Staples enters season confident in stacked FCIAC
Updated 9:03 pm, Thursday, September 7, 2017
WESTPORT — Every season has its turning point. A season ago, the Staples Wreckers were flying high, winners of four out of the first five games of the season and undefeated in the FCIAC.
But the bell struck midnight on the would-be title run for coach Marce Petroccio’s team, as they would drop the final four games of the year to playoff-bound teams — including Class LL state champion Darien.
Despite the way the season ended, Petroccio said there was a lot of good that came out of it that will be paramount in the latest Wreckers’ success.
“Last year was not a great year for us,” he said. “We had high expectations. This year, we’ve got some great skilled kids. Probably some of the best skills kids I’ve had as a group in a long time.”
The offense will have several returning elements from a season ago. Senior running back Harris Levi finished last season averaging 6.1 yards per carry and rounded out the year with 1,024 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground.
COACH: Marce Petroccio (25th year)
CONFERENCE, CLASS: FCIAC, LL
2016 RECORD: 5-5
TOP RETURNEES: Sr. QB Danny Thompson (6-1, 175, 553 all-purpose yards, 6 TDs); Sr. RB/LB Harris Levi (6-2, 190, 1,024 yards, 14 TDs), Jr. DL Blake Runkle (6-3, 220, 27 tkls, 7 tfl, 3 sacks); Sr. WR/DB Max Lonergan (6-1, 175,); Sr. RB/LB Ben Van Der Merwe (6-1, 195); Sr. RB/LB Brandon Adrian (6-1, 200); Jr. WR/DB Kevin Rabacs (5-11, 165).
REASON TO SMILE: Wreckers began last season with a 5-1 record and return several key players from that team including Levi.
REASON TO WORRY: Staples is starting an entire new offensive line as it tries to bounce back from four straight losses to end 2016.
DID YOU KNOW? Staples is 12-1 in home openers since 2004.
KEY GAME: Home vs Ridgefield, Oct. 6, 7 p.m. Staples’ 42-7 loss to the Tigers last year began the four-game skid that torpedoed the season after a hot start. Haven’t beat Ridgefield since 2011 state playoffs.
OUTLOOK: Playing in the FCIAC is a gantlet unlike any other in the state. Staples was able to have some early success before stumbling late. If the Wreckers can maintain consistent play through the second half of the season, things can look up in 2017.
Levi will try to lead the offense behind a fresh crop on the O-line after losing every starter from a year ago. Quarterback Danny Thompson, who started two games last season, will be at the helm for the offense as they try to compete with the high-powered teams in the FCIAC.
“(Thompson) is extremely athletic,” Petroccio said. “He throws a very catchable ball and has a strong arm. He runs the offense to a tee.”
The junior signal-caller will be tasked with going up against some of the best defenses in the state. But Thompson said because of his experience as a junior, he’s more than ready.
“I’ve played in games my sophomore and my junior year,” he said. “The biggest game I ever played in was the Thanksgiving game (against Greenwich) to go to the state playoffs. That was pretty nerve-wracking. But to get that out of the way, a tough game like that, I feel like I’m pretty prepared.”
Thompson will have Levi to hand off to, as well as receiver Max Lonergan and Ben van der Merwe to pass to on the outside to make the job easier.
On the defensive side of the ball, several returning starters will help bolster the team and keep them in games, Petroccio said.
“We really simplified the defense,” he said, “Trying to make it less complicated so the kids don’t think and just play. And up to this point, it’s really worked out well.”
Junior defensive lineman Blake Runkle will be the focal point of the attack for the Wreckers. After Runkle started the latter part of last season as a sophomore, Petroccio said the coaches are looking for vast improvement from a player who finished 2016 with three sacks, seven tackles for loss and 27 tackles.
“This kid can play,” Petroccio said. “He’s a dude. We’re looking forward to him having a breakout year.”
Runkle said being thrown into the position a season ago gave him more than enough experience to turn in the kind of year his coaches expect.
“I started throughout probably the toughest part of our schedule,” he said. “Ridgefield, Darien, those schools, so it was hard coming in. Obviously intimidating as a sophomore against some of the bigger guys. But I didn’t really let it try to get to me too much. It’s definitely going to help because now I know what to expect at the varsity level.”
As the season nears, Staples showed an intensity as players get excited for the opener against Bridgeport Central — ready to atone for the end-of-the-year slide in 2016.
But Thompson said it has to be a weekly focus if the Wreckers have any hopes of success.
“Right now we just want to take it one game at a time,” he said. “Get the first win and then keep piling it on. We’ll eventually come to Darien, Ridgefield and Greenwich. But right now we just want to focus on winning game one.”