To those outside the Ansonia football program, the six new faces crouching on its offensive line meant lowered expectations.
For the man running behind them, it meant old times.
Wouldn’t you know it, it’s turned out the same way for the Chargers.
In a season that could have marked a downturn for one of the state’s perennial state title contenders, Ansonia is rolling toward another league title and playoff berth, thanks in part to its young offensive line and bulked up senior running back Montrell Dobbs.
Some probably didn’t expect them to. The six juniors who make up the Chargers’ line — Matt Hall, Arek Kaszuba, Hakeem Martin, Dylan Vano, Tyler Williams and tight end Jake LaRovera — are all first-time starters. In fact, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Dobbs is the only returning senior starter the Chargers have.
No matter. At 4-0, Ansonia has already trounced defending Naugatuck Valley League champion, Holy Cross, 31-0, and is coming off a 46-6 victory over Wilby in which a banged-up Dobbs didn’t even play.
He still has 787 yards and eight touchdowns this season, carrying the ball a career-high 43 times for 387 yards and five touchdowns three weeks ago against Crosby.
“I’ve played with most of these guys [on the line] since I played Pop Warner,” Dobbs said. “They worked so hard in the offseason, and it’s paying off.”
Yet, that’s the culture around Ansonia, the king of sustained success in Connecticut high school football. The Chargers own 16 state titles (the last coming in 2007), have played for a state championship a record 22 times and have missed the playoffs just once (2005) in the last 13 seasons.
Expectations don’t change. Only the faces do. And the one that didn’t may be the biggest reason why.
“Montrell, as a junior, was a good high school player. ... Now, he’s turned into a great high school player,” Ansonia coach Tom Brockett said. “You usually don’t see a player who’s good as a junior make such a leap. It sounds crazy, but he might be the most improved player on our team.”
Dobbs put on nearly 20 pounds since last season, Brockett said, making the speedy tailback even faster and of course, even stronger.
“He wasn’t a blazer,” Brockett said, “where this year, he has the speed to leave you in the dust.”
Dobbs benches nearly 50 more pounds than he did a year ago, and his confidence has never been higher.
“It makes me want to do the attacking,” Dobbs said. “It’s not somebody comes to tackle me. I rather hit them first. ... Now I can do what I want, what I need to do.”
He’s not alone in the backfield, either. Only a freshman, Arkeel Newsome scored two touchdowns against Holy Cross, and with Dobbs out against winless Wilby, he was even better, rushing for 268 yards and six scores.
It’s a credit to the Chargers’ offensive line, but also the gushing potential of Newsome, who Brockett said is “mature beyond his years football-wise.”
“When it’s all said and done, he is going to be a special player,” Brockett said.
And once again, it may be another special season in Ansonia.
HELLO, MY NAME IS ...
When the gun went off in the Wickham Invitational boys championship race Saturday, Connor Rog practically sprinted out to the front of the pack in a blur of red and white.
Fifteen minutes later, he was still there.
The Fairfield Prep junior doesn’t plan on leaving.
“This is the first race I was facing all the top Connecticut competition,” Rog said after his practically wire-to-wire, first-place finish in 15:49. “When you’re a junior and you have a bunch of seniors out there, you want to show them what you can do ... make a name for myself.”
No one should forget him. The top sophomore runner — and 13th overall — at last year’s Open, Rog has Prep back among the state’s heavyweights after it claimed the Wickham Invite team title.
Run on the same course as the class championships and Open, the annual early-October event is largely considered the season’s most important invitational and a barometer for teams with state title inspirations.
Prep bested other contenders Xavier-Middletown, Amity, Tolland and Newtown, with one of the few major omissions being Danbury. Rog had to fend off Toland’s Bryan Fowler and Xavier’s Ian Albert for the individual crown.
“I don’t really look back that much in a race,” Rog said. “I heard, ‘Go Ian!’ from the Xavier coach throughout the whole entire way. I was like, ‘Is he making a move? Is he coming up? I don’t know.’ I didn’t see him come up in my peripherals. I felt really good the whole race. I felt very confident.”
AT IT AGAIN
The girls championship race featured two more-familiar faces. Seniors Lindsay Crevoiserat of Glastonbury (first in 18:23) and Jackie Nicholas of Nonnewaug (second in 18:39) have raced against each other throughout their careers, so much so one doesn’t have a problem speaking for the other.
“I don’t think either of us ran out best race,” Nicholas said Saturday, Crevoiserat nodding in agreement to her left. “The other week we were both under 18 (minutes). So today, I thought it was more of a recovery because this week we had three meets already ... on Tuesday and Thursday. And I had SATs this morning, and I barely made it here.”
Nicholas has run better at Wickham, winning last year’s Open title in a time of 18:22. Crevoiserat bested her 2009 Open time by 36 seconds in her first time running here since that race. She and Nicholas exchanged the lead several times Saturday before Crevoiserat took it for good with about 600 meters to go.
“I was kind of nervous because I hadn’t run (here) this year yet,” said Crevoiserat, who also celebrated a team title Saturday. “We usually run it 10 times a season. So it was the first time, getting out, seeing the course. I wanted to remember how it feels like.”
1. Welcome to the party
Need to know: The last five spots of New Haven Register Top 10 poll went to new teams this week, the largest turnover yet this season: Trumbull is No. 6, followed by West Haven, Hand-Madison, Darien and Bunnell. The shake-up means every ranked team is 4-0.
2. Football game to watch No. 1: Masuk-Monroe at Bunnell, 7 p.m., Friday
Need to know: Expect a lot of scoring in this one. No team in the state has scored more than spread-heavy Bunnell’s 170 points this season. The Class L champions in 2006 and 2007 get to prove their return to the rankings is legitimate against Masuk-Monroe, arguably the state’s top offense and, surprisingly, one of its best defenses, too (14 points allowed).
3. Football game to watch No. 2: Wolcott at Ansonia, 7 p.m., Friday
Need to know: With both teams at 4-0, this one will likely go a long way to deciding the NVL crown. Wolcott has scored 40 or more points three times. Montrell Dobbs is expected to play for Ansonia after sitting out last week.
4. Almost perfect
Need to know: Darien’s top-ranked field hockey team had outscored opponents, 53-1, entering Tuesday’s game at Fairfield Ludlowe, a staggering number in the sport but not an altogether new one for the Blue Wave. The three-time defending Class M champions outscored opponents, 102-5, last year, and have gone 51-0-1 in the last two-plus seasons. Led by Ellie Riegel and Sam Johnston, Darien meets No. 10 Wilton on Friday.
5. Viking quest
Need to know: With usual power Norwich Free Academy in rebuilding mode, the East Lyme girls' volleyball team has dominated ECC play this season behind outside hitter Lauren Kirschblum and setter Molly Giannattasio, dropping just two games in league play. The No. 4 Vikings face their stiffest test on Oct. 22 when they travel outside Eastern Connecticut to play No. 2 Coventry.