Pictured: While Drew Kron’s college future points to baseball, he’ll be leading Xavier’s offense for one final season. (Photo by Paul Augeri)
By Paul Augeri
MIDDLETOWN — After nearly two years of envisioning Xavier football under the Friday night lights of Larry McHugh Field, Falcons coach Andy Guyon wonders if 99.9 percent preparation is enough.
“Last week we had a pretty good crowd here for our preseason game against Southington, but it’s going to be a lot different,” he said Wednesday, just 48 hours shy of Xavier’s opener against Norwich Free Academy.
“Friday is for real and there will be a ton of people here,” Guyon said. “And with the coaches, I think ‘what if we forgot something? We’ve done it so many times, preparing for a game and then game day, that when it comes again after not doing it for two years, did I forget? Did we forget to do something?”
The guess here is, no.
Guyon wishes his team and others throughout the state could have had an additional two weeks of preseason prep time (perish the thought) knowing there wasn’t football last fall or a football experience of any kind last spring. Knowing that, he’s been pleased with the team’s attention to detail and level of engagement over the last several weeks.
“This group wants to be good and they also want to be coached, and that’s helpful,” Guyon said. “We’ve been working really, really hard to make sure we’re organized and have all our bases covered. It’s been hard, but you have to do what you have to do. It sure beats the alternative.”
With 20 seniors on a roster of 77, Guyon said his older players have a strong appreciation for what the present offers them.
“Their attitude is a little bit different because of what they went through last year,” Guyon said. “They are thirsting to play football. They want their season, they want to be coached, they want to practice. A lot of them played as sophomores, so they get it and they’re really bought in and invested and committed to what we’re doing.”
“And to get that senior leadership , it trickles down. It’s a huge positive,” the coach said. “You can see they want more, and they want more, and they want more. We’re doing everything we can to get them prepared for this weekend and the rest of the season.”
There’s a lot to like going into it, beginning with senior quarterback Drew Kron. Committed to UConn baseball as an outfielder, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Kron continues the tradition of high-profile Xavier QBs (Tim Boyle, Will Levis) with his arm strength, field smarts and maturity.
Kron’s experience as the starter two years ago, when Xavier finished 5-5, has prepared him for his final turn. The same goes for 5-10, 200-pound senior running back DJ Wright. Both took their licks in 2019 but got better as the season went on. Some of their big moments came in a 28-21 win over Notre Dame of West Haven.
“I say they’re the focal points this year because Drew and DJ are seniors and the two kids who got the most playing time in 2019,” Guyon said. “You think of DJ, you think of that (52-yard) run against Notre Dame and another against Fairfield Prep, and big runs against New London and even West Haven. He made some great plays.
“The same with Drew, that (65-yard) run to seal the deal against Notre Dame. He had a lot of great moments his sophomore year. So when you talk about DJ and Drew, that’s some of what we’re thinking of.”
Kron has several options to throw to, including receivers Tim Conroy and Vinny Rappoccio and tight ends Joe Barbagallo and Max Wojtusik (all are seniors). With Wright, the pass-catchers and even Kron’s legs, the Falcons can attack defenses in different ways.
“When you look at our quarterback/running back situation, we’re very blessed and very fortunate,” said Guyon. “We’re really excited with what we have at all of the skill positions. And our offensive line is starting to come together and really understand each other. They are working well together.”
Xavier’s defense is expected to be much improved from 2019, when it allowed an average of 30 points per game. Seniors Evan McDonald and Alec Pawlowicz are the top returning linemen and big things are expected from linebackers Barbagallo and Wojtusik.
Voters in the GameTimeCT poll have bought into the anticipation of Xavier’s season when the Falcons landed at No. 8 in the preseason poll. Guyon said the ranking “is what it is” and just “noise.”
“It’s great that people think that highly of us,” he said, “but it’s really about us and how we work when we’re out here.”
Another indication that their inclusion in the poll means little was Guyon’s reminder that five of the first six opponents on Xavier’s schedule made the playoffs in 2019. The Falcons, meanwhile, are bidding for their first winning season since finishing 6-4 in 2016.
“If we want to live up to that ranking and be that team, we have to make sure we’re taking care of the business we need to take care of,” the coach said.