By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The 2017 scholastic football campaign for the Bristol Eastern program this year is going to be better than the previous one.
And the Lancers are looking to win multiple games which would be an improvement from a very tying 0-10 season in 2016.
But the program is cautiously optimistic this year and there’s every reason to believe that the team will be drastically improved and hitting the pay window a few times along the way.
“Success is coming sooner rather than later,” said Eastern coach Anthony Julius about the season.
On the doorstep of the first showdown of the year, let’s look at the 2017 Lancers:
Head Coach: Anthony Julius (0-10, 2nd season as head coach).
Assistant Coaches: Tim Barrette, Tyrell Holmes, Rich Bianchi, John DeMartino, Steven Julius, Mike Massarelli, Josh O’Keefe, and Rich Klett Last Year: Eastern was 0-10 (0-5 in Division II-West play, did not qualify for the state tournament). Strength: Returning starters (eight on defense), Experience Weakness: Experienced depth
2016 All-Conference: Ariza Kolloverja, Jaden Laprise, John McPhee
Key Losses: Mike Massarelli (TE/E); Brandon Janelle (T); Alex Acevedo (C/DL); Connor Trowbridge (WR/CB); Mikey Barrett (K/WR/LB); Edgar Hernandez (RB); Jared Procko (WR); Anthony Lozier (WR/S); Ben Dowd; Eric Santiago; Nick Woods.
Players to watch: Tyler Mason (sr, TB/LB, Captain); Andrew Consalvo (sr, T,/NG); Keegan Bartis (sr, G); James Dauphinee (jr, G); Justin Marshall (jr, QB/S); Ariza Kolloverja (sr, WR/LB, captain); Jaden Laprise (jr, WR/CB); Rajon Collins (sr, TE/E); Ben Ferraro (sr, LB); Tyler Varasconi (sr, E); Trinidad Gonzalez (jr, LB); Dayton Forges (sr, WR/DB); John McPhee (sr, kicker); Matt D’Amato (so, TB/LB); Carson Sassu (jr, DB); Jake Dauphinee (so, T); Zach Giblin (jr, C); Steven Hopkins (sr, TB); Elijah Gagliardo (so, WR); Louis Chiarillo (jr, RB/LB); Gavin Jarvis (so; CB); Nick St. Peter (so, OL/DL); Jake Lafferty (sr, QB/DL, transfer from St. Paul Catholic); Bryce Curtin (so, QB/DB); Edgar Santiago jr. (so, FB/DL); Hidekel Mangual (sr, OL/DL); Quacy Mitchell (so, WR/DB); Joe Morelli (jr, OL/DL); Dylan Garcia (so, WR/DL).
Analysis: This will be a much better season for the Lancers’ football program as the team is not just a collective year older but vastly more experienced as well.
There’s an infectious enthusiasm on this squad and the team truly wants to just get out on the field, compete and snatch that first victory of the season – looking for its first win since beating Newington 40-34 back on October 23, 2015.
Practices have been very good and now it’s time for those players to make it all count out on the field, under the lights.
“The effort of the kid’s day in and day out has been really, really good,” said Julius. “We have tried at practice to bring our higher energy and not just from the kids but from the coaches as well.”
Eastern, with that returning group of players and coaches, have seen faster and sharper practices as the learning curve was not as great in Julius’s second campaign as head coach.
Julius has seen the kids respond to what’s being taught and practiced on the field, going after it and to ‘win the day’ which has been the slogan of the campaign.
And it’s going to start on defense, a category that spelled doom and demise for the program last year.
The Lancers surrendered 34.5 points-per-game in 2016 but the squad brings back eight defenders who have learned from past mistakes and will be much improved out of the gate.
Some of those returning starters include senior captains Tyler Mason and Ariza Kolloverja (linebackers), Rajon Collins (end), Andrew Consalvo (nose guard), Tyler Varasconi (end) along with juniors Jaden Laprise (cornerback), Trinidad Gonzalez (linebacker) and Justin Marshall (safety).
Promising sophomores Matt D’Amato is one of the squad’s linebackers, Edgar Santiago Jr. lines up at tackle, and Gavin Jarvis will see time at cornerback.
That’s a pretty good bulk of experience getting another crack at it and a boatload of offensive players will also factor into the mix as well.
That includes Marshall at quarterback (86-for-198 passing, 819 yards, three TD’s), who got a lot of training on the job last season, Laprise (team leading totals of 26 catches for 280 yards) and Kolloverja (20 catches, 198 yards, 1 TD) at wide receiver, and Mason over at tail back.
“To return eight starters on defense, four starting offensive linemen, bringing back a playmaker in Ariza Kolloverja and Jalen Laprise and triggerman Justin Marshall, we’re not starting from square-one which is nice,” said Julius. “They have experience in the system, they know the terminology, they know the coaches, and the pace of camp was able to be a lot faster than it was last year which was a good thing.”
A defensive turnover would be impressive as opponents scored a mind-boggling 223 first half points against the Lancers in 2016.
If that area can be cleaned up, giving Marshall and that offense more time on the field, it would be a huge plus for the program.
“Defense has always been something that’s been important to me,” said Julius. “And last year, we were not good on defense, to be nice about it. We gave up a lot of yards on the ground (2,054 yards). Yards-per-carry (6.9) were way too high. We didn’t force enough turnovers (five interceptions, four fumble recoveries). We didn’t get enough pressure on the quarterback (only one sack) and a lot of that was lack of experience on the varsity level and I think some physical maturity.”
“We played a lot of young guys last year and sometimes that youth showed especially against some of the more seasoned teams we played.”
The learning curve was also greatly reduced as this squad is understanding the concepts, schemes, and packages Julius and company are going to employ.
The defense will be much improved this season as the squad buys into what the coaches are selling.
“This year, we tried to simplify a lot of what we were doing, try to put our players in the best possible positions to make plays,” said Julius. “That meant moving some guys around, position to position, especially on defense, and we also looked to try to be more athletic on the defensive front than we were last year.”
“And we have had some newcomers to the program this year either through transfer or coming up from the freshman program that I think are really going to bolster that defensive front and make us more of a difficult team to move the ball on from the ground.”
Offensively, Eastern will bring it as well.
The two Dauphinee boys, junior James and sophomore Jake, will be helping break a little daylight in the offensive line and blocking packages, while senior Keegan Bartis will man the guard position.
Junior Zach Giblin is at center, while senior Steven Hopkins (tailback) and sophomore Elijah Gagliardo (wide receiver) are important cogs to the line-up as well.
But if this offense, scoring just eighty-three points all season long last year – including only seven third period points over 120 minutes of action – is going to win some games, it starts with Marshall and that critical protection from the fullbacks and frontline players.
In fact, the competition at quarterback this preseason has helped to elevate Marshall’s game and Julius is looking for the chucker to ‘take the next step” in several different areas of his game.
Marshall is much more confident this season, expect him to carry the football a little bit more (61 carries, 144 yards, 2 TD’s in 2016) with precision drives and when those holes and seams form in the defense, expect the crafty QB to sneak through for several positive gains and first down tallies.
“I think Justin is maturing a lot, day by day,” said Julius of his starting quarterback. “I think he’s doing a really good job. He’s had some competition this camp. Jake Lafferty came over from St. Paul [Catholic] and has challenged him and done a nice job all of camp. Bryce Curtin, a sophomore, is a very, very talented kid. Justin, instead of fearing the competition, really embraced it and kind of stepped his game up a little bit and done a really nice job of working with all those guys.”
“The three of them have kind of worked well together and it’s nice to have [options and depth].”
Last year, the entire team experienced growing pains – including the hungry coaching staff – and the program did not generate a single victory.
But Julius was walking in the same footsteps of just about every other coach who’s overseen the Lancers’ program, starting in 1959.
The first ever Eastern coach, Walt Anston, never won a game in his three seasons on King Street while his replacement, Fred Duval, carried a lifetime 20.3-percent winning clip at BE.
David Mills brought the program’s only state title in 1988 and won 116 games but Chris Cassin, Jack Krampitz, and Paul Philippon all had sub-.500 seasons in their first season at the helm of the program.
“I loved last year’s team,” said Julius. “I know the results were not what we wanted them to be but those were an extremely hard-working group of kids and I feel bad for those seniors that I was not able to put them in a better position to win football games. I don’t want any senior to go out like that like they had to [last year] but I still see some of them and they’re great kids.”
And Julius has a bit of a hop in his step, so do his players, and perhaps a finish of .500 isn’t out of the cards for this ever-improving bunch this year.
“I feel, myself personally, [that] I’m better prepared to lead the program this year than last year because I’m learning every day just like they are and I feel that with the experience coming back, the experience of the staff we have coming back” that we will be successful said Julius.
Division II-West Outlook: It’s an unusual schedule for the Lancers as six road games dot the slate and Eastern won’t play its first game from Alumni Field on the campus of Bristol Eastern until Week 4.
Edwin O. Smith didn’t want to start the season in Bristol so the Lancers will travel to Storrs this time around (next year, the Lancers will play seven games from Bristol…) before going to Middletown during Week 2 in what is always a tough showdown for every team against the Blue Dragons.
Hartford Public and Manchester are new opponents this season – both on the road later in the year – while all the CCC Division II-West opponents (Maloney, Newington, Platt, Wethersfield, and crosstown rival Bristol Central) will factor heavily during the middle to the end of the schedule.
Farmington is also back in the mix as a crossover Division II-East opponent.
And, just like every Eastern opponent, it’s one game at a time and ‘the game of the week’ philosophy that will be the focus for the Lancers.