NEW BRITAIN - When Team Constitution looked through its roster for the CT Super 100 Classic, the group’s overwhelming presence of central Connecticut products was a cause for excitement.
Today’s contest at Veterans Stadium in New Britain at 4:30 p.m. boasts a long list of local recent graduates that will be playing in their last high school football game, meaning the home crowd will likely arrive in big numbers.
“A couple of the New Britain kids came up to me last week and said 'You know we're the home team, right?'” Constitution head coach Tim Shea said. “They all got pretty juiced that the All-Star Game will be at their home field. When you talk about that at practice, suddenly it becomes a lot livelier and you get more out of it.”
Those that come to the Hardware City to see Connecticut’s best high school football seniors square off will see plenty of athletes representing their nearby communities, as seven players from New Britain help make up Team Constitution, along with members of Berlin, Southington, Newington, Plainville and Bristol. Shea, the head coach at Plainville, shares the players’ excitement when thinking about the strong local showing that will take the field against Team Nutmeg.
“We have a pretty big local contingent on our team,” Shea said. “It's also good to see some of these other athletes that we've read about and heard about over the years, and to have them on our team now. It's been a fun two weeks.”
The past 10 days of practice have offered the team a chance to get acquainted with teammates that were once opponents during the high school season. For the players, the team-up is a welcomed one, especially for former nemesis that gave their high school teams fits in the fall.
Overall, 14 local players will be playing in the Super 100 Classic; Shawn Robinson (RB, New Britain), Miguel Maldonado (DB, New Britain), Johnny Velez (LB, New Britain), Robert Zapor (LB, New Britain), Juliano Morales (DL, New Britain), Oran Burnett (OL, New Britain), Devon Bishop (OL, New Britain), Giancarlo Tufano (WR/K, Berlin), Dylan Nees-Fair (CB, Newington), Jacob Flynn (WR, Southington), Kyle Messenger (LB, Southington), Sam Lestini (DL, Plainville), Ryan Rodriguez (DL/TE, Bristol Central) and Justus Fitzpatrick (OLB, Bristol Central)
“It's great to play with kids that I know are great,” Tufano said. “I would watch them and say 'man, I would love to play with them,' and now I get the opportunity to. It's been awesome. There are running backs that have kicked our butts, and quarterbacks that are right up there with the ones I've had at Berlin. It's amazing to have this group of kids.”
Some athletes will have the opposite opportunity, like Fitzpatrick, the one of two local representatives on Team Nutmeg (along with Nees-Fair) who will be on the other side of the line of scrimmage as his longtime teammate in Rodriguez. Playing outside linebacker today, Fitzpatrick is ready for some friendly competition with Rodriguez, who will play tight end for Team Constitution.
“There’s definitely going to be a little talking back and forth, I know that,” Fitzpatrick laughed. “If I see him cutting across the middle on a tight end drag or something, I'm going to lay him out. There's no doubt about that.”
The competition may be friendly, but both teams have been practicing hard for the past 10 days, shaking off any lingering rust as they prepare for their final chance to represent their schools and communities, taking in the new faces around them while battling for playing time on the big stage.
“It’s interesting,” said Flynn, a Southington wide receiver and Team Constitution member, who will be walking on at UConn. “You get to see how these guys prepare in practice. You get a lot more reps with them in practice and it’s really challenging. You’re not up against scout teams like you are in practice during the high school season. You’re up against really good kids, and it’s really fun.”
One of the position battles has been at running back, where Robinson has battled with E.J. Dudley of Platt and Devario Reid of Wilcox Tech. The same battle for starting roles is occurring on Team Nutmeg, which has been embraced by the players, who are experiencing competition at a higher level than they’ve ever seen.
“It's crazy playing with a team where everyone is really good,” Fitzpatrick said. “There's no slouching on the team. You have to bring it every practice, because if you don't the backups are just as good as you are, or even better. You can't mess up. I like that experience because that's how it will be at college too. I'm excited I get this opportunity and get to experience that now before I go to college. I hope it makes me better before I go to AIC.”
For those like Fitzpatrick and Tufano, today’s All-Star Game won’t mark the end of their football careers. It does, however, represent a final opportunity to end their high school careers on a high note, which is enough motivation to push for a win against quality competition.
“I would love to get another win,” Tufano said after his Redcoats were blown out by St. Joseph in the Class M state championship to end his senior season. “It means the world to me because I didn't go out the way I wanted to, and I'm sure other guys feel the same way. It's another opportunity for us to win.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org