AVON, September 11 – When Jeff Redman returned as head coach of the Avon High football team after a 20-year absence on a hot summer day a year ago last August, he saw just 18 players ready to work.
Things were a little different this August when preseason workouts began for the Falcons. He had 65 young men ready to work – enough players for varsity, junior varsity and freshman squads.
A year ago, Redman didn’t know if Avon would win a game. They won two. They could have won another two games but faded in the second half due to a lack of players.
This year, he is confident they will win games. Like most veteran football coaches, he wouldn’t predict how many the Falcons would win but he did say with confidence that they will be competitive in most contests.
“It was a nice surprise,” Redman said of the higher turnout. “It’s a lot different this year. We have some help.”
Redman is a physical education teacher in the high school so he talked up the program. He helped coordinate the construction of a new weight room at the end of the original Avon High gym. An estimated 70 athletes worked out there this summer preparing for their respective fall sports.
And there is a new $3 million synthetic turf field and track and field complex that is being installed at the high school. Avon will play their first game on the new field on September 21 when they host Tolland.
“It was a combination of everything,” Redman said. “Did I talk up the program? Yeah. I had kids in class and they responded by coming out. And they’re working hard. They have a lot of pride and it is getting contagious.”
Avon (2-8, 1-4 CCC Division III East) will be young but they do have some talented players on the roster.
“We keep getting better,” Redman said. “We’re so much more dynamic now. We can throw the ball and have some good skill players. The offensive line is good. The defense will struggle a bit but we’re young defensively. We’re just more solid. We’re not going to win the league but we’ll be more competitive.”
It starts at quarterback with Tabor Engel, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound sophomore. He has thrown the ball very well in two preseason outings. Hard-nosed Francisco Longo returns at running back and has the tendency to run through people.
Fullback will be Chris Gens, who won a state wrestling championship last winter. “A really strong kid,” Redman said.
Look for speedy Quandrell Stewart at wide receiver and Sean Nolan at tight end. Nolan is a strong player who will also play outside linebacker.
The offensive line, led by guard Silvan Cloutier, is stronger thanks to a summer of weight lifting and preparation. “The kids are still young,” Redman warned. They’ll make their mistakes but they’ll have some great moments, too.”
Senior kicker Kevin Mullaj will give the Falcons the potential to score points with field goals and extra points. Mullaj had three field goals a year ago. He played well at UConn and Rutgers kicking camps this summer and won a kicking competition at Rutgers, converting on a 50-yard field goal.
Defensively, look for Longo at middle linebacker and Nolan at linebacker. Stewart will be in the secondary with Josh Cronkite. Leighton Wittig looks sharp at defensive end for the Falcons.
The season kicks off with a stiff challenge when Avon travels to Bloomfield to face the No. 7 Warhawks, who won a Class S championship a year ago. “You have to play them at some point,” Redman deadpanned. “They’re just really good.”
Junior All-State QB Daron Bryden returns for Bloomfield along with senior defensive end Kyle Barrow, who had 11 sacks and 27 tackles for a loss last year. It’s the first meeting of the two schools on opening day.
After the Warhawks, Avon has four consecutive games at home on their new turf field including a game against Guilford – their first game against the Indians since 1990 – and a second-ever meeting against Lewis Mills on October 5. Avon faced Mills in 2013 when both were members of the Pequot Conference.
The Falcons have four night games – all on the road against Bloomfield (Sept. 13), Berlin (Nov. 1), Rocky Hill (Nov. 15) and Simsbury (Nov. 26) in the annual season-ending Valley Gridiron Classic.
60th season (284-271-3) First season: 1960
Playoff appearances: 3 (0-3) Most recent appearance: 2012
League championships: 16 Most recent title: CCC Division III East, 2015
Winningest coach: Glenn McLellan, 130-116-2, 26 years (1966-91, 1994)
Opening Day record: 30-29 Last win: 2017, Avon 34, East Catholic 0
Last year: 2-8, 1-4 CCC Division III East
Head coach: Jeff Redman, 6th year at Avon (16-36); Career, 8 years (20-49-1)
Friday, Sept. 13: at Bloomfield, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 21: TOLLAND, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 28: GUILFORD, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 5: LEWIS MILLS, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 19: BULKELEY/HMTCA/WEAVER, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 26: at NW Catholic, 12:30 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 1: at Berlin (Sage Park), 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 9: PLAINVILLE, 1 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 15: at Rocky Hill, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Nov. 26: at Simsbury, 6:30 p.m.
2019 CCC Division III
Bulkeley co-op includes Weaver and HMTCA
Berlin 14, Tolland 8
Avon at Bloomfield
Bulkeley/HMTCA/Weaver at Lewis Mills