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A look at high school football throughout the state

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cochran heads to Masuk

Rumors have been swirling for weeks that Casey Cochran, who will be a sophomore in the fall, had transferred to Masuk. Cochran is the son of former New London coach Jack Cochran.

Casey Cochran indeed enrolled in classes at Masuk two weeks ago, and is expected to play this season. Masuk won the Class L title in 2008, but suffered heavy graduation losses, including quarterback Bobby Baker.

Casey, 15, helped lead New London to the Class SS state title last fall. He took over as the Whalers' starting quarterback during mid-season.

Jack Cochran will not coach at Masuk this fall. He was fired as New London's football coach in April.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Top 10: Fields

The next installment in the Top 10 football topics is all about fields. Some made the list because of the field itself. Others appear because of specific players who once called the field home, a program's traditions or because of atmosphere.

1. Strong Field, Madison
Better known as the Surf Club, Strong Field might be the biggest home-field advantage in the state. It is home to the Hand Tigers.

Situated in close proximity to Long Island Sound, weather conditions certainly factor in to what transpires on the field. Wind and cold, especially in November and December, make it this state’s version of Lambeau Field. Frozen tundra indeed.

The atmosphere is terrific. Clear views of the water, an entertaining halftime show by the Hand band, and, of course, good football.

Hand has won nine state championships, and the flags marking each wave proudly on top of the home bleachers.

The field was built in 1971, when the Hand program started, and lights were immediately added. Night football has been a huge hit on Friday nights in town.

The only major drawback is parking. It’s always difficult to maneuver out of the complex, as there’s only one road in and out. That’s especially tough on a sportswriter trying to make deadline.

The field is also starting to show its age. But a process has begun, through private funding, to make several major renovations, including the addition of a turf field.

2. Veteran’s Memorial Stadium, New Britain
Home to the New Britain Golden Hurricanes, the facility opened in 1982, and it’s massive. There are metal bleachers on both sides of the field that can house over 8,000. An 8-lane oval track surrounds the football field.

The Golden Hurricanes own the state record for career victories. New Britain has won 727 games since the school started playing the sport in 1892.
The school boasts four CIAC state titles, and 27 unofficial championships, for a state-record 31 titles.

Walter Camp, who is known as the "Father of American football", was born in this city in 1859.

3. Strong Stadium, West Haven
Strong Stadium, home to the West Haven Blue Devils, is similar to the Surf Club for its unpredictable field conditions. Strong Stadium is less than a mile from Long Island Sound, and the wind can make it feel downright frigid on most nights in the fall.

The stadium was named after Ken Strong, who played for the Westies, and was later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

West Haven has won four CIAC titles, and is one of the most consistent programs in the state with a long, and respected, tradition. Legendary coach Ed McCarthy enters his 27th season with the Westies this fall.

Strong Stadium has hosted numerous state semifinal and championship playoff games. Facilities supervisor, Chris Everone, and his staff, truly do a remarkable job. New turf is being installed this summer.

4. Jarvis Stadium, Ansonia
Named after legendary coach Charles "Boots" Jarvis, who won 175 games from 1938-1966 and helped position Ansonia as one of the state’s top programs.

The Chargers rank second in career victories, behind New Britain. Ansonia needs just two wins to reach No. 700.

Since the CIAC instituted a playoff format in 1976, the Chargers have been the state’s most decorated team. Ansonia has won 16 state titles, and has reached 23 finals. The Chargers have advanced to the postseason all but four times in 32 years.

This place is clearly all about tradition. Despite ample parking in a large lot in front of the field, it’s not uncommon for fans forced to park up and down Wakelee Avenue for some of the season’s biggest games. Some spectators could even be seen watching from roofs and decks of houses on nearby Scotland St. in the south endzone.

Some opponents find walking onto the field intimidating. Winning here is often difficult. Current coach Tom Brockett hasn’t lost at home in his three seasons.

5. Bowen Field, New Haven
The PA announcer bills this place as "historic" Bowen Field, and for good reason. Bowen Field is home to the Hillhouse Academics, who started playing football back in 1885. The Academics rank third in the state for career wins.

Hillhouse has a long, and rich, tradition. Albie Booth, Levi Jackson, Floyd Little and Vern Hargreaves are just some of the names to have donned an Academics’ uniform.

There are no lights on site, so Hillhouse home games usually take place on Friday afternoons. The late-fall sun is a welcomed reprieve from the bitter cold that is common during night games at other sites. There is plenty of seating, and parking. The rustic wooden bleachers give this field an added charm.

Hyde, a magnet school in Hamden, also plays its home games here, usually on Saturday afternoons. Hyde’s been successful on the gridiron ever since the program was established in 1998. Hillhouse has reemerged as a state power since the start of this decade.

6. Palmer Field, Middletown
The huge light towers greet you upon entering this facility off Route 66, home to the Xavier Falcons.

Xavier was once one of the state’s most dominant programs. The Falcons won 42 games in the 1960s, and recorded the best winning percentage (.850) of any team during the 1970s.

Xavier went to the Class L final in 1977, and played for the Class L-II championship in 1981.
Despite some lean years during the late 1980s and 1990s, Xavier football is once again solid.
The 2005 edition won the Class LL title and finished as the No. 1 team in the Register Top 10 Poll.

Coach Sean Marinan, and his staff, have positioned the Falcons as one of the most consistent teams in the Southern Connecticut Conference.

7. Muzzy Field, Bristol
Several of the state’s best players called this field home. Muzzy Field, an old baseball park, is the home field for the Bristol Central Rams, Bristol Eastern Lancers and the St. Paul co-op program. The field was built in 1939, and can hold close to 5,000 people.

From 1998-2001, Tim Washington amassed 7,712 yards, which was then a state record before Ansonia’s Alex Thomas broke the mark in 2007. Washington scored 101 career touchdowns.
D.J. Hernandez, who later played at UConn, was one of the state’s most heralded quarterbacks while at Central.

D.J.’s brother, Aaron, holds state records for receiving yards in a career, season and game. Aaron also holds state records for career touchdowns and touchdowns in a season. Aaron currently plays for the Florida Gators, who are the defending national champions.

8. NFA Sports Complex, Norwich
While Norwich Free Academy has never won a football state championship — although it did play for the Class LL title in 1998 — the Wildcats have recently been one of the most consistent programs in the Eastern Connecticut Conference.

But the impressive part is the school’s campus, which includes a turf football field. The school’s been in operation since 1856. The football team’s Thanksgiving Day rivalry with New London spans 147 games, which is the oldest high school football rivalry in the country.

The field is surrounded by many of the school’s buildings, which is similar to that of a small college campus. Building include several that house classrooms, some for administration affairs, and one, Slater Hall, that holds a theater and an art museum.

9. Maclary Complex, Cheshire
This was the place to be in the fall during the 1990s. The Cheshire Rams won 95 games in that decade, including a state-best 49 in a row.

The Rams also won six straight state titles from 1992-1997. Cheshire suffered through some down years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but advanced to the Class LL final last season.

The football field, set in the back of the complex, is visually stunning, especially when in late fall when the leaves change colors on the abundance of trees that surround the field.

Add in the band, a large, and hearty concession stand and a boisterous partisan crowd, and the Maclary Complex is still an exciting place to watch a game.

10. Mignault Field, Ledyard
The field was named for legendary coach Bill Mignault, even before he retired in 2007.
Mignault is the winningest coach in state history.

He was the only coach in school history before his retirement. He coached the Colonels for 42 seasons, beginning in 1966 when the school opened. He won 303 games and four state titles.

Mignault also coached at Waterford. His career record is 321-130-5, and includes eight appearances in state title games.

Other notable fields include the one at Greenwich, located on a sprawling, college-like campus. The Cardinals have won seven state championships. McDougall Stadium in Trumbull also has a rich history. The newly refurbished Municipal Stadium in Waterbury hosted the Class M state championship last season.

Your favorite field not on the list? Feel free to comment below.

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