Shelby Grant a running back to watch in 2015
There will be a changing of the guard at running back.
Thirteen of the state’s top 15 rushers last year have graduated, opening the window for a new crop of players to make the leap to stardom.
Hearst Connecticut Media breaks down 10 running backs to watch for the upcoming high school season.
SHELBY GRANT, DARIEN:Grant is coming off posting team-highs in carries (132) and rushing yards (838) as a junior, but how will he fare without his trusty sidekick? Peter Archey’s departure has put even more pressure on the 5-11, 178-pound Grant to assume the featured role and keep the Blue Wave’s offense motoring along.
Coach’s take: “Very good player. He’s tough and hard-nosed. He can do a couple of things, like catch the ball out of the backfield.” — Trinity Catholic’s Donny Panapada
Tajik Bagley, Ansonia: Following Arkeel Newsome’s footsteps was no small task, but Bagley thrived in an expanded role as a junior. Hobbled early by an ankle injury, he still managed to run for 1,259 yards and 22 scores. The Chargers did fall a step short of a four-peat, losing 21-20 to Valley Regional/Old Lyme in the Class S-Large final.
Coach’s take: “He’s got such great athleticism and elusiveness. He has the ability to turn any play into a touchdown.” — Ansonia’s Tom Brockett
ETHAN BURGER, STAPLES
How’s this for a first impression? Burger cemented himself as the go-to-guy in the offense in his first varsity season, producing at least 100 yards on the ground in eight of the Wreckers’ 11 games. He finished with 1,260 rushing yards, besting all but two fellow sophomores.
Coach’s take: “He has great balance. He can run with power, and he has good speed. He knows how to finish a run. The thing about Ethan is, he’s always going forward. He doesn’t have many plays where he’s losing yardage.” — Staples’ Marce Petroccio
Tyler Bailey, Ansonia: As good as Bailey was on the ground last year, running for 779 yards on just 112 carries, it was his versatility that set him apart in the Chargers’ dynamic offense. No matter where he lined up, whether it was in the backfield or spread out wide, he made big plays. Bailey was among the leaders at his position with 29 catches and 600 receiving yards.
Coach’s take: “Tyler’s a phenomenal athlete. … You fool him once, you get lucky because you can’t do it again. He’s a tough kid to game plan for. You try to shut him down one way, he beats you another way.” — Derby’s George French
Richard Bartone, Derby: On the heels of an impressive junior season, Bartone (716 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns) will be needed more than ever with the Red Raiders breaking in a new quarterback following Mike Kreiger’s departure. The Red Raiders surprised last year, starting 6-1 before a rough stretch in November spoiled playoff hopes.
Coach’s take: “He’s a throwback, a real hard-nosed, tough kid. He goes 100 mph every single play.” — Brockett
Luke Bienstock, Greenwich: If Austin Longi was the lightning in the Cardinals’ offense, Bienstock was the thunder. His 6-foot-2, 202-pound frame made him nearly impossible for defenses to take down. Bienstock (6.3 yards per carry, five touchdowns) could have a big year with offensive mastermind John Marinelli now at the controls.
Coach’s take: “He’s a big kid, and he’s really fast. He was an All-American rugby player. … He had a tremendous summer in the weight room.” — Greenwich’s John Marinelli
Cole Davis, Bunnell: Searching for a potential breakout star? Davis is one of the most likely candidates to blossom now that he’s fully healthy and is surrounded by enough skill players to keep defenses guessing. In 176 carries last year, Davis rushed for 871 yards and seven touchdowns.
Coach’s take: “I see Cole exceeding his numbers from last year. He had a groin pull off last summer from lacrosse, and I don’t think he even got to full-speed last year until the end of the season.” — Bunnell’s Sean Mignone
Bobby Drysdale, Brookfield: One would be hard-pressed to deliver a better performance than the one Drysdale, a Harvard commit, produced in last year’s Class M-Large final. Drysdale not only rushed for 117 yards and one touchdown, but also notched nine tackles and four sacks at linebacker in a 14-0 shutout of Berlin. The Bobcats should again be one of the favorites in Class M and the SWC.
Coach’s take: “He’s a good athlete. The best part of his game is that he doesn’t go down easily. You think you’ve got him down, but he keeps his hand hovering over the ground. He doesn’t go down.” — Bethel’s Jason Gill
Peter Hoff, Shelton: Jack-of-all-trades quarterback Mark Piccirillo graduated, leaving the Gaels in desperate need for a new workhorse on the ground. The most likely candidate is Hoff, who rushed for 594 yards on 70 carries last year before breaking his collarbone in the Class LL-Small semifinals. With Piccirillo (226 carries, 1,614 rushing yards) gone, expect the Gaels’ quarterbacks to run a bit less this fall.
Coach’s take: “He really worked hard in the offseason to get bigger, stronger, faster. We’re expecting him to do some great things for us. A number of the carries that Picc took last year are going to go to Hoff.” — Shelton’s Jeff Roy
Zach Tripodi, New Fairfield: With their starter, James Lewis, nursing an ankle injury early last season, the Rebels upped Tripodi’s workload. It proved to be a wise move, as the speedy Tripodi broke out for 1,182 rushing yards and 16 scores. The even better news is that both are back and healthy this year.
Coach’s take: “He had a great year. He started out the year as a wide receiver, but our starting running back went down early in the year. … We’ve got a little thunder and lightning back there. James is going to give you the strength, and Zach’s going to give the elusiveness.” — New Fairfield’s Anthony Fata