NEWINGTON - Jason Paceâ€™s first season as the head coach for the Newington football team was a learning experience, for both the players and the entirely new coaching staff.
â€śThe way we do things was different from previous staffs,â€ť Pace said. â€śItâ€™s never easy as a senior to deal with all that change and I give that group a lot of credit because they bought in, they really did. They set the foundation for this team for the future.â€ť
Pace was happy with what they were able to accomplish in that first year, as the Indians transformed into a different program. And although they finished 3-7, they were able to end the year on a high note, with a 17-13 win over rival Wethersfield.
Now that Newington understands Paceâ€™s coaching style and philosophy, it needs to build.
The Indians will be heading into the season with a new quarterback, plus new running backs and wide receivers.
â€śWe really learned how to become a team last season,â€ť Nick Pestrichello said. â€śWith such a young team this year, we need to come together. This might be a building year, but weâ€™re going to come out as strong as we can this year.â€ť
The Indians graduated 17 seniors, most of them being starters, including quarterback and leading rusher Robert Sanchez, who gained 569 yards on the ground last season.
Newington will also have to replace cornerback and wide receiver Callum Cadwell, free safety and wide receiver Luke Pappalardo and running back Aveontae Frazier.
The big question is who will be stepping up to fill the cleats of Sanchez.
Pestrichello is the answer.
â€śWe have a young quarterback, but heâ€™s a good player,â€ť Indians tight end Julian Ortiz said. â€śHe has a high football I.Q. for his age and I trust him 100 percent.â€ť
Only a sophomore, the Indians have a tremendous amount of belief and support in Pestrichello.
â€śItâ€™s awesome; itâ€™s a lot of responsibility,â€ť Pestrichello said. â€śBut I think I can fit the role pretty well. Iâ€™ve been practicing and we have really good coaches ahead of us.â€ť
Pestrichello will be accompanied by running back Dylan Nees-Fair and wide receivers Izayah Ciarcia and Keenan Esau.
â€ś[Nees-Fair] started at the end of last year at running back,â€ť Pace said. â€śHe had a couple good games for us. He worked hard all offseason, so we anticipate him to continue to get better.â€ť
The Indians are only returning a few starters on defense as well. One of those starters is junior linebacker Julian Mulero.
Mulero started every game for Newington last season, collecting 41 tackles. Mulero will have an even bigger role after middle linebacker Brandon Kamansky, who suffered a season-ending injury in Week 3 last year, was lost for this season after tearing his ACL during a preseason scrimmage.
â€śWeâ€™re young and inexperienced,â€ť Pace said. â€śWe have some guys who have a lot of potential, we just havenâ€™t seen it at the varsity level yet.â€ť
Pace is expecting his team to make mistakes early on, but he is also expecting his team to learn from those mistakes and grow.
â€śAs the season progresses,â€ť Pace said, â€śand we still havenâ€™t really matured or learned from the mistakes we make early in the year, then weâ€™re not going to be successful. We have a very coachable group. They want to get better, they want to learn and they want to be here. They are ready to work.â€ť