Stafford/East Windsor High School football

Football practice usually involves some running. (August 20, 2014)

The first day of school in Stafford is Wednesday, Aug. 27, but don't tell the football team. The Stafford/East Windsor Bulldogs have been back on school grounds since Aug. 13, getting in some practice and conditioning before the kick-off of the fall season.

East Windsor High School joined with Stafford High School a few years ago to form a co-op team when the former was released from a co-op with Somers and Ellington high schools. The team belongs to the Uncas division of the Pequot League, which includes about nine or 10 teams.

"We're the host school," said Damian Frassinelli, director of athletics and recreation. "Everything happens here [at Stafford]. We have the coaches, officials and buses, and so it costs us no more to have the East Windsor kids as part of our program," he said.

Head coach Paul Schmutz said that as of Aug. 18, they had 23 players - including a female player on the roster for the first time - and they expect to get about four or five more players from Stafford before the start of school. "We haven't yet gotten the East Windsor students, and we don't usually until the start of school," he said.

Schmutz said Stafford football fans may want to keep an eye on a few standout players this year, namely incoming senior Connor Hutchins, who was an honorable mention All-League player last year.

While Schmutz said there has always been an interest in safety, with helmets and shoulder pads being sent out for reconditioning and testing each year, this year the focus on safety has moved up a notch.

"There's been quite a few changes from the state. We have to be careful about tracking contact hours vs. drill hours," Schmutz said. "The big concern is concussions. There's been a big spillover from the NFL, to the colleges, and on down to the high school level."

As a result, Schmutz said the coaches are required to keep track of contact minutes each day. "It's a lot more work for us, but helpful for the kids," he said.

"We also have a full-time trainer," Schmutz said. "We worry about injuries, and now if there is one, no matter how small, we have an expert to go to," he said. The team's trainer, Dan Kardos, works for Johnson Memorial Hospital out of the school and covers all practices and games for the school's various sports teams throughout the school year.

Schmutz explained that at the beginning of the season each player is required to take a computerized impact test so if they do take a hit, they have a baseline to start from. If an injury is sustained, then a player is out for at least three days, and must retake the impact test before returning to play. In addition, if Kardos says the player needs to stay out longer, then the coaches abide.

"This is the second year of the agreement [between Johnson Memorial and Stafford High]," said Kardos. "There is a good working relationship between the hospital and the school. With this agreement, players are provided with expedited medical care, and if they need additional medical attention, I can refer them more quickly," he said.

"It's a great service provided by the hospital, especially with the hospital right here in town," added Frasssinelli. "The parents really appreciate it."