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Mike Cardillo: Cheers to the players who just wanted to play

Published 1:00 am, Sunday, December 9, 2012
  • Barlow's #22 Alex Lockwood slips out of a hold by Masuk's #14 Brad Swain, during boys football action in Stratford, Conn. on Saturday November 10, 2012. Photo: Christian Abraham / Connecticut Post
    Barlow's #22 Alex Lockwood slips out of a hold by Masuk's #14 Brad Swain, during boys football action in Stratford, Conn. on Saturday November 10, 2012. Photo: Christian Abraham

 

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The 2012 high school football season came to its conclusion this weekend as four champions were crowned at Rentschler Field.

Fortunately, the stadium in East Hartford wasn't beset by frogs falling from the sky or enveloped by locusts. Instead, it was a much-welcome smooth finish to a chaotic season on the gridiron which was interrupted by a "Super Storm," as well as early snow (again).

Throughout the course of this unexpectedly turbulent season, there were a few leftovers and stories which went untold, so allow this to make up for lost time and to serve as a coda.

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Let's start with Masuk senior linebacker Brad Swain.

Swain, like countless other anonymous, helmeted players in the trenches, rarely get their share of the limelight. Maybe when a defender falls on a fumble or makes a key sack, we in the media acknowledge him, but most times the glory tends to go to the guys running, catching or throwing the touchdowns -- not the guys blocking for him.

Anyways, back to Swain.

After Masuk defeated Barlow 42-23 on Nov. 10 at Bunnell, I asked Panthers' coach John Murphy who'd be a good player on the defense to talk to, and he pointed out Swain.

You see, Swain played the entire season with a broken shoulder -- something that would eventually require surgery. Murphy said doctors told Swain he could risk larger long-term ramifications if he kept playing.

The only thing that allowed him to play in all 12 of the Panthers' games was an ancient leather-like brace that he laced up and went under his shoulder pads. It looked like something that had been sitting around in a medical storage locker since the 1950s or unearthed from a prop room from an old sword-and-sandal Hollywood gladiator film.

The irony here is that Swain finally got hurt, albeit in the Class L quarterfinals against Middletown late last month.

Except it wasn't the shoulder that did him in, it was a foot injury.

Still, like a gladiator, Swain pressed on and played some in Masuk's season-ending loss to Hand last Sunday in the L semifinals.

There are countless others around the area with similar tales of endurance, who put up with pain to get on the field and share a brotherhood in pads with little, if any, glory.

And those players are certainly worth saluting, championship or not.

KICK AND A PRAYER: The most noticeable trend that unfolded on the high school gridiron this fall was how much of a roller coaster special teams were on in a game-in, game-out basis.

Punting and place-kicking at the scholastic level are always hit or miss. Outside of Shelton's Ed Groth -- who connected on a 49-yard field goal this season -- there didn't seem to be a reliable kicker around.

Where the variance in special teams stood out was on returns. With so many fast, quick athletes fielding the kicks, it seemed a touchdown on a return could happen at any time. More than that, the ratio of touchbacks on kickoffs compared to kickoffs going out of bounds seemed about 1-to-10.

The threat of the return, coupled with the inability for kickers to put it deep, meant a lot of teams resorted to squibs or onside kicks, often giving the opponent great field position.

Granted, special teams almost always get overlooked, but those extra yards on kickoffs and missed extra points -- and teams going for it on fourth down instead of trying a field goal -- all add up at the end of the year.

ODDS & ENDS: This is the media part of me speaking, but schools would be well-served considering more 6:30 p.m. kickoffs because of how long it takes to complete most games nowadays. Something to consider. ... The CIAC seems entrenched in its decision to keep the "50-point rule" active. A running clock in the second half of games when one side is ahead by 30 or more points seems more effective than having a team forced to take a knee or give up a safety on purpose. ... It's interesting to watch as the SCC tries to position itself as the would-be SEC of high school football in Connecticut. It baffles me how players and coaches could get so rah-rah behind an athletic conference, but credit SCC commissioner Al Carbone for somehow doing just that. That crowing from around New Haven will only increase if the SCC dominates the FCIAC in their crossover series next fall. ... It's hard to believe that 10 years ago, Kennedy Stadium in Bridgeport hosted Greenwich and West Haven for the Class LL title. The facility could use a massive refurbishment, but it's still the state's second-largest venue behind Rentschler. It's a shame it doesn't get used for more big events.

mcardillo@ctpost.com; @CTPostCardillo