Photo: Tyler Sizemore / Tyler Sizemore
Fairfield Prep’s Nick Franchuk (9) and Sam Opont (68) are two of the four captains for new head football Keith Hellstern this season. The Jesuits went 7-4 last season and just missed out on making the Class LL playoffs. less
Photo: Tyler Sizemore / Tyler Sizemore
Fairfield Prep’s Nick Franchuk (9) and Sam Opont (68) are two of the four captains for new head football Keith Hellstern this season. The Jesuits went 7-4 last season and just missed out on making the Class ... more
Fairfield Prep defensive back Connor Bercik (6) makes a tackle in a game against Stamford last season. Bercik is one of four senior captains this season for new head coach Keith Hellstern. The Jesuits posted a 7-4 record last year. less
Photo: Shelley Cryan
Fairfield Prep defensive back Connor Bercik (6) makes a tackle in a game against Stamford last season. Bercik is one of four senior captains this season for new head coach Keith Hellstern. The Jesuits posted a ... more
Coming off an 11-win season and reaching the Class LL championship game in 2013, the expectations for the 2014 edition of the Fairfield Prep football team were sky-high. The Jesuits were loaded, especially on offense, and were looking, not just to get back to the Class LL championship, but to win it.
Ah, the best laid plans …
As expected, Prep was dominant on offense, led by senior quarterback Colton Smith, averaging 36.6 points a game. But there were surprising inconsistencies on defense, where Prep surrendered an average of 23.3 points a game. Despite that, Prep would have likely made the Class LL playoffs with a win over Xavier and/or West Haven in its final two games.
They lost both.
“I still have a taste in my mouth of underachieving,” senior defensive lineman Aidan Coyle said at the SCC Football Media Day at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven. “So, goals are definitely high this season. Just as they were last year, only we just didn’t deliver. Hopefully this season will be different.”
Prep was 7-4 last season, its fourth straight season of finishing .500 or better. But heading into 2015 - practice officially started on Monday - the Jesuits are going to have a vastly different look, especially on offense, where new head coach Keith Hellstern is going to have to replace not only Smith at quarterback but has to find new starters at both wide receiver and running back.
“That’s the beauty of high school football. Every year is a new identity,” Hellstern said at the SCC media event. “We don’t get to draft. People might think as a private school, it’s just a free-for-all with kids coming in, that’s not true. It’s high school football. It’s how you develop the kids and how you play to their strengths and weaknesses and that’s what we’re going to do.
“We’ve got a great group of guys, very hard working. Great chemistry, the sort of things that, not matter how skilled or gifted you are, if you lack that as a team, you’ve never going to be as good as you’re supposed to be. I’m very excited about that. We have a lot of younger guys vying for playing time but they’ve bought into the system and they’re doing the things they need to do to be the best.”
Junior Patrick Conte, who started one game last season and completed 15 of 24 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns, is the heir apparent to Smith at quarterback.
“Patrick is a student of the game. He understands his strengths and I think his skill set is different than Colton’s,” Hellstern said. “Colton was a fantastic runner. I think Patrick’s upside is as an overall passer. He’s going to be tremendous. He’s a very good athlete. He’s a big kid, he can run when needed but that’s not necessarily what we’re going to have him focus on in order to be effective. I think he’s going to do a very good job and get better and better the more seasoning he gets.”
Just who Conte’s going to throw to remains to be seen. Receivers Cam Harris, Jake Buckley, Joe Ganim, Josh Bernstein and John Dellisanti, all graduated, leaving just Brendan Beiser and Bobby Haskins with experience. And who’s going to run the football? Good question after Prep’s two key rushers, Allen Gibson and Zach Mazza, also graduated.
“Offensively, personally, I’m very confident in the offensive line. We have some size there that I’m really excited about,” said senior running back/linebacker Nick Franchuk. “They’ve been working incredibly hard. Skill-wise on offense, we’re still working on it. We have a great junior quarterback coming up, Patrick Conte, and we have some very good receivers, Brendan Beiser is back. Bobby Haskins was our top tight end. I think we’re going to really work to ultilize those guys a lot more than we did last year and make them the cornerstones of our offense.”
Added senior running back/defensive back Connor Berick: “We have a lot of young kids stepping up this year. I think we’ll see a lot more physicality from this team this year and I think we’re going to have a great offensive and defensive line. I think our offense is as strong as it can be and we’re trying new players at new positions.”
While Berick and Franchuk didn’t see much time on offense, they saw plenty on defense, along with their other two co-captians, Aidan Coyle and Sam Opont. Coyle and Opont combined for 56 tackles and nine tackles for loss on the defensive line while Bercik had 50 tackles and an interception and Franchuk had 47 tackles and four sacks. The four will be the centerpieces of what should be a strong and athletic Prep defense.
“That’s (defense) definitely something that we want to focus on,” Franchuk said. “We are returning a lot of the linebacker corps and a lot of guys that stepped up in different ways last year … juniors, who maybe didn’t start but saw playing time. We want to stay physical, try and apply a lot of pressure from the outside edge. We have a big, athletic defensive line that going to be a big part of how we coordinate our schemes.”
Last season, Prep simply relied on outscoring their opponents to win. This season, looks like its back to basics - straight ahead, hard-nosed football.
“I think you play to your strengths. Sound blocking, sound tackling. Being physical. Running the ball and stopping the run are all important but if you can throw the ball, you want to be able to,” Hellstern said. “How we manufacture stuff in the passing game this year will be a little bit different because we’re going to have different personnel out there. My hope is that we play better overall team defense and offense. We want to be as physical as we can.”