Pictured: Coach Mike Eagle, left, said his Blue Devils have been fun to watch these last two weeks of preseason. The team opens up at home Saturday against CREC Co-Op. (Photo by Paul Augeri)
By Paul Augeri
DURHAM — Since March 2020, the time of his hiring, Mike Eagle has looked forward to his first game coaching the football conglomerate of Coginchaug, Hale-Ray and East Hampton.
That time is almost here. On Saturday, the Blue Devils play host to CREC Co-Op, the newest member of the Pequot Conference.
The Devils have been building momentum from weeks of practices and two scrimmages, one of which provided a nice cross-section of CIAC-sized schools in Branford (in the Devils’ Class M), Rocky Hill (Class S) and Wilbur Cross (Class LL), that it hopes to carry into the regular season.
Eagle called the quad experience “very successful.”
“It was great to be out there competing with three other well-coached programs,” said Eagle, who most recently coached on Berlin’s staff following head coach stops at Morgan and Guilford.
“The kids competed and had a lot of success,” he said. “The attitude and enthusiasm was at a high level and remained there throughout. We’ve had a very good week of practice and our comfort level is starting to settle in. Things are beginning to slow down and gel for us.”
The Blue Devils essentially started from square one once the CIAC saw that it could not justify having a 2020 season. The roster had a multitude of talented, experienced veterans. It was the best collection of players the co-op has seen in its 20 or so years. Most played on both sides of the ball, went 7-3 in 2019 and projected as a Class M title contender in 2020. Seven caught on either with a college or prep school.
Now, Eagle’s current roster numbering around 42 is almost bereft of varsity experience. Only after the first kickoff of the season will the Blue Devils begin to have a feel for what they’re made of.
“This year has got to be done right,” Eagle said after a recent practice. “It’s a different year. I’ve been doing this 20 years and it’s a different year. The players are deconditioned from not having a helmet on last year, deconditioned from not hitting and not playing. Once we get going and rocking and rolling, there’s going to be a lot of contact.”
The Blue Devils will have 10 seniors playing on both sides, three of them captains: Jackson Hill (receiver, safety), lineman Kaden Atwell, Chris Progano (receiver, cornerback). Quarterback Braden Lankarge also is a captain. All were on the junior varsity two years ago.
“And now those sophomores (in 2019) have to be our leaders out here this season,” Eagle said. “To lose that time, that junior year is so important on a maturity level, to come in as seniors and be asked to lead a team when you don’t have that much experience of seeing it done by the senior class ahead of you, it’s a tough gap. It’s been difficult, but these kids are working at it. They’ve done a great job over the course of the winter and summer.”
The Devils will work out of a spread offense, with Eagle implementing his own schemes within it. There are two good receivers to start with in Progano and Hill, with senior Anthony Toth in the backfield. The coach also might go with a two-quarterback system on occasion if the situation calls for it.
With 10 or so on his roster coming from the freshman class and the sophomore class representing the roster’s largest composition at 19, building depth from the two will be critical as the season rolls along.
“We’ve got to stay healthy,” Eagle said. “We need guys who can be seconds and thirds (as options) to spell guys on the field. It’s a happy medium and a fine line to walk. We’ve got some big boys too who are going to need a break. It’s iron-man football — getting the best guys on the field on both sides of the ball.”
Names To Remember
Sr. Braden Lankarge, QB, captain
Sr. Ethan Adams, QB
Sr. Anthony Toth, RB
Sr. Chris Progano, WR/CB, captain
Sr. Jackson Hill, WR/S, captain
Sr. Kaden Atwell, OL/DL, captain
Soph. David Palamar, OLB
Sr. Dylan Quincy, special teams
Sr. Jack Huscher, C/DT
Sr. Joel Kindel, O/D/ST
Sr. Luke Kindel, O/D/ST
Home games at Coginchaug Regional High School
Sept. 11: CREC CO-OP, 1 p.m.
Sept. 18: VALLEY REGIONAL/OLD LYME, 1
Sept. 25: At Old Saybrook/Westbrook, 11
Oct. 1: At Stafford/East Windsor/Somers, 6:30
Oct. 9: HADDAM-KILLINGWORTH, 1
Oct. 16: Bye
Oct. 22: At Morgan, 6:30
Oct. 29: At Rockville, 6:30
Nov. 5: Bye
Nov. 13: CROMWELL/PORTLAND, 1
Nov. 19: At Granby/Canton, 6:30
Nov. 24: NORTH BRANFORD, 6