September 13, 2017 11:12PM
By Larry Kelley Sun staff writer
STONINGTON — For the last 10 football seasons, Stonington has established its identity on the ECC landscape.
The consistent Bears have posted eight winning records since 2007, ranging from 6-5 to 8-2. And when you think of Stonington football, the Bears’ double-wing offense and the assembly of 1,000-yard rushers come to mind.
You also associate Stonington with its success against like-size schools — it has won five ECC division titles in the last 10 years. Conversely, you identify the expected uphill battles against large-school ECC powerhouses. And recently, the Bears have added a new dimension to their identity — dominating the Thanksgiving Day game. They’ve won five straight against Westerly.
The brown-and-white has made a habit of producing respectable teams under 14th-year head coach A.J. Massengale. But the Bears’ mentor insists the identity of Stonington, which opens the season Friday at Killingly (6:30 p.m.), is not easily predictable.
“Each team is unique and custom-made,” Massengale said. “Our goal is always to make our team the best it can be each week with the young men we have. Each week presents new challenges, and we keep our goals to the things we have immediate control over, which is the way we prepare for each week which we treat as an individual season.”
Stonington returns just six starters from a 6-4 team a year ago in a season that yielded a rare divisional tri-championship among three of four Division II teams and a third straight shutout of Westerly. Stonington’s schedule is demanding, with road games against two of the ECC’s better teams: Killingly and Norwich Free Academy.
The Bears lost seven ECC Division II first-teamers: Linebackers Kyle Whipple and Owen Donahue, lineman Drey Bailey, tight end Jack Donahue, and defensive backs Nick DeDominicis and Liam Wallace graduated, and All-ECC lineman Jake Mueller chose not to play football as a senior this year.
Massengale has reloaded on the fly before, but he will lean heavily on the few returnees he has while trying to accelerate newcomers’ development.
“The quicker we can develop our depth, our young players, the better,” Massengale said. “Many of our kids will be playing a lot of football. We have strong numbers in our program with 30 freshmen, however, we must continue to develop our twos and threes as they will called upon as well this year in varsity situations.”
Sophomore Marco Tedeschi takes over at quarterback from Wallace. In most Stonington seasons, the Bears have relied heavily on the double-wing rushing game.
“We will do our best to do what works,” Massengale said. “Marco works very hard and is a smart and athletic young man.”
Senior Hayden Parrilla returns after leading the team with 507 yards and six touchdowns last year. He was also offensive MVP of the Westerly game. Junior Riley Burnside (314 yards, two TDs) will also be a primary ball carrier. Senior newcomer Kevin Ferrer, an outstanding baseball player with speed, will also run the ball as will junior fullback Nate Miller, who saw action last season. Junior Jon Curtain and sophomore Josh Curtain will also play in the backfield.
Six-foot-3, 260-pound senior Jon Humphrey, one of the ECC’s best lineman, anchors the offensive line at center. Jack Corley (6-4, 220) returns at tackle with junior Ben Cook (6-2, 220), senior Josh Georgetti and junior Lucas Falcone rounding out the unit. Justin Babin and Noah Hertlein will also play there. Seniors Travis Pacheco and Jared Rudzinski will play tight end.
Stonington, at least in early weeks, will rely on many to play on both sides of the ball. Corley, Humphrey, Cook, Falcone and Miller will play up front with Georgetti and Pacheco returning with experience at linebacker.
Georgetti will handle long-snapping, with Ferrer punting and Sean Bessette doing the kicking.
Stonington projects to be competitive in Division II. Waterford graduated several starters, and Bacon and Montville are coming off 2-8 seasons. Non-divisional games include tilts against Plainfield, Griswold, East Lyme and home against Westerly — teams Stonington beat last year. The Bears also play home against Thames River, the Norwich Tech/Grasso Tech co-op.
This season’s mystery will be which one of the untested players steps up. Stonington has a history of such players blossoming, like Jack Riordan, who did not carry the ball as a junior but gained 1,159 yards in 2014, and Tyler Tavares, who rushed for 43 yards as a junior and 1,025 as a senior in 2010.
“One thing we have worked diligently at through our preseason is putting our young players in positions where they need to elevate their play and the way they view themselves, because many of them will be called upon throughout the season,” Massengale said. “Young players don’t always recognize how close they are to being a starter or key backup. It is important that they view themselves as not only a player that will be out there in varsity games, but they must also be prepared for it.”