Note: Middlesex County Sports will be touring practices throughout the preseason to glean a thing or two about the county’s teams ahead of their 2021 fall seasons.

Pictured: Junior quarterback Cole Brisson will direct the Cromwell/Portland offense this season. (Paul Augeri Photo)

By Paul Augeri

CROMWELL – The last time Cromwell/Portland played football, the Panthers were on the younger side and lost 8 of 10, almost all of the defeats by large, humbling margins.

The silver lining to that 2019 varsity season? Many freshmen and sophomores got on the field, which counts for a lot in a post-pandemic Connecticut high school football world.

Two years ago they’re thinking, ‘I’m going against guys one or two years older than me,’” Panthers coach Randell Bennett said. “Now they’re thinking, ‘I’m stronger and I know what’s going on. Now I’m playing guys my age” who might not have had past varsity reps.

Bennett said he doesn’t have the challenge many other programs are facing this season.

“When I talk to the other coaches,” he said, “and they’re talking about, ‘We don’t even know what we have,’ I’ve got my quarterback back, I’ve got all of my receivers back, I got my running back back. I’ve got all my guys back. So we can’t go out and live by those excuses. I’ve got an All-State linebacker returning, and the guy opposite him might be better than him.”

Bennett said this fall will be “night and day” from what we saw out of that 2-8 squad in 2019. And even though a good number of freshmen and sophomores are on his new roster of 40-plus players, they will vie for starting roles.

What We Learned

**Bennett and Panthers defensive coordinator Jack Wilson are very high on their linebackers – junior Ryan Rozich in the middle, and All-Stater Owen Brunk and Teddy Williams flanking Rozich.

“They’re impressive, athletic, fast, and they’re all equal (to

Senior linebacker Owen Brunk (2) has been on the field since his freshman season with the Panthers. (Paul Augeri Photo)

each other),” Wilson said.

Williams is on a mission to be one of the best at his position in the Pequot Conference, Bennett said.

** In the case of players new to the program, Bennett likes that most have been self-starters in the months preceding the team’s return to the field and many have crossed the Arrigoni Bridge to spend time together.

“Honestly, the understanding with a year off for the young guys, they kind of heard the messages every week about what we need to be doing to be better (as a program),” Bennett said. “A lot of that stuff I’m not constantly reminding them about. And I have noticed that once all the restrictions were lifted, oh, the Portland guys are in Cromwell playing basketball today, or the Cromwell guys are going over to Portland and hanging out.

“They’re definitely becoming more of a team. I can’t want it more than them.”

Names To Remember

**Senior LB Owen Brunk. A leader, he was on the field as a freshman in 2018.

**Senior LB Teddy Williams

**Junior LB Ryan Rozich

Ethan Philbrick (79) is the Panthers’ top returning lineman. (Paul Augeri Photo)

**Senior DL Ethan Philbrick

**Junior QB Cole Brisson: The 6-foot left-hander can sling it. He had success in 7-on-7 tournaments at Sheehan and Southern Connecticut State. The Panthers were the only Class S school to attend the SCSU competition, Bennett said.

**Junior RB/DE Alex Hair

**Junior WR/S Ben Fagan

**Junior S Brandon Rose: Will start on defense. “He will be a guy playing in key moments on both sides of the ball,” Bennett said.

**Sophomore DB Machi Campbell

Preseason Prep

**Aug. 28: Jamboree involving Fitch, Foran and Killingly at Pierson Park, 2pm. The event comes a few days after his team’s joint practice with Class LL’s New Britain. “We’re trying to callus ourselves a little bit so we’re ready to pay at a high level when the Pequot season starts,” he said.

**Sept. 3: Scrimmage at Berlin, 5pm

Regular-Season Schedule

Home games at Pierson Park, Cromwell

Sept. 10: At Morgan, 6:30

Sept. 17:  Bye

Sept. 24: At North Branford, 6:30

Oct. 1: Home vs. Haddam-Killingworth, 6

Oct. 8: At Valley Regional/Old Lyme, 6:30

Oct. 22: Home vs. Old Saybrook/Westbrook, 6

Oct. 29: Home vs. Granby/Canton, 6

Nov. 5: Home vs. CREC Co-Op, 6

Nov. 13: At Coginchaug/Hale-Ray/East Hampton, 1

Nov. 19: Home vs. Stafford/East Windsor/Somers, 6

Nov. 24: At Rocky Hill, 6

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