Raiders football a season a success
Connor Finn is a big reason the Torrington football team seems headed in the right direction in 2014 and beyond. Rick Wilson takes a look at how the Raiders and head coach Gaitan Rodriguez helped turn the attention back to the football field in 2013.
TORRINGTON – It’s all about measurement. If you want to evaluate the Torrington High football season by record, a 3-8 mark won’t exactly top the charts. But you don’t want to do that with the Red Raiders. Not this time around.
Torrington’s season was so much more than about record in 2013 although that is part of the story. It would be fair to say that no program faced what the Raiders faced and long before the opening kickoff in September.
With two students who had played football arrested on statutory rape charges in March, months after their senior season was over, the football program unfairly took the brunt of the blame.
Rightly or wrongly, however, the programs was put under the microscope. Coach Dan Dunaj resigned for family time it was announced, local, state and national press got involved and the circus began.
Into all of this stepped former Red Raiders Gaitan Rodriguez who was appointed to take Dunaj’s position. On the field happenings took second place to the off the field hullabaloo.
“At the time I took the job so many things were going around,” said Rodriguez. “There was a lot of disturbance around the Torrington football family. I had to reign in the kids and teach some of the core values I wanted.’
It now has been more than two weeks since the Raiders last suited up in their Thanksgiving Day victory over archrival Watertown. Rodriguez has reflected and he likes what he saw. There were hiccups including a drinking incident that led to the suspension of several players, but the Raiders showed growth.
“I thought things went pretty good,” said “Rodriguez. “We got the kids to stop listening to people outside of the football program and to listen to one another. We got the kids to focus on doing the right things like being on time and being on to class on time. Things that make you a disciplined person.
“Some kids wanted to prove that they weren’t the kids that people inside and outside of town thought they were. That is not what Torrington football is all about. We didn’t have bad kids but had to regain focus and be reminded that they are students before athletes.”
Squarely in the microscope’s eye, the Raiders worked to control behavior. Then there was actual football.
Seven straight losses led to wondering if that elusive victory was going to found this season. But faced with a top-heavy schedule that began with the state’s best team, Ansonia, that got a little more tolerable as the season progressed, the Raiders got better.
Finally in Week No. 7, the Raiders found the win column with a 21-0 win over Kennedy. Only a loss to Class S finalist Woodland marred the final month in which Torrington also defeated Sacred Heart and Watertown.
“We got better each week,” noted Rodriguez. “It wasn’t transitioning into wins for a while but I saw the kids grasping the system better. You could see the offensive line making blocks and Connor (QB Finn) going through reading his progressions better. We had a tough schedule early but you could see the kids playing better in the second half. They believed in what they were being taught.”
Rodriguez brought a different offensive philosophy with him after decades of a run-oriented offense and it paid off for the Raiders. The Raiders became a 25 to 30 pass per game team.
Desmond Langs proved to be a familiar and reliable target and suddenly opponents had to do more than clog up the middle. Sophomore Tyler Marens proved to be a runner with promise giving the Raiders a two-pronged attack.
“As an offensive coordinator what I was accustomed to running at Sheehan was what fit our kids,” said Rodriguez. “I strive to have balance. Let the defense decide what we do. Some weeks we run 30-40 times a game or pass 30-40 times a game. You can’t fit kids to the system, you have to fit the system to the kids.”
Rodriguez voice takes on a tinge of excitement when he talks about Finn and Marens. Both have two years to go. Both are good. Both are going to get better.
“The sky is the limit for Connor and Marens showed me a lot,” said Rodriguez. “He’s 5-foot-7, 160 pounds, a little power runner.
Rodriguez was also on his own learning curve, finding out that his gut is sometimes better than overanalyzing.
Rodriguez figures it was a good year with more obstacles than most. He now has a full year to prepare for the 2014 season. This year it was step into the snake pit, do your best on short notice and he got it done.
A season that started off with gloom and doom ended up as the beginning of something much better. The record will tell you something, Rodriguez and his players will tell you much more.
The season measured up pretty good.