Pictured: Xavier players work on their technique in contact drills during this summer’s edition of a football camp instructed by Wesleyan University coaches. (Marc Silvestrini photo)

By Marc Silvestrini

MIDDLETOWN — Damp, 90-degree weather is not the ideal environment in which to strap on pads and helmets, but no one at the summer instructional football camp at Wesleyan University complained.

Instead, the 350 to 400 players from eight secondary school programs — including Middletown and Xavier — all appeared happy to be back on a field after a pandemic-forced hiatus of some 20 months.

“It’s not the real thing, it’s only a baby step, but at least the kids are putting their pads on, running some drills and learning some fundamentals,” said Sal Morello, the head coach at Middletown. “I’ve got 40 kids out there getting coached up by these great college coaches, so I’m happy.”

Added Andy Guyon, the head coach at Xavier: “We’re just excited to be back on the field. It’s nice to have the kids back doing things related to football. It’s another step closer to having football back again.”

Though present at the camp, Morello, Guyon and their respective coaching staffs — along with the coaches of the other six programs that participated — were strictly observers during the week-long sessions.

The actual, on-the-field coaching was done by Wesleyan’s staff and reinforced by coaches from several colleges across the region, including Springfield, American International College and Castleton University in Vermont.

When asked to describe their role at the camp, Morello said he and his staff were gauging the progress his players have made since their last game in November 2019 while also trying to pick up some of the latest drills and coaching techniques employed by the college coaches.

“These college coaches know what they’re doing,” he said. “Me, I’m just taking notes and learning some new things, too, just like the kids.”

Three Blue Dragons work on their snap game on the artificial practice field at Wesleyan. (Marc Silvestrini photo)

Aside from Xavier and Middletown, this year’s camp included players from Cheshire, Newington, Platt of Meriden, Simsbury and Wethersfield high schools and the Brunswick School in Greenwich.

Guyon, who had 64 players participating in the camp, said he is eagerly anticipating his team’s first game on Sept. 10 against Norwich Free Academy at Larry McHugh Field.

Much of that excitement comes from the fact that Xavier had a very strong sophomore class in 2019, players who have grown into bigger, stronger and more mature seniors.

Not only will the Falcons return their starting quarterback, Drew Kron, and running back, D.J. Wright, but Guyon is also looking forward to the return of five sophomore starters on defense and four on offense from the team’s 2019 finale against West Haven. The young Falcons finished that season at 5-5.

“I think having Drew and D.J. back is huge for us,” he said. “In fact, we only graduated 12 seniors this spring, so the bulk of our team is coming back.”

Morello’s program also appears to be in pretty good shape, which could herald an exciting fall for the Blue Dragons.

Two relatively inexperienced players, senior Matt Steuerwald and sophomore Colin Skene, will compete for the starting quarterback job, he said, a condition that may force Middletown to depend more heavily on its offensive line, at least in the beginning of the season.

Fortunately, Middletown’s offensive and defensive lines — with nine returning players who lettered as sophomores — will likely be up to the task.

“We’re going to have to depend on both of our lines this year, so it’s good to have all these battle-tested kids back who have had some good game experience,” he said. “It would be nice to have an experienced backfield to go with them, but give me the choice and I’d much rather be strong up front.”

Middletown, which finished at 6-4 in 2019, will open its season on Sept. 10 against Berlin at Sage Park.

Both Guyon and Morello said they were looking forward to getting their squads together on Aug. 12, the first day of organized team activities (OTAs).

“It’s a relief to put all that’s happened since the end of the 2019 season behind us,” Guyon said. “We’re just excited to be thinking about playing some football.”

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