#TrainingCampTour Day VII: Torrington

“The Throwback Raiders” are looking to take a simple, but loud journey to the postseason in 2015.

A New Vibe In TTown

Appetite for Destruction (1987), License to Ill (1986), and Kill ‘Em All (1983) each were seminal albums that were produced in the 1980’s. “Paradise City” (Guns N’ Roses), “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” (Beastie Boys), and “Seek and Destroy” (Metallica) were all featured in a loud fashion at Red Raiders football practice Monday.

1980’s were a simpler time when citizens of the Earth looked to their heroes to defend their way of life. A little girl from Chicago defied the odds after being neglected. Michael and Madonna dictated what clothes you wore. Ronald Reagan, the country’s astute grandfather, shielded your eyes from a horrendous future by telling Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”

Many of the Torrington players were upset when the volume had been turned down momentarily and refused to get back to their jobs until order had been restored. “Turn up the music, man.” “Let’s bump, Dawg.” These were cries made aloud to keep the rhythm up for the Red Raiders, many of whom wore old, ragged jerseys that exposed their stomachs, like you would see in…the 80’s.

This 1980’s diatribe is not some cheap attempt at bringing popular culture into a Connecticut high school football team preview. It’s a nod to the past when Torrington football meant something. You see, the Red Raiders have not won a Naugatuck Valley League title since 1987. They have not played in the state playoffs since 1982. Coach Gaitan Rodriguez is hoping to change that by taking a simplistic approach with his team.

“We have certain packages that we are going to implement offensively to take advantage of our size and defensively, we are keeping it simple so that these guys can react and play and not think,” said Rodriguez.

There is a buzz on the banks of the Naugatuck River. People are talking up and down East Main Street about the 2015 football team. More than half of the players currently in camp are seniors (16/29). Senior captain quarterback Connor Finn is a year older, one year removed from a decent season where the completed 53% of his passes for a 1,072 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. He is also very familiar with a lot of his teammates.

Connor Finn has been tapped to play behind what he calls a “skillful” offensive line. He’s hoping that on the other side of the ball, the defense won’t score, because then obviously “they can’t win!”

“Well I played with them forever, since 3rd or 4th grade, so a lot of kids I have known and have been good friends with,” stated Finn. “I’m just excited to play with them and really prove something for our senior year.”

I asked coach Rodriguez if the team chemistry, senior leadership, and knowledge of the system will lead the team to the playoffs. He laughed me off as if to say, “oh you outsider, it’s much simpler than that.”

“You know what? This is our approach: we take one game at a time,” exclaimed Rodriguez. “What we worry about is today. We have to have the best practice that we can have today and we want to have an even better practice the next day. If we put all of that together, good things our going to happen.”

Running back Newton Frias collected just 491 yards and 8 touchdowns for the Red Raiders last year, but wait a minute, he did that in just 3 games played!!!  Flashy return man and receiver Zack Mancini got in the end zone 5 times in just four games played. Everyone returns on the offensive and defensive line as well including 6’0″, 300-pounder Kobe Covington.

A key building block from last year was a 5-game losing streak in the middle of the season. They were outscored 220-57 from October 11th to November 8th. Torrington was outscored by 90 points last year and managed 300 yards per game on offense when they know they could have done better.

“Last year was a disappointment to us,” intimated Finn. “We wanted to come out and prove something and we just didn’t do that. We will use it this year as fire just to drive us and something to fuel the fire.”

The team suffered a few injuries during that stretch, but none more debilitating than a right foot injury that sidelined TE/LB Nate Bresson. He is a go-to receiver for Connor Finn and the anchor of Coach G’s defense.

Torrington’s 33-year state playoff drought may come to an end this year thanks to some senior leadership.

“His character, not only his leadership, but the energy that he brings to practice, the energy that these guys are feeding off of a kid like Bresson has been incredible,” said Rodriguez. “That’s been also part of the buzz that has been created around here.”

That buzz, along with a natural approach to playing the game of football and a positive attitude toward a 2014 losing streak, have made the Red Raiders believe in themselves.

“We started getting healthier near the end of the year,” announced Rodriguez. “A lot of those kids that were getting experience at the time of those injuries were starting to play better, which has carried over to this year. There’s a lot of depth and there’s a lot of competition, so it has made things exciting.”

What would it mean to this team if they could break tradition and skip into the playoffs?

“It would be the best feeling in the world,” claimed Bresson. “We are just going to take It one game at a time and hopefully we end up there.”

Of course they are!

Follow the #TrainingCampTour as it happens on Twitter. Please check in to cptvsports.org nightly for other team training camp recaps. For more on the Torrington team, tune in to the 2015 High School Football Training Camp special on September 4, 2015. Finally, the Red Raiders will play LIVE on CPTV Sports September 25th at 6:30 p.m. against Naugatuck.

A Day to Remember in the Northwest Corner…

Our first stop in my hometown came at Salerno’s, which is home to my favorite sandwich in Torrington. I am very familiar with the owner and his family. Watch the special to learn more about my cheesy Torrington connection to Salerno’s.

This is THE Italian-American sandwich as cultures clash with tomatoes, lettuce, and mayo on top of meatballs, provolone, and crunchy bread.

The Johnny’s Hero is my sandwich because it includes Italian elements that I cannot ignore such as tender meatballs, sneaky grated cheese, and just-right melted provolone on a big, bad hard roll. It’s also my sandwich because it isn’t traditional by most standards. The meatballs are uniquely fried and then dressed with lettuce, tomato, and mayo. This combination is a winner though because the bread tastes wonderful when layered with mayo and tomatoes, while the meatball makes its way into your heart when touched by the provolone and grated cheese.

It was a nice time reconnecting and rekindling on North Main Street. Brian Brennan, the owner of Salerno’s, is also a huge fan of the Amazin’ Mets, so that makes things even better (especially with a 5.5 game lead in the division heading toward September!!!).

We had a little time before football practice, so I directed driver/camera man Mike Dunphy to 139 Turner Avenue: casa di Graziano. I surprised my mother Rosie and my father Francesco Sr. with a visit, but wouldn’t you know, they were ready to go at a moment’s notice with home-made soppressata (dried meat, Italian- style).

It was a successful day in Torrington because I ate well and received all of the necessary footage. It’s that much better when you are greeted by your mother’s beautiful smiling face!

I’m holding Soppressata. I ate it already. Thanks, mom and dad.