Plainville football is now two years removed from making a late run in the Class S state football tournament, celebrating its first tournament berth under the direction of head coach Tim Shea. Now eying to a return, the Blue Devils have a bit of a challenge ahead of themselves as they get a look at a team that is young and aiming to rise to the occasion and improve from its 9-3 record in 2019.
With only 44 kids out for the fall season, Plainville isn’t the deepest of teams when it comes to numbers. But, Shea is taking what he has with enthusiasm and excitement with sanctioned football back for the fall season.
“I’ve been coaching football 26 years, so you’ve got to coach what’s in front of you,” said Shea, who is entering year five with the program. “You can’t worry about the kids who aren’t there. That’s not fair to the ones who are there. … Do we wish more kids came out? Absolutely, but this is what we’ve got and who we have. … We’re real excited to get out there and we had some success in our two scrimmages. We’re looking forward to making the ride up to South Windsor (this Friday).”
Alex Santini is the most notable player returning for Plainville’s offense and defense, having started two years ago as a defensive lineman. This year he’ll pull double duty on both offensive and defensive lines. Other seniors joining Santini on both sides include Justin Emery, a wide receiver and defensive back, Michael Cavallo on the o-line and linbacking core, and Xadien Joiner in the backfield and secondary.
Leaning on a player like Santini will be tough for Shea and company, who are still trying to get players who were playing freshman ball from two years ago, or who were mainly scout team players as sophomores. Getting players to varsity-level speed is a challenge, but is a state-wide challenge for all teams in all fall sports.
“the big thing is, and I think everybody is going to agree with, is getting (inexperienced players) to practice and play faster,” said Shea. “A lot of these kids, unless you were lucky enough to play or start (in 2019) as a sophomore or freshman, they really haven’t got a taste of what a varsity practice is. The big thing we’re trying to get these kids to do is to practice faster, and if you practice faster you’re going to play faster. Getting them up to speed is the big thing we’re doing. Some days are better than others. … That’s the general consensus of the area guys I’ve talked to, it’s trying to get things back going in a pace us coaches like.”
On defense, there’s plenty of uncertainty. With players getting their first look of varsity action, Shea has preached the necessity of preventing the big plays from unfolding. On offense the message is similar, only it’s reversed – to be able to move the ball downfield and make the least amount of mistakes.
When both methods come together, and are executed well, it’s a winning formula. It’s a matter of if they can be done.
“We’ve only got one guy back (on defense) in Alex, and he was only defense. Now we’re coaching them up and have changed what we’re doing on both sides of the ball a little bit,” said Shea. “The big thing is to be able to make stops and make open field tackles and try not to allow any big plays. It’s really the same whether you have an experienced team or an inexperienced team. You’ve got to go into each week with the same mindset. The least amount of mistakes is going to win, and people that can move the ball have a good chance of winning (the game), and same goes for people who can stop the ball. That’s what we’ve got to get into our kids heads.”
Progressing the offense has been a big key, especially with a new quarterback under center in MJ Bakaysa. Bakaysa has no varsity experience, entering the season as a junior.
With Bakaysa making great strides since working with last year’s group, the position is not foreign to him and is putting Shea at ease as he gets better every day.
“The good news was, when we had to go 7-on-7, we pushed him into the quarterback position instead of waiting for this year. We thought we’d get him some reps with that group of kids, who were real good and experienced,” said Shea. “His football IQ is up there. We’re working on the correct throws and being a real good game manager. … The big thing with any QB, especially underclassmen, is getting them to step up into that leadership role. In a lot of places the quarterback is the face of the program, so we’re going to go as he goes and try to get him to be more assertive, which he’s coming along with.”
Elsewhere on the offense the Blue Devils have Justin Emery and Cameron Lamothe, both at wide receiver. Joe Vasquez, Jacob Beventuno, Brandon Buckingham and Joe Kennedy are also in the mix for receptions. Xaiden Joiner and Kye McGraw will aoso be competing out of the backfield for touches at running back.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle for Plainville this season will be adjusting to the new CCC tier it was placed in. Following the realignment the Blue Devils were placed in Tier III with fellow area teams Bristol Central and Eastern.
“We knew this was coming,” said Shea, laughing. “It was just a matter of when the league was going to do it. It is what it is, and we’re going to play with our schedule. We had a little bit of success over the last couple of years. … In a league this size we haven’t seen some of these guys in a long time. …. We’re going to go into it every week with a game plan and we’re going to show up, work hard and hopefully be successful.”
Sept. 10 - at South Windsor, 4:30 p.m. **
Sept. 17 - Bloomfield, 6:30 p.m. **
Sept. 24 - at Lyman Hall, 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 1 - Bristol Eastern, 6:30 p.m. **
Oct. 8 - at Lewis Mills, 6:30 p.m. *
Oct. 22 - Northwest Catholic, 6:30 p.m. *
Oct. 30 - at RHAM, 1 p.m. **
Nov. 5 - E.O. Smith, 6:30 p.m. **
Nov. 12 - Bristol Central, 6:30 p.m. **
Nov. 25 - at Farmington, 10 a.m. *
** - Tier III games
*- conference games