2016 Torrington Raiders football. How will the puzzle look when it's done?
TORRINGTON: Forgive Torrington football head coach Gaitan Rodriguez if he feels a sense of déjà vu as he enters his fourth year as head coach of the Raiders.
“This year feels a lot like my first year here,” Rodriguez said. “We have a lot of pieces to the puzzle that we have to figure out where to put. Every day, we get a little closer to seeing how the finished puzzle is going to look.”
The Raiders are coming off their best campaign on the gridiron since 1983 after posting a 9-1 regular season record and hosting a home playoff game in December, a time during which the cleats and shoulder pads are usually safely tucked away in storage.
Gone though, is one of the most talented senior classes that took the Raiders and their fans on one terrific ride that saw the buzz around school and throughout the City of Torrington reach heights normally reserved for other parts, not the Northwest Corner.
Replacing what they lost will certainly not be easy.
After all, how do you replace a unit that had played together since they started playing organized football in grammar school?
By not dropping that far off because said program has built a solid foundation, something that was not in place when Rodriguez took over four years ago.
“The expectations have been set,” Rodriguez said. “These kids know what I expect on the field, in the classroom and in the community. That’s already working.”
The bar had been raised for the Raiders and late last week, the team announced their three choices for captains and why they earned the right to represent their program at the highest level.
Seniors Tori Hammond (Inside linebacker, QB), Justin Egliskis (Offensive line, WR) and Andrew Schimanski (Offensive and defensive line) made the cut with each bringing their own brand of Raider football.
Hammond is expected to be one of the anchors at his linebacker position and with the graduation of standout Connor Finn, one of three players in the mix at the quarterback position.
On the offensive line, replacing players like Kobe Covington, Keanu Mendiola, Stefan LaForge and Eric Mayerjak will not be easy and one of those spots will fall to Egliskis, another to Schimanski.
Schimanski can’t wait to get started.
“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for as long as I have been playing,” Schimanski said. “Last year was great to be part of but now it’s up to us to prove that we can get the job done.”
Doubters will be a plenty this year, as they are for most teams that lose as many talented skill players as the Raiders did with their large graduating class that moved on.
While skill players may be somewhat limited, two offensive players who made their mark a year ago will be back and expected to shoulder their fair share of responsibility this fall.
Dylan Myrie showed some breakaway ability a season ago from the running back position and in kick returning. He becomes one of the elder statesman on the “O” because he has too.
The only other returning offensive standout from a year ago is Dominic Phengkaen who saw time at running back and wide out a year ago.
A common theme running through the pre-season for the Raiders is the feeling that no one is expecting much from then this year.
It remains to be seen if this season’s Raiders will have something to say about that.
Torrington hosts Seymour on Friday, September 9 at 7 p.m. at the Robert H Frost.