Next up in our line of season previews is our look at the Copper Division. We all figure that this division is going to be deeper and have a very exciting race for its championship, but how are these teams going to separate themselves? With Naugatuck, Woodland, and Sacred Heart all coming off playoff appearances, Torrington and Holy Cross on the upswing, and St. Paul and Kennedy hovering as sleepers, there's a lot to be sorted out in the Copper.
Remmy's Take: Without a doubt, the toughest division in the NVL in 2011. Realistically, five of the seven teams in this division have a shot at playing in the NVL championship. The front-runner may be Naugatuck. However, the 'Hounds lost a slew of key players and will need the newcomers to come on strong if they are thinking about a second-consecutive league crown. Holy Cross will be much improved and Sacred Heart will be looking to light up the scoreboard, as always. But can the Hearts play enough defense to make the playoffs again? And then there's Torrington, certainly not a sleeper this year with Brenden Lytton, a fantastic O-line, and new addition Jeff Holder falling into the Raiders' hands this off-season. Oh, and there's the Woodland Hawks with their new young gun at quarterback, Tanner Kingsley. Simply put, we expect an all-out war for the division title.
Kyle's Take: It's no secret that the Copper is going to be deeper than the Brass this season. I don't think any of the teams in this division will have any weeks off when it comes to intra-division play. Torrington and Naugatuck are popular picks to be atop the division as both teams return their feature running backs. But they, like most of the teams in the division, lost star power from a year ago. Naugatuck lost quarterback Erich Broadrick and most of its playmakers on both sides of the ball while Torrington lost Dean Tsopanides, one of the best two-way linemen in the state. Woodland lost All-Everything Jack DeBiase and most of its secondary while Holy Cross lost feature back Brandon DiClementi and Sacred Heart lost its best player, Rohan Ifill. With the top five teams having questions to answer and voids to fill, could St. Paul or Kennedy sneak in? The Falcons have some skill players returning and will go with promising sophomore quarterback Logan Marchi while the Eagles are always capable of an upset with the ball-control style they play. Each and every division game is going to be a lot of fun and vitally important to the standings.
Remmy's Take: This is tough. I will list just two of the contenders I believe will win rise to the top of the division this season: Holy Cross and Torrington. Yes, Torrington still has a lot to prove but it is certainly one of the top dogs in 2011. I believe the Raiders and their staff will do what it takes and take yet another step in the right direction by finishing near or atop the Copper. The Crusaders had somewhat of a disappointing season last year for their standards. But with David DiGiorgi moving to tailback and Zach Brown returning at quarterback along with the "diaper dandy," freshman Isaiah Brown, in the mix on both sides of the ball, we should expect the Crusaders to drastically improve on their 6-4 record from last season.
Kyle's Take: Torrington is the trendy pick to break through with its first division title in 2011 and there are plenty of reasons to believe that. Lytton's fantastic ability gives the team a more-than-solid foundation while quarterback Jason Abbott looks to improve and add an important second dimension to the offense which might push the Red Raiders over the top. But it's going to take some defense to win the Copper with solid units at Woodland, Holy Cross, and Naugatuck, so we'll see how Torrington can limit opponents. The other two Copper teams I think are most likely to contend for the division championship are Naugatuck and Holy Cross. The Greyhounds lost most of its offensive production from last year, but Yourison is a great cornerstone to build around on both sides of the ball provided he can stay healthy. There could develop a situation in which he takes on a role similar to DeBiase a year ago at Woodland in which he lines up in the shotgun and they build an offense around him. I'll be anxious to see how Rob Plasky crafts the offense and how they use their other playmakers because the physicality and defensive intensity should be there. The Crusaders have the ability to be the most balanced offensive team in the league with the tandem of Brown and DiGiorgi. Brown has had a few arm troubles, but if he can be a reliable quarterback, Cross should be in good shape with a pretty good defense and offensive line intact.
Sleepers and Non-Contenders
Remmy's Take: I don't believe this division has any non-contenders. Although Kennedy or St. Paul may not win the division, either team is capable of making a run and pulling some upsets. It happens every season, which automatically makes these two programs sleepers. The biggest "sleeper" may be Sacred Heart, but one of the biggest question marks in this division is can Hearts quarterback Javon Martin lead this team the way Rohan Ifill has over the last four years? If so, the talent is there and the Hearts will have a good shot.
Kyle's Take: I have a hard time seeing Kennedy or St. Paul challenging for the division title, but I wouldn't rule out the Falcons creating some havoc in the Copper. The team showed some flashes of brilliance with Marchi at quarterback over the second half of the season. St. Paul's offense could be very good with Marchi and a very talented wideout in Justin Gonzalez, but the defense is a question mark. The Eagles won the Copper in 2008, but that was in an extremely down year for the division and I don't see it happening with the low-scoring Kennedy offense. I didn't list Woodland or Sacred Heart in the contenders category but they are definitely capable of challenging for the Copper title. Both teams have a few too many question marks for me right now. With the losses of DeBiase and Ifill--the best player on both sides of the ball for both teams--there will have to be multiple players to replace their production. DeBiase's loss (along with others) gives the Hawks a young and weakened secondary and a sophomore starting quarterback in Kingsley. Ifill's departure also leaves the reins of the offense to Martin while creating a hole in the secondary. Woodland should be strong in the front seven, but the loss of Holder is more important than most people realize. He was a great run stopper and will be missed. Sacred Heart has never been a defensive power, and that won't help this year.
Remmy's Take: Naugatuck repeating as the NVL champion may not be the biggest surprise of the season--Torrington winning the Copper would be. With the kind of season the Raiders from up north had last year along with being one of the preseason top teams in this division, Raider nation will have to be on its toes because the bullseye will definitely be on their backs come Sept. 15. But what makes Torrington a surprise this year is its history in the NVL and not being a contender for the league title on a consistent basis, much like Wolcott has been over the last few years in the Brass.
Kyle's Take: I wouldn't be shocked if St. Paul pushed the .500 mark. Marchi is a very talented quarterback and if the Falcons can establish a running game, that offense could be good enough to outscore half of its opponents. I also think Torrington is going to establish a passing game to open up things for Lytton and that Abbott will throw for over 1,500 yards. Here's one more: One of the five big boys in the division will finish below .500.
Remmy's Take: I could list a bunch but I will stick with my top three play-makers. David Coggins from Sacred Heart will have another great year. This kid was easily the most talented wide receiver in the league last season. Go out and watch him if you get a chance--you'll see. Fellow Hearts wideout DJ Ellis will be overshadowed by Coggins yet again but these two are the best receiving tandem in the Copper Division and the NVL. How could my list not include Lytton? Going into his senior campaign, Lytton is the NVL's best rusher and will certainly prove it to everyone. We'll get a good look at his abilities when Torrington opens the season at Ansonia. My final selection ... ah, what the heck, this one's too tough. Both DiGiorgi (Holy Cross) and Yourison (Naugatuck) get my vote here. DiGiorgi is a bowling ball and Yourison is a battering ram. It will take more than one tackler to bring each of these kids down. What I love about their games is that these monsters are equally as tough on offense, carrying the rock, as they are on defense lighting people up! These teams go nowhere without valuable contributions from these two warriors.
Kyle's Take: We've mentioned all the big names throughout this post--Lytton, DiGiorgi, and Yourison. They'll all certainly have their say in the Copper race this season, but we know what to expect out of them, for the most part. It's going to be players filling holes and expanding roles (nice rhyme?) that will be the real difference makers. How will Kingsley work the Woodland offense he'll be engineering for three years, and can guys like Matt Zaccagnini pick up the strong Hawks' running game? Can Martin bring a similar passing-running threat for the Hearts that Ifill did, and will he be able to use Coggins and Ellis to their fullest potential? How will Brown and Abbott complement their teams' feature rushing attacks? And how good will Marchi be at St. Paul? Plus, the skill cast replacing guys like Andrew Cirino, Tyler Conklin, and Ruben Berger at Naugatuck will be crucial to the Greyhounds' quest at a second-straight NVL crown.
How much fun is the Copper Division going to be this season? A lot.