In many ways, the Torrington football program has already won it all.
TORRINGTON: In a way, they’ve already won.
The Torrington High School football team is just about set to take on state powerhouse Ansonia in front of what is shaping up to be a frenzied atmosphere Friday night at the Robert H. Frost Complex, one that is being retro-fit to accommodate the expected throng of fans.
Both teams come in undefeated, the Raiders 6-0, the Chargers 5-0.
They have seen all the reports, the predictions and the stories in every media outlet that has jumped on the best little story in the Northwest Corner.
It’s Ansonia, a program that nobody takes lightly, ever and this year’s Raider team is no different than the rest of the state when it comes to understanding the challenge that lies ahead of them.
A large part of the battle against a team like the Chargers is trying to get by the letters that adorn the front of their jerseys. Many a team is beaten even before they cross the line onto the gridiron, beaten by a reputation as much as a team.
It’s the kind of problem opponents of the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team experience on a regular basis.
Oh no, it’s UConn. They’re done already if they look at it that way.
How do the Raiders avoid a similar fate?
They look to their third year head coach, one Gaitan Rodriguez for the calming influence he has brought since the day he arrived in town three seasons ago.
“I think we are just focusing on ourselves,” senior quarterback Connor Finn said after Wednesday’s practice. “Like coach said at the end of practice, we just need to execute and play hard and worry about ourselves.”
Rodriguez spoke to the team about blocking out the noise that surrounds a game of this magnitude while taking time to soak in the moment.
“I don’t want them so focused on just one thing,” Rodriguez said, “I want them to experience the moment and not have it lost on them.”
Rodriguez, who had a vocal conversation with his team on Tuesday during what he viewed as a lackluster effort, reminded the players not to put undue pressure on themselves.
“This is not pressure,” the head coach said, “Figuring out how to pay the bills is pressure, figuring out how to feed your kids is pressure. This is a game.”
His ability to get the most out of his players, creating what he calls “Warrior Gentlemen” has been the theme of this coach since day one.
Warriors on the football field and gentlemen in the classroom.
Not letting the moment get ahead of them is what the senior leadership on the team will be challenged with.
“We can only control what we do,” fellow upperclassmen Eric Mayerjack said, “We just have to work hard and stay focused on the prize.”
Rodriguez also reminded his team that they have three more games to play after the Chargers leave town on Friday night.
“We have a bigger goal in mind,” Rodriguez said, “We want to be playing in December.”
Talking playoffs in Torrington is not new but this year it is there for the taking if the team keeps themselves grounded.
“We just have to come in here and treat it like an everyday thing,” Mayerjack said, “its still just one game and we have to focus on winning this game.”
It’s a talented team, this group of Raiders and they are part of a talented and growing program that will continue to make strides towards turning out not just good football players but great young men.
As for Friday night, the signal caller has a handle on just what needs to be done.
“Football’s football,” Finn said, “At the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to. It’s just working hard and getting after it.”
So on Friday night, the final score may or may not indicate that the Raiders lost but in so many more important ways, the young men and coaches who make up this program have already won, regardless.
NOTES: Their 6-0 start marks their best start to any season since 1948, according to our history guru, Gerry diSimas. The Raiders also started 6-0 during the championship year of 1929, a team that is commemorated by the Torrington ’29 Club.
The last time Torrington beat Ansonia was in the famous 1987 “Ice Bowl” game that saw them recover from an 18-0 deficit to beat the Chargers by a 19-18 score at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury, earning them the first Naugatuck Valley League championship.