The “Sting”-ing Truth
Gilbert/Northwestern co-op coach Scott Salius is entering his ninth season as head coach of the Yellow Jackets. Northwestern Regional (Winchester) and The Gilbert School (Winsted) are situated less than two miles away from one another. Scott tells me that 30 of his 45 players are from Northwestern, but the scale between how many kids from each school participate in the football program will fluctuate from year-to-year, much like the competition in Gilbert/NWR’s conference, the Pequot League.
“With these small-sized schools, teams have good players,” declared Salius. “Good players graduate; new players come in so it is always kind of fluctuating. You always have your teams that are sort of at the top.”
The Yellowjackets have missed the playoffs in each season since 2013, while teams like Canton, Granby, and Valley Regional/Lyme/Old Lyme have unpredictably jumped ahead of them in the standings. Gilbert/NWR finished 5-5 in 2015 and believes that with 13 starters returning, they can do much better this season.
“We’ve had kids just drop out near the end of the season and just lose interest because we haven’t been doing well, but if we maintain our leads throughout the games and really work hard, everything will fall into place,” senior linebacker Jake Roth announced.
Roth led the team with 60 tackles and nine sacks in 2015. Salius’s men are confident in their play on the defensive end, but the chief concern among the team is how the relatively inexperienced offensive line will react to live gameplay.
“We had a lot of players working hard in the offseason to kind of claim those last two offensive linemen spots,” stated Salius. “There is going to be some great competition in the preseason to try to see who is going to be there and that’s what drives it, that’s what makes players better: competition.”
Top tailback Billy Komons, a junior who rushed for 790 yards last season, returns to spearhead the ‘Jackets offense. Komons and Roth combined to rush for 1,300 yards a year ago. That connection is enough for Komons to anticipate a statistical boom in 2016.
“I wasn’t happy with what I did last year,” confessed Komons. “I want to be able to to make a name for myself. We’ve got a lot of good guys. Our class works super-hard and we just want to put that work to good use.”
The most entertaining portion of Gilbert’s Training Camp Tour stop was watching the Yellow Jackets complete an eight-station circuit that involved a successful completion of each station three times. It is the ultimate blue-collar endeavor for a small conference football program that includes a monstrous tire utilized for the purposes of “box-jumping”, two chairs fixed across from one another with a long rod connecting them, and various other economical mechanisms deemed worthy enough to get the kids conditioned. The record time for completing this exercise, according to coach Salius, is five minutes and 48 seconds. The top time on Tuesday was 09:15, but I am told that number will be much improved by season’s end—a time in which the Yellowjackets may be heading back to states.
“Last year, we lost two games in the fourth quarter: one to Hyde and one to Cromwell,” explained Salius. “That made the difference between a 7-3 and a 5-5 season. That ability to finish the games and that desire and hustle that we have had in years past, that ability to out-work teams: we were lacking that. We are trying to get back to the basics and kind of get that killer instinct going again.”