STRATFORD—The town’s two high school football teams, Stratford and Bunnell, have prepared all week and will be approaching their fourth opponent of the season on Friday as the season is already drawing towards its mid-point.
Coach Jack Petion’s Red Devils’ squad has Weston in its sights, while the Bulldogs, under first-year coach Ty Jenkins, will travel to Monroe to take on Masuk.
Each team has gone through a transitional stage this season and each will be looking to grab that first and so far elusive victory.
What makes the scenario similar for both lies in the quarterback position as the Red Devils and Bulldogs both feature first-year starters at QB1 this fall.
Last year, Stratford senior Jack Ryan headed into his final year for the Red Devils coming off of a 2,000-yard season the prior year. He lasted only three games before an injury knocked him out for the remaining seven contests. The Red Devils were only able to win once.
In the other part of town, Brian Carrafiello had a superlative junior season in which he passed for 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns, guiding Bunnell to a 9-1 regular-season record and a trip to the Class L playoffs where the No. 8 seed Bulldogs were trimmed by the top seed and eventual L champion Daniel Hand, 56-0. His efforts put him on the South-West Conference’s first team on offense.
Ryan has since moved on to college, where he’ll be playing basketball at Albertus Magnus in New Haven. Carrafiello, meanwhile, was ruled ineligible right at the start of his senior season.
Petion and Jenkins were put into a position where they had to search for a player to could now take the snaps from center.
Over the summer, Petion watched as a freshman and junior varsity performer, sophomore Trey Lanham showed up on the coaching staff’s radar screen.
Jenkins, who arrived on the scene and inherited a program that’s had lots of success in the previous two seasons, was counting on Carrafiello for another season.
Unfortunately, before Bunnell’s season-opener with Barlow, Jenkins got the word about his returning quarterback.
“We had to move quickly,” said Jenkins, a member of the 2007 Class S state championship New London team before he played for three seasons at Southern Connecticut.
“Things are what they are,” he added.
After talking it over with his staff, Jenkins turned to a junior and former wide receiver, Dylan Vancho, as his signal-caller.
It turned Vancho, a three-sport athlete (football along with basketball and baseball), around to the other side of the ball.
“Since I’ve been here, Dylan has been one of the most eager players I’ve had,” Jenkins said. “He was one of the first kids to come up to me, shake my hand and introduce himself.”
Jenkins saw early on that Vancho, whose father Bob made it to Triple A in baseball in the 1980s, could fill the role. Dylan’s older brother, Tyler, also played baseball at Bunnell and for two seasons at Post University in Waterbury.
Dylan couldn’t wait to make the move.
“I’ve played a little quarterback (in Pop Warner),” he said. “I wanted to do what was right for the team. I was willing to step up and meet the challenge.”
Like Vancho, Lanham was ready to step in and take snaps.
Trey’s parents, Letcha and Theodore moved to Stratford from West Haven near the start of his freshman year. Lanham learned the game as a running back, playing Pop Warner football in West Haven and is following in the footsteps of two older brothers, Tyler and Ian and a cousin, Javon.
“Trey put in a lot of work over the summer,” said Petion, entering his third season at Stratford. “I saw flashes of his athleticism as a freshman. His leadership qualities were there, almost from the beginning. For a 14-year old kid, he’s very mature.”
Lanham went right from the freshman team, which played only one game, to a spot on the junior varsity last year. He moved in at quarterback.
“It was something (playing quarterback) that I always wanted to do,” Trey said. “It’s not an easy position because when something goes wrong, they always look at you. What I’ve tried to do so far in our three games is to keep a positive attitude and use a ‘we’ll get ’em approach’ the next time.”
Petion knew from the beginning that Lanham could handle the responsibility. So too did his teammates who elected him a captain along with senior fullback Edgar Velez and junior offensive and defensive lineman Thomas Cox.
Vancho feels he has an advantage learning the position having been a receiver.
“It is a big transition for me,” he said. “But when you’re a receiver you pretty much know everything about your quarterback. You know where the ball needs to be thrown and how it needs to be thrown.”
The Bulldogs have been able to advance the ball with Vancho at quarterback. Bunnell is averaging a little over 20 points per game. Defensively, however, teams are scoring around 35.
“We’ve had a few key breakdowns in games that have hurt us,” Jenkins said. “I have confidence in Dylvan and the players have it as well. He has the mentality and has stepped right into the breach.”
Right now, Lanham says his biggest obstacle to overcome is reading defenses.
“I still need to know when to run and when to pass,” he said. “On film, I know that I look like a running back. But I’m making myself a quarterback.”
As the Bulldogs have had their bad moments on offense, so have the Red Devils.
“Both Trey and our team have lots of room for growth,” Petion said. “But I know that we have a kid here (Lanham) who’s got a great future in front of him.”
Jenkins feels the same way about his new quarterback.
“We threw him into the fire,” the coach said. “He’s handled it well. It’s what I expected because Dylan has both the athleticism and the mindset to be good where he’s playing now.”
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