WESTON -- With a roster that's down in numbers from past seasons, Weston High head football coach Joe Lato naturally has to ask his team to take on more responsibility this fall.
The Trojans will enter this season with just 38 players--less than the 40 to 43 players they dressed in previous years--and won't have the flexibility that so many teams covet. That's created a heavier workload for the coaches and players, with most, if not all, practicing on both sides of the ball. But don't expect the Trojans to use that as an excuse.
"Is it a challenge? We don't want to make excuses. ... I just don't know what it's like to have a bunch of kids. Our kids all have to learn different positions on offense and defense and we have to be creative with the way we instruct them," Lato said.
Lato has some talent left over from a year ago (7-3, missed the Class S state playoffs by a game) at his disposal, but there are still needs to be filled prior to Weston's opener on Sept. 15 against Notre Dame-Fairfield. The Trojans must find a way to adjust after two of their most dynamic players, junior twins Dan and Pat Rogers, transferred to Daniel Hand High School. Dan, a running back and defensive back, led the team in rushing yards and touchdowns (788 yards, 13 touchdowns) and was second on the team with 67 tackles in 2011. Pat, a linebacker and running back, recorded 58 tackles and an interception.
"We're sad to see them go because we love them and they're our friends and our teammates, and we wish them well. But it's part of life. People transfer all the time," Lato said. "Our train's going to keep on rolling.
"Our kids are very good at overcoming setbacks."
With hopes of matching last year's production on offense--or at least coming close to doing so--Lato is again handing the reins over to senior Tyler Hassett. A three-year starter at quarterback, Hassett accounted for over 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns through the air and on the ground in 2011. Lato praised the signal-caller in camp, calling him the "total package."
"We're more of a quarterback-driven team than other offenses. We're a triple-option. We do try to throw the ball a little bit for balance, or just take whatever we can get," Lato said. "Our quarterbacks have to know the offense pretty well and be able to run and throw."
Hassett has some of his supporting cast back this season as senior wide receiver Justin Schaeffer (15 receptions, 290 yards in 2011) and junior wide receiver/tight end Eric Dammen-Brower are again expected to be two of the Trojans' top targets in the passing game. Senior Aaron Pomerance and sophomore Sam Panton combined for just four carries last year, but the duo is expected to handle a much larger workload at running back moving forward. Senior center Jack
Hamilton is one of the top returnees along the offensive line.
The Trojans moved this offseason from Class S to the more opponent-friendly Class M, and are hoping to build on the progress they made last fall.
"We were satisfied but we want to get further this year," Pomerance said. "We want to get into the state playoffs and get a state championship. That's the goal."
"We just want to see everybody get better. That's it. That's how we measure success," Lato said. "Can you get better every day and master whatever the technique is you need to master."
The 5-foot-8, 160-pound Pomerance will be one of the Trojans sharing double duty on the field this season, lining up at linebacker as well as running back. The Trojans, who allowed close to 23 points per game last year, were led in tackles (71) by Dammen-Brower, a linebacker, and in interceptions (five) by Hassett, a defensive back.
"Our defense looks great. We're 11 guys to the ball. 11 maniacs," Pomerance said. "We're ready to go."
The Trojans have been ready for quite some time.
"Right as we finished the season we were in the weight room; we were running around getting better to make sure that we didn't leave anything on the field," said Schaeffer, who also plays defensive back.
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COACH: Joe Lato (7th year)
2010 RECORD: 7-3
TOP RETURNERS: Sr. QB/DB Tyler Hassett (977 passing yards, 6 TD, 10 INT, 569 rushing yards, 8 TD); Sr. WR/DB Justin Schaeffer (15 receptions, 290 yards receiving, 3 INT), Sr. C Jack Hamilton (5-9, 215), Sr. RB/LB Aaron Pomerance (5-8, 160), Jr. WR/TE/LB Eric Dammen-Brower (71 tackles, 1 sack), So. RB/DB Sam Panton (5-8, 150).
REASON TO SMILE: The Trojans have stability at the sport's most important position in third-year starting quarterback Tyler Hassett. The dual-threat is the perfect ingredient in the team's triple option offense.
REASON TO WORRY: The Trojans watched their leading rusher and double-digit touchdown artist Dan Rogers waive goodbye in the offseason, along with his twin brother Pat. Replacing their production is much, much easier said than done.
OUTLOOK: There was a lot to like about the Trojans' seven-win season in 2011 but the team was hit with a few new challenges in the offseason with the departures of the Rogers twins. The offense could struggle early on to fill the void left by Dan Rogers (788 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns) and must receive a big year from Hassett at quarterback to compete. Hassett, like his teammates, will be expected to start on both sides of the ball with roster numbers down, but the Trojans have proved capable of handling that extra work in past seasons.