Even as he watched his wide receivers and running backs catch each pass thrown their way, it wasnâ€™t long before Southington football coach Mike Drury was shouting out his trademark phrase.
â€śWe have to do things right,â€ť he said to his first team offense. â€śWe have to be perfect.â€ť
It was only the start of a practice leading up to the final preseason game, but Drury wanted to make sure his players were as ready as though it was a meaningful one. Even the slightest thing off about the play, corrections were made and it was run again until it was perfect.
For Drury and the Blue Knights, itâ€™ s about setting the tone for the upcoming season. And for the returning players, it is a prelude to what they hope is a return to championship form, something that has eluded the program in each of the past two Decembers to Darien. Last year it was a 38-7 loss.
A new season has brought with it a new focus. But in Southington, while the players and numbers change, the expectations remain the same - finish as the best team in Connecticutâ€™s best division by winning Class LL.
â€śItâ€™s always championship,â€ť senior Ryan Montalvo said. â€śWe always want to set our goals high, but donâ€™t try to get too far ahead of yourself because then youâ€™ll psych yourself out. Weâ€™re preparing to play Glastonbury Week 1, but weâ€™re ready to show the state what weâ€™ve got.â€ť
For the Blue Knights, it has been another offseason of retooling the positions they lost due to graduation. On the offensive side, players such as the schoolâ€™s all-time leading rusher in Vance Upham, wide receiver Anthony Plantamuro and tight end Richie Rivera are gone. The absences of cornerback Tyson Harris and defensive lineman Matt Meade and Robert Bunting highlight the losses on defense.
But as always, there is still plenty of talent to go around to fill the voids.
â€śThatâ€™s always the No. 1 thing is who are going to be the guys to rise up and step up,â€ť Drury said. â€śThatâ€™s the fun part about high school football is every season is a restart.â€ť
Senior Brandon Kohl will take over as the No. 1 running back. As the No. 2 back last season, Kohl rushed for 651 yards and eight touchdowns on just 66 carries (9.9 yards per carry).
After tearing his ACL in the fifth game of the season, Montalvoâ€™s return to the starting lineup will provide a boost to a defense that brings back plenty of veteran players. He will be part of what looks to be a dominating linebacking corps that will also feature seniors Ian Hall and Joe Koczera. Hall finished second on the team in total tackles in 2016 with 89, Hall third with 79.
Senior corner Sam Thompson will look to lead a revamped secondary. Thompson tied for the team lead in interceptions last season with three and will be joined by seniors Anthony Vecchio and Shaun Wagner and junior Matt Thompson.
The offensive and defensive lines will each have three new starters, but Drury and his players have liked what they have seen from both groups heading into Week 1.
â€śUs older guys are definitely setting a good example for the younger guys,â€ť Kohl said. â€śWeâ€™re setting the tone and leading by example. Nothing but positive reinforcement and theyâ€™ve been coming together quickly.â€ť
After winning the job out of camp last season, senior Will Barmore begins his second year as the Blue Knightsâ€™ signal caller. Barmore completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 1,815 yards with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Along with a better knowledge of the offense, the quarterback has been throwing the ball with more velocity, thanks to spending time this offseason working with former Southington and current Yale quarterback Stephen Barmore, who also happens to be his cousin.
â€śWe threw a lot on the turf [at Southington],â€ť Barmore said. â€śItâ€™s really all mechanical. I always had the arm strength, I just wasnâ€™t throwing properly, so he definitely fixed me up a lot. My arm strength has gone up a lot. I can put balls in places I couldnâ€™t last year. It just opens the field more for us and allows us to push the ball vertical a little bit more.â€ť
That could just be the difference between another trip to the Class LL title game or another early playoff exit.
That could just be the difference between another trip to the Class LL title game and another early playoff exit.
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @DavidGlovach