“That should help make us more competitive,” Santana said. “We have a lot of starters coming back. The key thing is not to have as many players go both ways. The number of seniors gives some flexibility.”
Mills (0-10, 0-10 Pequot Sassacus) struggled mightily on offense a year ago, scoring just 48 points. They ran for 180 yards as a team for the season. The Spartans were shutout five times and didn’t come any closer than 20 points to any team. Twenty-one interceptions and six lost fumbles didn’t help, either.
Santana hopes a year of experience helps Mills. Senior Colin Thorn, who completed 7-of-25 passes for 271 yards and 2 TDs a year ago, is competing with junior Grant McGregor for the starting quarterback job. Max Stone, who missed most of 2012 with an injury, looks like an early candidate to start in the backfield at running back.
Mills has two of their top three receivers returning. Last year, they just couldn’t get the ball consistently enough to generate points. Leading receiver Dominik Jankowski (18-173, 1 TD) returns along with McGregor (14-181, 1 TD), who is vying to play under center at quarterback.
Leading tackler Cameron McHale (49 tackles) returns along with safety Trevor Watts (46 tackles) and Jankowski (41 tackles). McHale will be starting for the third season. Look for Keith Millum to be strong at defensive tackle and on the offensive line.
For its first three varsity seasons, Mills played in the Pequot Sassacus Division, made up primarily of teams along the shoreline and with some of the stronger teams in the league.
However with realignment of the 20-team league, Mills has been moved into the Pequot Western Division with Avon, Canton, Gilbert/Northwestern, Granby and Housatonic/Wamogo. The Spartans get shorter drives to away games and a more competitive schedule.
“Realignment will allow our team to have a competitive year, get stronger and move to the level of competing in the league,” Santana said.
The schedule isn’t easy at the start. The Spartans begin on a Friday night, Sept. 13, at Morgan of Clinton (5-5) before facing Avon (10-1) and Gilbert/Northwestern (7-3), two of the stronger teams in the Pequot Conference’s Western Division.
“I told the players that winning and losing will take of themselves if we work hard and we are aggressive,” Santana said.
Coach: Jose Santana, 1st year
Last year: 0-10, 0-10 Pequot Sassacus
Key losses: Five seniors including RB Dale Matusek, WR Thomas Kysar (9-82) and Russell Lesage (41 tackles)
Top players: FS/WR Trevor Watts, LB/G Cameron McHale, DT/OT Keith Millum, DE/TE Dominik Jankowski, QB Grant McGregor, QB Colin Thorn
Outlook: Mills turned the ball over 27 times a year ago and scored just 48 points in 10 games. Santana is hoping a team with 12 seniors can be more effective.
Of note: Mills plays their home games at historic Muzzy Field in Bristol. … Watts, McHale, LeSage and Derrick Brown earned All-Sassacus Division second team honors in voting by the league coaches a year ago. … Mills is entering its fourth varsity season with a 10-game losing streak. The best record for the Spartans was 2-8 in 2010 and 2011. … For the first time, Mills will get to play each of the Berkshire League’s only three schools in one season. (Gilbert/NWR, Housatonic/Wamogo and Nonnewaug)
September – 13: at Morgan, 6:30 p.m.; 21: AVON, 10:30 a.m.
October – 5: at Gilbert/Northwestern, 2:30 p.m.; 12: COGINCHAUG, 2 p.m.; 19: at Granby; 26: HOUSATONIC/WAMOGO, 2 p.m.
November – 1 at Stafford/East Windsor, 6:30 p.m.; 9: SMSA/University, 2 p.m.; 16: at Canton, 1 p.m. 23: WINDSOR LOCKS/SUFFIELD/EAST GRANBY, 2 p.m.; 28: NONNEWAUG, 10 a.m. (site TBA)
Home games at Muzzy Field in Bristol