Staples football breaks camp full of optimism
A host of circumstances have resulted in the Staples football team not beginning its season until Sept. 18 against Danbury, but the extra preparation time will serve as an opportunity to fulfil a single the goal the entire program has.
That goal? Returning to the Class LL playoffs after a two-year absence. To do that, the Wreckers will have to play as well as they did down the stretch in 2014.
A 38-21 win over Greenwich last Thanksgiving capped a four-game run in which the Wreckers won each time, scored at last 35 points and put it all together on both sides of the ball.
“I think our last three games we kind of put it all together, and I think we’re trying to build off that,” said Wreckers coach Marce Petroccio, who will begin his 23rd season on the sideline in Westport this fall. “We had a team meeting and one of our goals is to get back to the state playoffs; we want to get back to winning championships.”
Last year’s 7-4 effort was littered with games that got away. Two losses were decided by a field goal, and a third was by 11 points in which Staples led at the half.
The downfall mostly came in pass defense; the Wreckers gave up over a 1,000 combined passing yards in FCIAC defeats to Stamford, New Canaan and Danbury.
There is hope opposing quarterbacks will have a more difficult time in 2015, and it beings up front. Seniors Jackson Ward and Evan Gilland - a first team All-FCIAC selection a year ago - lead a defensive line capable of generating pressure on the quarterback.
“Jackson is probably the defensive tackle in the league and Evan was All-FCIAC last year,” said Ryan Fitton, who will be in the mix for playing time along the line. “We lost two seniors, but we still have a lot of good guys; I think we will be stronger.”
Junior quarterback Andrew Speed takes over the option-run attack from graduated seniors Teddy Coogan and Trevor Shearer. Running backs Ethan Burger and Connor Adrian will seek the bulk of the carries; Adrian hurt his shoulder early last season, and Burger took over to the tune of 1,260 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I’m confident the guys up front are going to help us out,” Burger said. “We had a great offensive line last year and we’re returning three starters (Ward, Harry Garber and Michael Overton), so I’m sure they’ll do a great job.”
The Wreckers hope to be a more balanced team this fall due to the potential receiving weapons. At 6-foot-5, Fitton, a junior, is a matchup nightmare at tight end who broke out with two touchdowns in the win over the Cardinals in the season finale. Fitton returns as the punter. Fellow tight end Gilland could open up the offense and Colin Hoy returns outside.
“We feel like we’ve got some pretty good receivers,” Petroccio said. “The best thing about those guys is not only can they catch, they can run after the catch. We’re going to have to figure out a way to get all three of those guys on the field at the same time.”
Ward, Gilland, Ben Thaw, Adrian and Jack Griffin will serve as captains in 2015.
The Wreckers’ nine-game regular season schedule is backloaded with FCIAC contenders St. Joseph, Darien and Greenwich in the final three weeks of the regular season. Should Staples reach the FCIAC title game, a fourth game against a top tier team would come before Thanksgiving.
Staples hopes a fifth in the Class LL playoffs is added to the plans in December.
“We’re hungry for it,” Petroccio said. “Our overall team strength this year is better than it has been in a long time. Our speed has gotten better. We’re excited to start the season. To us, we miss these playoffs; I don’t know what to do after thanksgiving.”