AVON – A lot of familiar names from last year’s Avon High football team have graduated. But the expectations remain the same – contending for a conference championship and a CIAC playoff berth.
It will be a special year for the Falcons. It is their final season in the Pequot Conference before Avon joins the Central Connecticut Conference next fall. Outside of Enfield, which will join the CCC in 2016 once they merge with Fermi, Avon probably won’t play any of these schools again.
Avon will play on Thanksgiving morning for the first time in team history when they host Gilbert/Northwestern at 10 a.m. at the high school.
Avon went 8-3 a year ago, losing three games by a combined total of seven points. They lost to Canton by three points when the Warriors scored on a touchdown on the final play of the game. The Falcons tied Gilbert/Northwestern on the final play of regulation but the Yellowjackets stopped a potential two-point conversion to earn the win. Avon lost to league champion Valley Regional/Old Lyme by three points. Nine wins would have probably earned Avon a bid to the Class L playoffs.
That is helping fuel this year’s team. Second-year coach Jim Caouette said the Falcons are extremely focused. “Practices are very crisp,” he said. “These kids are focused. We don’t have to get on them about paying attention.”
Why? “They saw how close we were (to the playoffs and a league title) last year,” he said.
Avon lost a pair of All-State players to graduation, LB/RB Jimmy Murphy and LB Stephen Griffin, along with record-setting QB Noah Hahn and several All-Pequot West Division All-Stars – Hahn, WR/DB Dylan Marquis, K John Burdick and DB Avik Vimal.
Murphy was a catalyst for the Falcons, who scored 376 points – the second highest total in school history. He rushed for 1,149 yards and 19 TDs and was a stalwart at linebacker, consistently making big plays.
Hahn rewrote the Avon High record book, completing 101 passes for 1,667 yards and 25 touchdowns – all single-season school records. Marquis led the team in receptions (25) and TDs (8). Burdick connected on 40 of 44 extra points and made four of five field goal attempts. Vimal and Marquis shared the team lead in interceptions (three).
Caouette is upbeat about this year’s team because the majority of the offensive and defensive lines return, led by All-Pequot West guard senior Ryan Rogers, who will start for the third season. Senior G Gino Bonalumi and junior center Dean Zacchio will start for the second straight year. Senior tackle Kurt Ollestad will also start.
On the defensive side of the ball, look for junior Teddy Allmendinger, junior Luke Meaney and senior Jamie Dlugolecki at linebacker. Rogers, Andrew Marshall, Bonalumi and Gabe Folkwein should be on the defensive line.
In the secondary, junior Ian McDonald, Dom DeBerardino, Sean Del Gallo and Ryan Nolan are expected to see playing time.
“When we are healthy and we have our best 11 on the field, we’ll be a tough team to beat,” Caouette said. “We’re big, strong and physical and our kids are smart. We’ll play great defense and stop the run. Our offense will ride that offensive line as much as we can. I don’t think we’ll be chucking the ball 60 times a game.”
The quarterback position is up for grabs this preseason. It will either be sophomore Dom DeBarardino or junior Ian McDonald. If DeBarardino wins the job, look for McDonald to be in the backfield with Allmendinger and Dlugolecki, who will line up as a fullback, tight end and H back.
Juniors Geoff Kirk and Meaney look to be the top receivers at this point in the season.
Caouette said Allmendinger could be one of the top players in the league. “There isn’t a stronger player in the state,” Caouette said. “He’s fast, strong and intelligent. He has the speed and he certainly has the toughness and skills. He’s the complete package. He could be better on defense than offense.”
With Housatonic/Wamogo dropping its varsity program due to lack of numbers, the Pequot Conference went back to two 10-team divisions with Avon moving back to the Uncas Division, which they won five times from 2007-12. Avon is certainly a contender in the Uncas Division and Caouette is hopeful that the Falcons could do some damage if they are among the eight teams to qualify for the Class M tournament.
“I feel good about where we are headed and the kids are excited,” he said. “I’m approaching every single game like it’s a playoff game. If you don’t, you could get knocked off.”
The season begins on Saturday, Sept. 13, when Avon hosts Ellington/Somers at 1:30 p.m. The Falcons play five night games this season and will host Enfield on Oct. 10 in its annual night game at home.
Avon plays two games against Sassacus Division foes and drew games with North Branford (7-4) and Valley Regional/Old Lyme (12-1). The Falcons complete the regular season at Canton and on Thanksgiving against Gilbert/Northwestern.
Coach: Jim Caouette, 2nd year (8-3)
Last year: 8-3, 4-2 Pequot West (tied 2nd)
Key losses: All-State LB/RB Jimmy Murphy (107-1,140 rushing, 19 TDs), All-State LB/RB Stephen Griffin (47-267, 4 TDs rushing; 12-138, 3 TDs receiving), QB Noah Hahn (101-171-5, 1,667 yards, 25 TDs), WR Justin Reichler (22-504, 8 TDs), WR Dylan Marquis (25-485, 8 TDs), DB Avik Vimal, K John Burdick (40-44 PAT, 4-5 FG, 52 pts)
Top players: QB/S Ian McDonald, QB Dom DeBarardino, RB/LB Ted Allmendinger (29-179, 1 TD), T Harrison Gill, G Ryan Rogers, G Geno Bonalumi, C Dean Zacchio, T Kurt Ollestad, T Sam Donahue, WR/LB Luke Meaney (6-23 receiving), WR Geoff Kirk, FB/LB Jamie Dlugolecki, S Sean Del Gallo, LB Andrew Blackmore, WR/DL Andrew Marshall, DL Gabe Folkwein, S Ryan Nolan
Outlook: In its final season in the Pequot Conference, Avon returns to Class M this year and Caouette hopes that the Falcons can contend for the Pequot Uncas Division title, return to the playoffs and earn a spot in a state championship game. With a solid offensive line, look for Avon to control the game with their running game.
Of note: Clayton Hillyer, a former head coach at Newington (2008-09) and Manchester (2013), is an assistant coach on the staff. … Avon will play on Thanksgiving morning for the first time in its history when they host Gilbert/Northwestern. … The Falcons play five night games this season, including four on the road.
Sat. Sept. 13: ELLINGTON/SOMERS, 1:30 p.m.
Fri. Sept. 19: at Granby, 7 p.m.
Sat. Sept. 27: STAFFORD/EAST WINDSOR, 1:30 p.m.
Thur. Oct. 2: at SMSA/University, 5:30 p.m.
Fri. Oct. 10: ENFIELD, 6 p.m.
Fri. Oct. 17: at North Branford, 6:30 p.m.
Fri. Oct. 24: at Coventry/Windham Tech/Bolton, 7 p.m.
Sat. Nov. 1: WINDSOR LOCKS/SUFFIELD/EAST GRANBY, 1
Sat. Nov. 8: VALLEY REGIONAL/OLD LYME, 1 p.m.
Sat. Nov. 15: at Canton, 1:30 p.m.
Thur. Nov. 27: GILBERT/NORTHWESTERN, 10 a.m.