South Windsor Football Foundation Set Years Ago In Youth League

Mike Anthony
Contact Reportermanthony@courant.com

The South Windsor football team’s preparation for an unprecedented playoff run technically began during the late-summer months on the fields at the high school, in preseason practice.

But the groundwork was laid about 10 years earlier, when members of the coaching staff — not knowing at the time they would become members of the coaching staff — started thinking big about football and gathering the kids who are now the backbone of, perhaps, the best team in South Windsor High history.

Back in 2006, the players were South Windsor Panthers, members of the town’s youth league. Now they are South Windsor Bobcats, and the first South Windsor High team in the playoffs since 1988.

The Bobcats, seeded fourth in Class LL, defeated No. 5 Naugatuck in the quarterfinals Tuesday, the first playoff victory in program history, and continue their quest for a CIAC state championship Sunday at top-seeded Greenwich. Kickoff is at 12:30 p.m.

“It really has been a decade in the making,” said Dave Hodge, who is in his fourth season as varsity coach after several years in the youth league. “When they were little, we didn’t talk about winning and losing; we talked about getting better and how what they’ll remember is how they go out their senior year in high school. We talked about that when they were 7, 8 years old, about having fun, working hard, and they bought into it — and it’s led to this.”

Nearly every South Windsor player was coached by Hodge, and several of his assistants, in the Panthers program. Quarterback Connor Kapisak, with three older brothers who played at South Windsor High, came onto Hodge’s radar around age 7. A year later, Hodge found one of his best defensive players … on a basketball court.

“He said I box out pretty good and that I should try to play football,” said 6-foot-2, 270-pound lineman Hassan “Mo” Azeem. “We set goals when we were younger. We always had this in mind.”

South Windsor (10-1) is a balanced, run-first team that is particularly strong on the offensive and defensive lines. The Bobcats will meet their physical match in Greenwich (11-0). No. 3 Darien and No. 7 West Haven meet in the other semifinal, and the championship game is Dec. 9 at a site to be determined.

“We have to play mistake-free, basically,” Kapisak said. “The energy is definitely up. It’s a really good feeling. … Everyone has been really committed. We’ve been doing the same stuff since we were young. We’ve always had really good coaching, so that has helped to advance what we do at this level.”

Hodge, who grew up in Montville and played at Central Connecticut, was coach for five years at Weaver, compiling a 39-18 record and guiding the Beavers to back-to-back state championships in 1996-97. He then coached for one year at Sport & Medical Sciences Academy before moving to South Windsor when his wife, Danielle, a cheerleader at Central while Hodge was a player, gave birth to their first son, David.

Hodge started coaching youth sports in South Windsor when David was old enough to participate. At first, it was soccer. He crossed paths with fathers he knew as coaches from his days at Weaver, guys like Rich Mabey, a longtime assistant at Conard-West Hartford, and Mick Dunn, coach at Windsor High in the 1990s.

Soccer practices were typically held on a field adjacent to midget football practices.

“And that’s how we got going, standing along the fence at soccer practice with our backs to soccer and looking at football because that was where we wanted to go,” Mabey said.

Mabey and Dunn are now assistants for Hodge. Mabey’s son, Brendan Mabey, and Hodge’s son, Dylan Hodge, are senior linemen.

“When we were growing up, we went to the high school games,” Dylan Hodge said. “We talked about how fun it would be. We always talked about high school and how good we thought we could be.”

Hodge, who teaches business at South Windsor High, took over as coach for Dylan’s freshman year, when previous coach Mike Bullock resigned after nine seasons to take an administrative job at the school. Hodge had been offensive coordinator for two seasons.

“Good kids make it easy, and a willingness to work hard,” Hodge said. “We didn't ever want to focus young kids on winning and losing being the be-all, end-all — just the effort it takes to become the best player you can.”


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