Quiz Fairfield Prep football head coach Tom Shea and he'd tell you a 5-5 season was not good enough in 2011.

He'd point to at least two occasions where his squad could have stolen a close game against an upper-echelon SCC opponent.

"At Shelton we dropped a touchdown pass, we screwed up a special teams play on Thanksgiving," he said Saturday after Prep's scrimmage against Fairfield Ludlowe. "That could've been a 7-3 year right there very easily."

Yet, Shea also knows his team was what his team's record was last year, and he has designs on changing that in 2012.

Shea hopes his third year at Prep will be his best yet. Prep has an 80-man varsity roster members and another 40 or so freshmen.

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"We've had to cut some, which you don't like to do," Shea said. "But three years ago everyone was quitting so we're in a good place."

Prep's gotten bigger and stronger and the Southern Connecticut Conference may have weakened with Hand and Xavier both losing talented seniors from their state championship squads.

Offensively, Prep wants to run. Shifty back Joe McBride -- who blew out his knee last year against Xavier -- suffered a setback and will not be able to play for Prep this year.

"He's worked hard, he's broken hearted, I'm broken hearted for him," Shea said. "It's just a darn shame."

But Dillon Ryan rushed for more than 700 yards and Shea also expects sophomores John Moten, and Joe Ganim to also contribute at halfback

Chris Golger will be one of Prep's few two-way starters at fullback and linebacker. Matt Montani and Ta'Von Givens-Hunter will aid Golger at fullback.

"We've got a group there who are pretty hard-nosed kids," Shea said.

Golger also started as a junior, and was one of Prep's leaders in tackles in 2011. He is one of Prep's captains.

Two of Prep's captains are offensive linemen, seniors John Meyers and Anthony Dileo. Meyers is Prep's center and Dileo will be its right tackle, and those two have inspired the Jesuits to improve its offseason workouts.

"People are learning to work how we expect them to work," Shea said. "The attitude has been very good from this group."

From that hard work, Shea's seen his linemen get stronger. Technically they need to improve, but Shea knows that will come.

"They have a ways to go," Shea said. "The technique is tough, when they get fatigued, they stand up and

they're easy targets. But they're working hard ... and they're certainly a lot stronger than they've been in the past."

Strecker Backe, who started a game against Notre Dame-West Haven in 2011, should be Prep's quarterback come Sept. 14 against Wilbur Cross, but Shea was not yet willing to name a starter. Backe's been challenged by juniors David Ryan and Anthony Johnson.

Shea knows a win

over the Governers-- in New Haven, no less -- will not only kick his squad's season off on the right foot, but is essential if the Jesuits are to fulfill

2012's goals. Prep

was pummeled by Hand on opening night a year ago.

"If we want to have a good season we have to beat them," Shea said. "We beat them pretty handily last year ... they have a lot of talent, it's up at their place ... we weren't ready for

primetime last year and we ran into a buzzsaw at Hand and got chewed up."

And beating Hand, Xavier, West Haven or Notre Dame-West Haven-- in Shea's mind-- is what separates where Prep is and where it wants to be.

"We've beaten

teams that were smaller than us and we've beaten teams that are OK," Shea said. "We've got to now step up and beat an elite team ... and if we don't,

we're going to be 4-6 or 5-5."

ppickens@bcnnew.com; twitter.com/Pat_Pickens