Pictured: Longtime offensive coordinator Tyler Wilcox was named H-K head coach last winter. He will continue to oversee the offense and call plays. (Photo by Paul Augeri)
By Paul Augeri
HIGGANUM – You won’t hear coach Tyler Wilcox moan and groan or refer to Haddam-Killingworth’s current roster situation as a predicament. Though small in numbers, the Cougars are excited about the prospect of playing an actual game in two weeks.
H-K is caught in one of those dreaded down cycles that impact small programs especially hard. COVID is the culprit. After reaching the championship game in Class S two years ago and returning 22 seniors for a 2020 season that never happened, Wilcox has just 35 or so rostered varsity players this fall.
“We will rely heavily on guys to play on both sides of the ball,” he said. “COVID has a lot to do with our numbers being so small. A lot of kids didn’t come out. We lost that freshman class (of last season) pretty much. We’re going to work with what we have here.”
What We Learned
If there was a high school football season last fall, H-K’s senior class alone would have been 22 strong. The offensive and defensive lines returning from the 2019 Class S runner-up team would have been intact, and some would have been fourth-year starters. They would have been fun to watch.
With 14 freshmen on the roster and only “three or four” sophomores staying involved after last year’s experience, Wilcox and his staff (defensive coordinator George Callender, line/special teams coach Barth Keck, Torrin Callender and Jared Hickey) are working at the ground level.
“Among the freshman group there are three or four linemen. I hope they stick with it through the next couple of years so it really starts paying off,” Wilcox said. “There will be freshmen on the field in more than a couple of different spots. From what I saw in the passing league at Sheehan, they hustled and will be earning their time.”
The Cougars’ experience lies at the skill positions and in the defensive backfield. Most will be two-way players.
“We’re getting those guys to understand that piece of it, making sure they’re in top shape to be able to go two ways,” Wilcox said. “We have enough skill guys between the defensive backs and the receivers. They’re going to get breaks here and there, but the linemen, we have got to get them in that right mindset.”
Names To Remember
**H-K’s starting quarterback will be either junior Tate Callender, junior Alex Phipps or senior Matt Minasian. As an all-around athlete with speed, the 6-foot Callender appears to have the edge. Phipps has experience at the JV level. Minasian is a transfer student from Naugatuck.
**Junior RB Orion Inkel
**Junior RB Joe Whiteside
**Junior RB Lawson Doverspike
**Senior WR/DB Ryan Duncanson
**Senior WR/DB Kevin Cavrell
**Senior WR/DB Matteo Piacenti
**Junior OL/DL Kevin Fisher
Keeping Up The Culture
Wilcox was hired last winter as just the fourth head coach since the program’s inception in 1976 under Dennis O’Rourke. He played strong safety and tight end for O’Rourke from 2005-09. Wilcox’s career at Western Connecticut was cut short because of injuries.
Wilcox returned home, where he pursued a teaching career and now works in special education at the high school. When former player Mike Baklik succeeded O’Rourke in 2014, Wilcox became his offensive coordinator. Wilcox replaced Erik Becker, who was hired away from Coginchaug’s co-op to replace Baklik after the 2019 season. Becker now coaches at Daniel Hand, his alma mater.
“I wasn’t sure how quickly the opportunity would pan out,” Wilcox said after his hiring. “I loved working under Mike. He did a great job building up the program from 0-11 to a state championship appearance. I knew patience would pay off at some point. I had a couple of options to branch out and go somewhere else, but I didn’t want to. I put in the time here.”
**Wilcox enjoys the workload of being the head coach. He will continue to oversee the offense and call plays.
“I love being able to practice-plan, love doing all the behind the scenes stuff,” he said. “I did a lot of that with Mike, too. It’s been a natural progression to being in charge of everything.”
**Six H-K alums are on football rosters this fall: John Brodeur at Bryant, Thomas Perry at Middlebury, Dalton Modehn at Western Connecticut, Tobey Callender at Utica, Jimmy McGoey at RPI and Trey Callender at Milford Academy.
**Aug. 27: At Coventry Co-Op (Windham/Bolton/Lyman Memorial)
**Sept. 4 At Wilcox Tech
Home games at H-K High School, Higganum
Sept. 10: OLD SAYBROOK/WESTBROOK, 6
Sept. 17: MORGAN, 6:30
Sept. 24: Bye
Oct. 1: At Cromwell/Portland, 6
Oct. 9: At Coginchaug/Hale-Ray/East Hampton, 1
Oct. 16: Bye
Oct. 22: NORTH BRANFORD, 6:30
Oct. 29: WINDSOR LOCKS/SUFFIELD/EAST GRANBY, 6:30
Nov. 5: ROCKVILLE, 6:30
Nov. 13: At CREC Co-Op, 11
Nov. 19: At SMSA Co-Op (site TBD), 6
Nov. 23: At Valley Regional/Old Lyme, 6:30