Down-Sizing Is Not A Bad Thing In The City
The Hartford Public Owls have not enjoyed a playoff run since 2004 when Hartford fell to Woodland Regional 13-6 in the Class SS Semifinals. Since that time, Hartford has had three eight-win seasons and a few six-win seasons. The Owls have moved up and down the CIAC divisions in football (from SS to LL) due to fluctuating enrollment numbers. Last season, the Owls suffered through their worst campaign of this millennium: a 3-7 season.
“The Pub” is one of the oldest schools in the United States and the modern name of Hartford Public can be traced back to 1847. The school has not won a state football title since the Owls captured their first championship in 1994. Glory days may soon return to Asylum Hill in Hartford.
For one thing, the Owls will be taking a step down to Class L in the CIAC Football standings due to lower enrollment in 2016. There were 686 boys that attended the school last year, but that has dwindled to 616. Hartford Public lost three games to 2015 CIAC Class LL playoff contenders Conard-West Hartford, Glastonbury, and Southington by a combined 102 points (34 points per game). The Owls DO NOT play those teams in 2016.
“I felt like we were in every single game and that’s with starting seven juniors on defense,” claimed head coach Harry Bellucci. “This year, the whole secondary and all of the linebackers are back and that’s with a full year of varsity experience- some of them with a couple of years.”
Instead, Hartford will move down in the CCC ranks as well to “Division II East” where they will meet up with the likes of Middletown, Wethersfield, and Windsor. The Owls return 14 seniors in 2016—10 of which were starters, including four-year starter Ray Colon.
“When you are fortunate enough be that good when he’s young and you are going to be playing in your 32nd or 33rd varsity game, that game looks very slow to you and there’s nothing you haven’t seen,” said Bellucci.
Colon is a two-year all CCC stalwart for the Owls who also led the team in tackles. He is one of three captains for the 2016 squad.
“I like to make sure everyone is out here doing their job and not giving up,” offered Colon. “I like pushing my team so that we can excel out her altogether as one.”
It was a very active scene at practice as each player was implored by captains and a coaching staff of nine (three volunteers) to make it through each step of the way running from one station to the next. The most supportive player may have been Elijah Clarke, a New York City transplant to Hartford. Clarke will not only have to make big plays as a member of a secondary completely intact from last season, but he will also need to contribute as a running back on offense following the graduation of TyRyq Rodriguez (1400 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2015).
“Personal goals for me are just to get to a Division I college, lead my team, and work hard,” declared Clarke.
Hartford will have a new quarterback at the helm of the offense in 2016. Bellucci stated that new starter Joemar Scott will have to perform much better in the play-action scheme. The team plans to run more consistently out of the I.
Besides the fact that the Owls are stepping down a peg on the competition scale in the CCC, they may improve for the sole reason that they are better athletes in 2016. Each player seemed to excel in each drill, while communicating well with others, particularly while executing the scoop and score.
Coach Bellucci, a fourteen-year veteran at the position, is very proud of how his school positions its players for the future, no matter how bleak the situation may have appeared in Hartford as of last year for the Owls. Bellucci, a man with over 30 years of coaching experience, points to the fact that in the last three years, 10 Owls have moved onto NCAA Division I programs.
“We were able to garner in the last 13 years over 2.5 millions dollars in scholarship money for football players,” explained Bellucci. “Wins, losses: I guess that’s what I am going to be judged by, but to me, I’ll take the 2.5 any day.”
Max Downtown, a restaurant experience just steps away from the home of the UConn Huskies and various entertaining visitors, the XL Center. I have to admit, it is a most convenient locale for the CPTV Sports crew.
“It is on the corner of 42nd and broadway,” exclaimed Steven Abrams, managing partner of Max Downtown. “It is the most prime location in Hartford.”
The site is not the only thing prime about Max Downtown, the official “Chop House” of the Max Restaurant Group. The steak is grilled to the recommended setting of the head chef: medium rare. Upon further incision, the cut of beef that I had was a New York Strip of the finest coloring, accentuating so nicely by the home-made steak sauce crafted by Max Downtown.
The steak comes from Kinnealey Quality Meats in Boston-a 77 year-old meat processor and distributor. Abrams stated that Kinnealey has been the preferred vendor because their core values, quality, consistency, and value, are in line with what MRG brings to the table.
I had a wonderful conversation with MRG operations manager Bobby Venetianer-A SYRACUSE ALUM, who implored the crew to imbibe on the locally-sourced cocktails and peruse the extensive vino list. We respectfully declined…but we certainly took Bobby up on the Cobb Salad…which is not your typical Cobb Salad-pumpernickel croutons, scrambled egg, BACON, tomato, avocado, chicken, a healthy helping of blue cheese to set the mood right.