo. “And, as I’m sure with most schools in the state, we’re one injury away from having a tough time.”
Division II-West Outlook: The Lancers aren’t ducking any competitors along the way as Eastern has a tough in-conference slate.
To open the season, the Lancers will invite Berlin to the campus of Bristol Eastern for another game under the lights on Friday, Sept. 13 during homecoming week.
Last season, Windsor went undefeated in 2012 with a 5-0 record in Division II-West play and expect that squad to be just as tough this year.
Middletown (4-1) and Farmington (3-2) should be in the mix as well in 2013.
“We really haven’t have a chance to see any teams but you always see Windsor, Farmington and Middletown” have solid programs said Archangelo. “I know (Middletown) has a lot of returning starters coming back. I think those are the teams to beat in the conference.”
Eastern is certainly optimistic about the season and expect the Lancers to beat a contender or two along the way during the year, led by its senior core.
“We have a great group of seniors who have come back,” said Archangelo. “It’s really a great group of kids to be around. They’re working hard every day and we’re improving out there.”
“We’re excited to see what we have out there.”