#TrainingCampTour Day V: Ellington

Ellington hopes to exude this type of strength this year as they set out alone in 2015 without former co-op partner Somers.

They Will Not Be Wearing Yellow Jerseys On September 12…

The Purple Knights will kick-off their season on 9/12 at against the co-op of Windsor Locks, East Granby, and Suffield in a game that will air on CPTV Sports Tuesday, September 15, at 9 p.m. Ellington will go at it alone on that date for the first time since 2003.

There was a time when the Purple Knights were flourishing as a football program, collecting regular season wins at a high rate, while enjoying substantial participation numbers for a small school situated in Tolland County, Northeast of Hartford. That was around the turn of the century, when Ellington had been as high as Class LL in football as late as the year 2002. The following year, Ellington dropped to Class S. In 2004, as participation numbers dwindled, the team buddied up with its northern neighbor Somers to form a cooperative (co-op) squad. There are many benefits to a co-op relationship as schools have the ability to share resources including budget dollars and manpower.

The CIAC mandates that once a school can furnish a squad made up of at least 36 football players, they can no longer enjoy the benefits of that relationship. The bad news is that the Ellington and Somers are splitting up in 2015. The good news…numbers are up for Sean Byrne’s Ellington squad!

Ellington suffered a bit of a scare on Saturday, before I showed up to practice, almost losing another key piece from their 2014 squad: quarterback Christian Rider. He was in the defensive backfield during a drill and came down very awkwardly on his ankle after attempting to nab an interception. Rider rolled his ankle.

There is the taped ankle of Christian Rider, which is a very important factor for Ellington to watch this year. Rider threw 7 TD passes and rushed for 10 scores in 2014.

“It was the worst five minutes of pain I’ve ever felt in my life,” recounted Rider. “Just a little setback. I’ll be alright, though.”

“He doesn’t normally play defense, but we let him go out there to play defensive back, and that’s what happened,” bemoaned Byrne.

He was already wearing a yellow “YOU CAN’T TOUCH ME!” jersey because he came into practice as the team’s starting quarterback. That’s where he will stay as he, along with his coach, expects that he will be in the lineup on September 12 despite sitting out the rest of practice icing his wrapped up ankle. Quarterbacks coach Adam Morgan stepped up to the role in practice in lieu of Rider. I am proud to say that the young man, walked away from practice on his own accord and participated in an interview with me whilst standing at attention to speak to me. It is also important to note that he led and joined in on a team stretch at the end of practice.

Mark Hickman was the only other Purple Knight in a yellow jersey. He sprained his ACL at a football camp two months ago.  He is on high alert to ensure that he will be okay this season.

Hickman is two touchdowns shy of the school’s scoring record, which he break week one in a game televised on CPTV Sports.

“Coming off from injury, making sure the leg is all strengthened up, working on speed, working on making holes and finding the cuts,” said Hickman. “I’m all cleared right now.”

Hickman showed no signs of injury during my team at camp. He played corner during a simulated team game of offense versus defense. He did not allow one reception while playing defensive back. The senior will be challenging various school receiving, returning, and scoring records this year. Should Hickman make it into the end zone twice during game one, you will see a graphic populate on your TV screen that promotes him as the school’s all-time leading scorer.

“It’s cool to have, but I’m more focused on the team succeeding,” intimated Hickman. “Touchdowns will come. Yards will come, as long as you work together and work hard. We lost Somers. We lost a lot of key players, so it’s a team coming together, playing together and becoming real tight with each other.”

Side note: I saw Wellington Silva, a tough Ellington tackler, nearly break a teammate in half during a play in the simulated game. That play right there will be worth watching our 2015 High School Football Training Camp Special on Friday September 4 at 7 p.m. Expect him to improve upon his 78 tackles from 2014. Additionally, Tyreik Noel is an athletic specimen at linebacker. You will probably see an uptick in tacklers (56) and sacks (3.0) from what he put up a year ago.

Trekking Down Rt. 140 to the Chuck Wagon…

These guys were very welcoming to CPTV Sports, but I was more excited than they, spending time with the family and scarfin’ down some breakfast.

I am pretty much an Italian gimmick at this point. I mean, I am Francesco Graziano Jr. and both of my parents are proud natives of Calabria. So guess what, I eat Italian a lot. Additionally, I SWEAT sausage. Every time I dine out for breakfast, you can expect there to be some sausage involvement. It is probably the only meal that I go “create- your-own” for: egg white omelette with italian sausage, roasted red peppers, onions, and swiss cheese. I am not a dessert guy, but I always order one chocolate chip pancake for breakfast.

I was pleased to enjoy this food in a family setting. Gus and Louis co-own the restaurant. Gus’s son Alex is a defensive assistant on the Ellington football coaching staff. Alex’s mom Tina is the star of the show and a member of the wait staff. I never met these people before the day I walked into the Chuck Wagon for the first time. I was embraced with open arms.

The sausage was cooked very slowly and neat. The roasted red papers were the cornerstone of this omelette project, finely cooked for a soft bite! Oh yes there were onions and swiss cheese that provided a terrific compliment, but there was also a bit of Parmesan cheese that provided a pleasant surprise.

“Give me sausage or give me death” — Frankie Graziano circa 2015