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Gridders Lean On Experience Of Offense, Emergence Of Defenders

Coming off a season in which they won the South-West Conference championship and competed in the state playoffs, Newtown High School’s football team again has the potential for success on the gridiron this fall. As always, however, it’s a game-by-game approach with Coach Steve George and company; they won’t look past any opponents and aren’t announcing any win-loss or playoff qualification expectations.

As George points out, there’s no telling — this early at least — what the opponents will bring to the table, and while he expects to be competitive and has high hopes for success, a lot hinges on emergence of up-and-comers on the roster, not to mention staying injury- or mostly injury free.

The Nighthawks bring back plenty of talent and experience on offense, but will have to count on quick development of lesser-experienced athletes on the defensive side of the ball as they embark on a tough stretch of games to begin the 2013 season.

Drew Tarantino is back in the pocket, and the senior quarterback brings with him a strong familiarity with the system, having helped the Hawks to each of the last two SWC championship contests.

“I can’t teach that kind of experience,” George said.

Nor can he teach the offensive weapons familiarity that’s in place. Tarantino is joined by receivers Julian Dunn and Troy Frangione, along with running back Cooper Gold. Gone is play-maker and Newtown Bee athlete of the year Dan Hebert. His explosiveness on offense and ability to come up with interceptions on defense will be missed. If there is a silver lining for this year’s group of Hawks it is that they’ve already proven to be able to win without him. Hebert was out of the lineup with an injury during the second half of last year, and the team just kept on winning, en route to a perfect regular season. What’s more, the Nighthawks put up 40-plus points a whopping six times last fall.

In addition to Hebert, Justin DeVellis and Chris Devaney graduated, leaving significant offensive holes to fill, but George notes that a lot of players are back on that side of the ball.

Among the key players back in the fold are center Dom Scarangella and defensive back/receiver Nick Lotrecchiano, the coach notes. Dunn also provides a special teams spark that isn’t so prominent at the high school level. He can pin opposing offenses deep in their own end of the field with booming punts. Newtown’s been a team consistent in its place kicking game too, and Connor Miller should be counted on for deep kickoffs and accurate extra points. The captains are lineman Josh Krapf, Gold, Tarantino, and lineman Nick Landau.

Newtown lost nine players on defense, giving that unit an almost entirely revamped look, but the coach has reason for optimism from what he saw in preseason.

“The kids taking over, assuming those roles, are doing a great job of learning techniques that we play, and how we play our defense,” George said.

Newtown expected to have four of five starting linemen back in the mix, but that number went down to three when Landau suffered a preseason injury.

Tarantino believes the size on the offensive line can help facilitate piling up points this autumn. “We’re big up front, we’re strong up front. They’re going to open holes for Cooper to get through, and they’re going to give me time,” the QB said.

The campaign was scheduled to get under way with a visit to Pomperaug of Southbury on September 12. Newtown’s first home game is Friday, September 20, when always-challenging Bethel visits for a 7 pm kickoff at Blue & Gold Stadium. That game is followed by contests with Brookfield, Joel Barlow of Redding, and New Milford (in The Boot Game), before a nonconference clash with Wolcott.

“We need to come out of the gate swinging this year,” George said. “If we can get through those, then we’ll be in good shape.”

The remainder of the schedule includes Weston (October 25, Homecoming), New Fairfield, Stratford, and Immaculate of Danbury, then a potential regular-season finale with arch-rival Masuk of Monroe on Thanksgiving Eve. In each of the last three years, however, the Masuk clash became the SWC title game because of the teams carrying the best SWC records into their scheduled battle.

All of Newtown’s games — home and away — are scheduled to take place under the lights. George notes that the Hawks have been anticipating the start of the season for some time as they’ve been gearing up for the opening kickoff.

“We’ve been chomping at the bit to get the season under way,” George said during a late afternoon preseason practice behind the high school. “The offseason’s a long time of lifting weights in the winter and passing leagues, and camps and everything, and you do it all for this and now we’re ready to go.”

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