NEW BRITAIN - Much like he did after his teamâ€™s playoff appearance in 2014, Tebucky Jones talked about bundling up 2018 and â€śthrowing it in the trash.â€ť
New Britainâ€™s head football coach and former Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots doesnâ€™t like a previous season to dictate what the new year should be about. Never has since his playing days and during his tenure as the Hurricanes coach.
â€śLast year was last year,â€ť Jones said. â€śItâ€™s a new season. A lot of new faces. The biggest thing is getting [our players] out there and ready to compete and get ready for Week 1.â€ť
While Jones wants his players to focus on the season ahead, those on the roster view 2018 as a positive building block. After three disappointing 5-5 campaigns, New Britain surprised many by going 9-1 during the regular season and reaching the Class LL playoffs, marking the first time any of the players had been to the postseason.
Even with the amount of key departures, such as running backs Shawn Robinson and Kaiyon Gunn, quarterback Tahje Yopp and four-fifths of the offensive line, the Hurricanes believe they now know what it takes to be successful.
â€śThose guys set a good example of what we needed to do to be successful,â€ť said senior quarterback Monte Dickson, who is set to take over for Yopp. â€śEveryone is working hard. Everybody is on the same page. Our goal is to get back to where we were last year and go even farther than that. But we know itâ€™s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication.â€ť
There are a number of questions marks for New Britain. While Dickson solidifies the quarterback position, there is a matter of the supporting cast around him.
Robinson, an All-State tailback, ran for more than 1,500 yards. Gunn, an all-conference player himself, ran for more than 600, while Yopp added 1,000. Gone are also the teamâ€™s top two receivers in Chris Maldonado and Deshawn Clark.
That leaves Tarik Hetmyer, who accounted for 530 total yards and seven touchdowns, as the Hurricanesâ€™ top returning playmaker.
Along the offensive line, senior Yasser Vasquez is the lone returnee.
There have been some new players who have stood out. Jordan Pacquiao, Aaron Hand and Cameron Bond are three tailbacks who have impressed during camp, while Jayden Santana, Travon Santoro are two more receivers who have been doing well.
â€śWe just have to be focused and every guy has to do their job,â€ť Hetmyer said. â€śThis year, weâ€™re more structured with what weâ€™re doing. Every day, you can see, in and out, guys are ready to go. Itâ€™s all about being able to execute our plays.â€ť
The defense will feature a number of new faces as well. In all, the Hurricanes will have eight new starters with only defensive linemen Jason Shumpert and Tyree Pinnock, and Hetmyer as players who have notable experience on that side of the ball.
But Jones believes his players will be ready. They have to be.
â€śThey were in the system last year,â€ť Jones said. â€śTheyâ€™ve been in the system at JV. Now, theyâ€™re just moving up to varsity. Some of the guys didnâ€™t start, but they got reps. Sometimes you just go to start off in the fire and adapt to it.â€ť
Now, it will just be a matter if New Britain can put another strong season together or if the Hurricanes will regress to the level they were at from 2015-17 after making the postseason in 2014.
Either way, it is lining up to be an interesting season for New Britain.
â€śFrom what Iâ€™ve heard, everyone is thinking [last season] was just a 2018 thing,â€ť Dickson said. â€śWeâ€™ve been working hard and we feel like weâ€™re a good class as well. All the younger guys are working hard, so this is definitely a team thing, not just a class, in getting us back to where we were.â€ť
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org