CANTON, Dec. 19 — Due to the uncertainly surrounding the Canton High football program in terms of the number of players, head coach Paul Philippon has resigned after three seasons.
The Warriors had one of their best seasons ever this fall, going 10-2, earning a spot in the CIAC Class S playoffs for the first time ever and winning its first league championship since 1958. But they did it with just 26 players on the roster, including eight seniors.
Canton hasn’t played junior varsity games in two seasons and had just one freshman join the program in September. Next fall, they are looking at 18 returning players – eight juniors, nine sophomores and a freshman.
“The whole plan was to build up the program,” Philippon said. “My wife and I looked at the numbers and there is no way this could be a long term deal for me at this point of my career. It can’t work for me if I have to be begging kids to play. The handwriting is on the wall.”
Philippon took over the Canton program in 2012 and went 7-3 with 37 players on the roster. A year ago, it dipped to 34 players. This year, there were just 26 players that began the season.
A special education teacher in the Bristol school system, Philippon doesn’t know if he will be coaching again. He just knows perhaps it is time for a change with the Canton program.
“We did everything we could,” he said. “The kids tried to recruit their friends to play.” He hosted football camps and clinics in the winter, spring and summer. During the summer, he opened the weight room each morning, five days a week. Potential players would participate in weight lifting workouts for a few days and never came back.
For the players that stuck with it, the dividends were evident on the field the past two seasons.
“It really made us twice as strong, three times as strong as we had been in the past,” senior Cam Daley said. “It’s a different game when you’re not overmatched.”
Philippon came to Canton in 2012 after spending a year coaching at Trinity College and two years as an assistant coach at Glastonbury High. He was the head coach for four years at Bristol Eastern from 2005-08 where he led the Lancers to a pair of CCC South championships.
From the beginning in Canton, he told his potential players that hard work, lifting weights and learning technique would be the cornerstone of the team and their potential success.
The year before Philippon took over, Canton went 0-10 for the second time since they resurrected the program in 2007.
In 2012, the Warriors went 7-3 with the most wins ever in a single season. In 2013, they went 7-4 and turned in outstanding performances that included beating Avon for the first time ever on a last-second touchdown.
This season, the Warriors had a season for the ages. They gutted out a 21-14 win over Ellington/Somers on a hot, humid September afternoon. They beat a dynamic Windsor Locks/Suffield/East Granby squad, 37-14 and twice rallied from seven-point deficits for another dramatic win over Avon. This time, the victory over the Falcons came in overtime, 27-21 and it clinched the Pequot Uncas Division title for Canton. A dominant win over Granby two days before Thanksgiving gave the Warriors a 10-1 regular season record and a perfect 9-0 record in the Uncas Division.
Canton earned a spot in the Class S Small Division semifinals against Capital Prep/Achievement First on a wet, rainy afternoon at the Robert H. Frost Sports Complex in Torrington. The Warriors had a 21-8 lead at halftime but the Trailblazers were just as strong as the Warriors and rallied for a 28-21 victory.
“He has given a lot to the program and has brought it to where it is today,” said Canton’s athletic director Craig DeAngelis. “From an X and O standpoint, he was right on point. He has a great deal of understanding about the game and he and his staff really worked well together. They took the talent we had and maximized that talent. He really got everything he could from those kids.”
John Hannon, Doug Pina and Keith Harvey were with Philippon all three years in Canton. Sal Cintorino, a former head coach at Central Connecticut State and Newington High, joined the staff this year. D.J. Giacomo was on the Philippon team in Canton for two years.
Where does Canton go from here? Will they have enough players to field a varsity team? Should the Warriors investigate a co-op? Who will be the new head coach?
DeAngelis said Canton will gather information about the future of the team in January. Canton downgraded to junior varsity in the middle of the 1960 season due to lack of players. They disbanded the varsity program in 1964 for the same reason.
“It’s a numbers game at this point,” DeAngelis said. Canton will review who is interested in participating among students in grades 8-11. “When we have a better idea of what the numbers will be, we’ll be able to make a more informed decision.”
In 2010, Canton looked into a possible co-op with Wolcott Tech in Torrington but had too many players at that time. Teams in co-op situations can’t have more than 32 players in grades 9-12 or 25 players in grades 10-12. Wolcott Tech had 35 players this fall and nearby Lewis Mills in Burlington had 51 on its roster.
Meanwhile, the Philippon era is over in Canton. He posted a record of 24-9 in three years, the most wins of any Canton coach in team history. He had hoped that success would help attract more players into the program but it did not.
“The kids were the best. The parents were the best,” he said.” The administration was nothing but supportive. It was an amazing experience.
“I loved the fact that the kids we had bought into what we had to say,” Philippon said. “They really bought in. They looked out for each other. When a young kid came on, there was an older player showing him the ropes. It was a true team. They helped and believed in each other.”