STONINGTON — For the Stonington High football team, this season is going to be as basic and fundamental as it gets.
“We have to be able in every single practice to focus on getting better. We can’t think about a holistic approach to the season — like this is where we should be in 10 games,” said Stonington coach A.J. Massengale, who enters his 15th season. “Instead, our goal is to be focused on today. We just have to focus on just getting better.”
Stonington finished last season 3-7, including its first loss to Westerly in five seasons on Thanksgiving Day.
Massengale said the Bears return some athleticism and experience at the skill positions on both sides of the ball. Up front, the Bears are young and untested, so it is uncertain how they will perform in game situations.
Senior Ben Cook and sophomores Bryan Fusaro and Luke Costanzo will play on the defensive line. Seniors Nate Miller, Aaron Lahah, Evan Champagne, Lucas Falcone and sophomore Nick Abely will all see time at linebacker.
Seniors Jon Curtin, Riley Burnside, juniors Josh Curtin and Marco Tedeschi, and sophomore Drew Champagne will play at defensive back.
Miller is a full load at linebacker, Burnside is likely the best tackler on the team and the Curtins have experience.
“Off the ball we have a lot of experience, but some of the kids up front will be playing for the first time,” Massengale said. “We are not going to overwhelm anyone with a big defense. We will have to be very technically sound and have quick feet.
“We have to play fast and quick, and really run to the football.”
Offensively, the Bears will still line up in their double-wing offense. But Massengale said Stonington will be more likely to consider attacking defenses with its passing than it has been in previous seasons.
“We are definitely going to have a more balanced approach than coming out in the double wing every time,” Massengale said. “It depends on what the defense is giving us.
“It’s coming along. We’ve seen a lot of growth for the few weeks we’ve had them in the preseason.”
Lahah will start at center. Falcone and sophomore Noah Hertlein are the guards. Cook and Evan Champagne will play tackle.
The receivers are Tedeschi, freshman Christian Hudson and sophomores Bobby Dimock and Sam Inthasist.
The slot receivers or wingbacks are Burnside, Josh Curtin and Jon Curtin. Miller will be the running back. Sophomore Drew Champagne is the quarterback, but Burnside and Tedeschi will also take snaps.
Miller led the team in rushing with 422 yards last season, averaging 5.3 per carry. He scored five touchdowns and does not go down easily. He has good speed and balance.
“Nate is a strong kid, a strong runner and he worked very hard in the offseason,” Massengale said. “We are definitely looking to get him going. But a lot of that depends on our ability to create movement up front.”
Stonington’s offense requires its linemen to continually adjust, sometimes at the line of scrimmage.
“I tell them you have to be smart and handsome to play in the line,” Massengale said. “The offensive line is like a symphony, they all have to be on the same page. If one of them steps the wrong way, the play doesn’t work. You need smart kids. It’s an unknown for us, but they are working hard.”
Stonington opens the season on Friday at Montville at 6:30 p.m.