Staples football has confidence in replacements Heil and Bonenfant
Prior to last week, when allegations made against an assistant coach relegated him to sounding like a windup doll repeating the words "No comment," Marce Petroccio was forced to deal with a disruption he was better equipped to handle.
Coming during the stretch run toward an FCIAC championship game berth, the losses could have delivered a critical blow to the team's postseason aspirations.
But Petroccio, the Wreckers' coach, was in a better position than most to deal with the situation. For one, late-season injuries have become what seems like an annual rite for the program, which has seen its starting quarterbacks go down each of the last two seasons.
More importantly, Petroccio is fortunate to have a pair of reserves able to come in and produce immediately. The status of Zelkowitz, the running back who leads the Wreckers in rushing and has 10 touchdowns, and Kearney, the linebacker who has a team-high 91 tackles, is uncertain for Thanksgiving morning's league final with Greenwich, as well as the state tournament.
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Each would start for most teams in the league.
"You never want to get used to it, but we have had so many players injured the last three years," Petroccio said. "It is one of the reasons we give our backups more reps, so they are not gun shy in case anything happens. We don't panic. We know the routine and keep doing what we're doing. We know the kids coming in are dying to step in and perform."
Though their roles were increased for last week's final regular season game against Westhill, both Heil and Bonenfant had already made significant contributions.
Heil is one of the leaders of a special teams unit that has made a great impact. He has blocked two punts, is averaging 43 yards on five kickoff returns, nearly 14 yards on four punt returns, and is averaging over 43 yards as the Wreckers' punter. He has also rushed for 363 yards -- an average of nearly eight a carry -- and scored five touchdowns.
"It's definitely unfortunate that we lost Joey and Kevin," Heil said. "I'm getting more playing time and I want to make the most of it. I owe it to the team and I owe it to Joey. He's a role model for the team."
Heil, a senior, has 195 yards rushing the last two weeks.
"Jon's been phenomenal," Petroccio said. "He's the kind of kid who lights the match a little bit. He has good speed and good vision. And he's a special person. He's more concerned about his teammates."
Heil will be sharing the ball with Nick Kelly, a junior who has rushed for 533 yards and scored 12 touchdowns.
"There's going to be a little more pressure obviously because there are big shoes to fill with Joey," said Heil. "It is definitely more exciting. It's fun to get more carries."
Bonenfant is one of the Wreckers' captains, who lines up at tight end. He has played well in a more limited role at inside linebacker.
"Kevin really stepped up this year and Coach puts the best players on the field," Bonenfant said. "I get to play on offense and now I'll get more playing time. It takes a lot more focus and a lot more energy. I'm stepping up the film work. I like it."
Petroccio said Bonenfant is a prime example of a senior class that has far exceeded expectations.
"Peter's waited a long time and is a true team player," Petroccio said. "This senior class, I never thought in my wildest dreams that they'd be in a position to play for a championship when they were freshmen. A lot of kids dropped off and decided not to play. They were concerned with their statuses. Peter is a leader on and off the field. He played a great game against Westhill, he stepped up. He's taking advantage of the opportunity."
"We've seen it happen before," Bonenfant said. "And two years in a row we've seen people step up. I don't want to say it doesn't faze us, but we will definitely be ready and prepared."