ANSONIA – With just three seniors and three juniors, the Ansonia football team will have to rely on its underclassmen a lot this season.
The Ansonia Tigers have 28 players on their high school football team this season, including 22 underclassmen.
“Our strength is in our younger guys, really,” Ansonia head coach Eugene Hoening said. “Now I’m not taking anything away from our juniors and seniors, but we just have more of underclassmen.”
While the Tigers don’t have many veterans, the ones they do have been key contributors throughout their high school careers. The team’s three seniors –Nick Buckingham, Cody Burnfield and Dane Wentworth – all are four-year varsity starters.
“You would hope by the time they’re seniors they’re more or less journeymen in football, at least here,” Hoening said. “But if you have three guys who have been starting since they were freshmen that also tells you when they were freshmen we didn’t have a lot of seniors, either. Or juniors.”
Even though Ansonia didn’t lose a lot of players to graduation, the Tigers did lose some key ones including their starting quarterback, leading rusher, leading receiver, top blocker and leading tackler.
“Even though we didn’t graduate a lot of people, we need guys to be the next man up more or less or as one coach would say, cowboy up, whatever that means,” Hoening said.
Dane Wentworth will transition to quarterback as a senior. He’s been a backup quarterback throughout his high school career but now will be under center leading the offense.
“He’s been a backup quarterback maybe since he’s been in high school so it’s not like he’s never taken snaps before,” Hoening said. “He’s done a great job. In our second scrimmage he ran for one touchdown and set up another touchdown. Coaches were surprised at how fast he is.”
Joining Wentworth in the Ansonia backfield will be fullback Nick Buckingham and halfbacks Cody Burnfield and Aydan Sanders. All three of those players saw time in Ansonia’s backfield last season so the Tigers do have experience there.
One thing Hoening would like to develop amongst his backs is some more versatility so they can move around and contribute in multiple ways in the run-first offense.
“We would like to get to the point where maybe we can let’s say move Nick to a halfback, move Cody to a fullback, vice versa, kind of have a one-two punch there since we run the fullback so much,” Hoening said.
Leading the way up front will be left tackle Ross Shook, left guard Trevor Beam, center Andrew Rowland, right guard Taylor Brewer and right tackle Nathan Deniston.
“Something else that has really bitten us already is the injury bug,” Hoening said. “We’ve had three or four offensive linemen go kaput. I’m hoping it’s nothing serious and we get them back here in short order.”
Also joining Ansonia’s starting lineup will be tight ends Hunter Muir and Max Wardrip.
The big change for Ansonia this season comes on defense where the Tigers are switching from a 4-4 formation to a 4-3. The extra defensive back will help the Tigers counter the rise in passing throughout high school football.
“As far as I can tell the boys have picked it up I don’t want to say easily but they’re playing it,” Hoening said. “This 4-3 is geared against gun offenses, and that’s why Coach (Matt) Macy wanted to do it.”
Macy is in his second season as Ansonia’s defensive coordinator.
In Macy’s defense Mason Billenstein is slated to start at nose and Nathan Deniston is the starter at tackle. They will be flanked on the defensive line by ends Trevor Beam and Nick Buckingham.
Ansonia’s new-look linebacker core will have Cody Burnfield in the middle with Max Wardrip and Austin Ditty on the outside.
Hunter Muir and Devyn Sink are slated to start at cornerback for the Tigers. Dane Wentworth and Aydan Sanders will be the two safeties, which is a new feature in Ansonia’s defense.
After having to replace to long-time assistant coaches last year, Ansonia enters the 2015 season with all its coaches back from a year ago.
“The coaching staff goes above and beyond the call of duty every day in coaching these boys,” Hoening said. “I just think they do a fabulous job.”
Ansonia’s goals are simple as it looks to improve on its 3-7 record from last year – get better every day and beat every opponent each Friday night.
The Tigers have worked hard toward those goals, Hoening said.
“The boys have worked extremely hard throughout the summer practices,” he said. “That’s one thing since I’ve been here coaching X number of years, there’s no doubt the boys have a strong work ethic, and I think that comes from Mom and Dad.”