Berlin posted a 9-3 record in 2017 and made it to the Class M state semifinals. The Redcoats are among the few teams returning their starting quarterback, lead rusher and lead receiver, but will need to replace a trio of defenders who each racked up 100-plus tackles.
Last year’s record: 9-3
Key losses: RB/LB James Mazzarella, CB Matthew Wojciechowski, OL/DL Kevin Stafstrom
Key returners: DL Zach Hrubiec, QB Kevin Dunn, RB Alex Halkias
Player to watch for: WR Giancarlo Tuffano
Games to watch: at Bloomfield, Nov. 2; vs. Rocky Hill, Nov. 9
The rundown: Berlin head coach Joe Aresimowicz asked each of his seniors what their end-of-season goal was on Monday, the first day of training camp. Each responded immediately: state championship or bust.
The Redcoats won nine games last season en route to a berth in the Class M semifinals. Their season ended at the hands of eventual state champ Killingly and Gatorade Player of the Year Spencer Lockwood, who rushed for four touchdowns in his team’s 49-7 win.
“Our offensive coordinator said, ‘That’s our one problem,’” senior running back Alex Halkias said. “We can’t get over that hump. That’s our goal this year, to finally get over that hump and reach the state championship.”
The Redcoats are returning the firepower necessary to scale that hump, led by senior quarterback Kevin Dunn. He set the school’s single-season passing record last season with 1,824 yards, and tossed 19 touchdowns, too.
He’ll have the majority of his supporting cast from his record-breaking junior year at his disposal. His three leading pass catchers, Giancaro Tufano (35 receptions, 469 yards), Larry St. Pierre Jr. (34 receptions, 460 yards) and Halkias (18 receptions, 265 yards) are all back. Halkias was also the team’s leading rusher, racking up 786 yards.
“Not only do we have a lot returning on offense, it’s our second year in the system,” Dunn said. “We had a new system last year. We can get a lot more reps, we can go a lot faster this year. Everybody is more in tune with each other this year.”
Defensively, the Redcoats lost their three leading tacklers, each of whom posted 100-plus tackles in 2017. While it’s nearly impossible to replace all three of them with one player, Berlin might have the best man to fill those holes in junior Zach Hrubiec.
As a sophomore, Hrubiec was an All-Courant honoree on the defensive line. He posted 77 tackles last season — 28 of those for a loss. He’s already had Division I colleges knocking on his door — UConn, CCSU, Boston College and Rutgers just to name a few. Aresimowicz thinks there is no limit to what Hrubiec, with another year of training under his belt, can achieve this season.
“He’s a big, strong kid,” Aresimowicz said. “Offensive side of the ball (at running back), he’s dangerous. He is going to be an incredible player. We’re lucky enough to have five or six of those kids that colleges are looking at, and Zach is one of them.”
Hrubiec is aware that junior year can be make-or-break when it comes to recruiting. But like the seniors, he’s mainly focused on hoisting a trophy come December.
“Selfishly, you want to be great,” he said. “But also, I want to do everything I can to help this team win a state championship. All the honors, the all-state, all-conference, it’s great. But you just want to make your team the best it can be.”