The long years of playing together have led Torrington football seniors to this moment.
TORRINGTON: If it feels like they have been playing together forever, there’s a good reason for it. They have been.
As the Torrington High School football team prepares to play two weeks of the most meaningful football in decades with back to back home games against Wolcott (5-0) on Friday and state powerhouse Ansonia (4-0) a week from Friday, a dozen Raiders who have been preparing for this situation will have their shot at something pretty special.
The story of this season’s football campaign has been all about where these kids came from, how they have grown and how they have experienced championships before and are looking to put themselves into position to do it again.
All football programs need great feeder systems and Torrington has been fortunate enough to have one the best residing at the Torrington Middle School with the Torrington Warriors program that starts teaching football early with hopes of sending players through the middle school and onto the big stage in high school.
A very special group of players have developed a unique bond that has shown signs over the past two seasons but were sidetracked a year ago by a devastating injury bug that took out key components for significant periods of time in an eventually disappointing 5-6 campaign.
Four have been together since 2006; Tyler Marens, Connor Finn, Nick Paniati and Nate Bresson.
Eight more came into the Warriors program in 2009; Kobe Covington, Zak Mancini, Josh Dennis, Eric Mayerjak, Jordan Rivera, Ignacio Reynosa, Jake Boccio and Stefan LaForge.
Two years after hitting the field, the foursome was part of a team that won the Mid-Connecticut Conference Championship by beating Southington by a 21-0 final before falling to a team from Rhode Island in the Regionals.
When the larger group joined the team in 2009, the program went through a rebuilding year, according to former Warrior coach Pat Finn, the father of Connor.
“We had a bunch of kids who had never played football before,” Finn said, “Nor had they played together.”
It didn’t take long though, the group of twelve made some noise the following year in 2010 when they posted the first of two consecutive undefeated regular season campaigns.
That run would end in the Mid-Connecticut Championship game against New Britain in a 21-7 loss but set up one of the most memorable seasons in Warrior history in 2011.
Eighth grade belonged to the talented dozen who blew through the regular season with one of the best defensive efforts the area team has experienced, before or since.
“Ryan Carter was our defensive coordinator for both the seventh and eighth grades seasons,” Finn said, “We gave up just over four points per game that year. The linebacker group was Bresson, Paniati, Mancini and LaForge. Marens played corner, Connor played safety. The line looked a lot like it looks today with Covington, Boccio and Mayerjak opening holes.”
The team would go on to take another Mid-Connecticut Championship versus Meriden in a 26-8 victory.
“That was so much fun,” Mayerjack said of his time with the Warriors, “You were hanging out with your best friends and playing football.”
As freshman now at the high school with the Raiders, the team would continue to forget how to lose, running the table with a victory of Ansonia in the mix for good measure.
2015 has belonged to the Raiders so far but it wasn’t that way for the two previous years.
How did a group of players who had never experienced losing adjust to going 3-8 their sophomore years and 5-6 as juniors?
“It was tough,” Connor Finn said, “We went four years without any losses and we worked so hard. I think it drove us to be even better this year, our senior year.”
Finn, who has clearly come into his own during this his senior year, is having the time of his life with the people he knows best.
“This is great,” Finn said, “We have played together so long and we have a feel for how each other plays. We are a family.”
Head coach Gaitan Rodriguez has watched this group of young men transform themselves into terrific young men who have taken pride in representing their city and their school.
“This is a very special group of young men, Rodriguez said, “They are a close knit group of guys and I am very proud of them.”
Rodriguez has asked his players to be “Warriors on the field and gentlemen in the classroom” and they have lived up to that calling to date.
The stakes are high for players who have known how to win, have felt the sting of losing as well and are looking forward to putting on a good show, starting Friday night.
How important are these next two weeks?
“These are two big games,” Finn said, “It’s our chance to prove ourselves in the league and in the state.”
“It means everything,” Mayerjack added, “It will determine the outcome of our season.”