NEW BRITAIN - New Britain head football coach Tebucky Jones said it too many times last season: â€śDo your job.â€ť
It was a theme that never was able to fully play out, and one that has been all too familiar for the Hurricanes, as inconsistent play cost New Britain games it should have won for a third straight season.
While the 2017 season ended with the Hurricanes snapping their skid in the Wishbone Bowl against Berlin, it was another disappointing 5-5 year. But with the new season here, the players and coaches have their sights set on making sure 2018 ends on an even better note.
â€śWe know teams donâ€™t respect us and weâ€™re going to have to earn that respect,â€ť senior lineman Devon Bishop said. â€śI wouldnâ€™t respect us either. We went 5-5. Itâ€™s time to show people our worth.â€ť
It has been three years since one of the most successful high school football programs in the state made it to the postseason. Many of the players on this yearâ€™s roster have never been, but they expect to play their way into December football.
Players noted a different feel at practices that wasnâ€™t necessarily there the last few seasons. Thereâ€™s more energy, more focus.
â€śWeâ€™re changing everything from how we prepare to how we practice,â€ť senior Tahje Yopp said. â€śDuring my time at New Britain High School, Iâ€™ve never seen it like this.â€ť
Entering the season, the Hurricanes have some question marks on both sides of the ball, none bigger than who will be the teamâ€™s new starting quarterback. With Jahfari Newman having moved on due to graduation, the two most likely candidates to fill the role are Yopp and Monte Dickson, who was Newmanâ€™s primary backup last season.
Both bring a different skill set to the position, with Yopp more of a runner and Dickson more of a passer like Newman. Both saw limited time at the position last season. So far, the competition between the two has been about even according to the coaching staff and players.
â€śItâ€™s all equal,â€ť Jones said. â€śBest man will win [the job]. The biggest thing is getting the ball to the right spot and taking care of the ball.â€ť
But whoever will be under center will have a number of veteran players to rely on. The offensive line returns four starters, while the backfield is set to feature a stable of running backs led by seniors Shawn Robinson and Kaiyon Gunn, among others.
Robinson emerged on scene last year, rushing for over 1,000 yards with over 7.5 yards a carry, while Gunn averaged more 4.5 himself.
Receiving wise, Miguel Moldonado, Isaiah Jenkins and Deshawn Clark will get the early chances to replace Jayshawn Alexandre and Jaylen Rivera. Yopp will be a major target should he lose the quarterback competition.
â€śWe just have athletes that can play everywhere,â€ť Robinson said. â€śWe have depth. Everyoneâ€™s battling [for a spot]. You have to earn everything you get.â€ť
On the defensive side, the biggest hole Jones and his staff will have to fill is at corner.
â€śWe have a couple guys that are competing,â€ť Jones said of the defensive backs. â€śTheyâ€™re showing good footwork and looking like theyâ€™re picking up the defense.â€ť
But the front four, led by Bishop, appears to be the strength of the unit once again, and should help mitigate the losses on the outside. Gunn and Clark figure to anchor the secondary with some of the younger players rotating throughout.
Even with the myriad of different faces at some key positions, the Hurricanes have every intention of finally breaking out of the 5-5 trend for a successful season.
â€śWeâ€™re focusing on being more of a team,â€ť Bishop said. â€śWe make sure everything we do is as a team. If someone makes a play, we make sure everyone is there shaking his hand and cheering him on. But we want to make sure weâ€™re not the same team as last year. We have guys who were here last year that donâ€™t want to feel the same after a 5-5 season.â€ť