WOODBURY – The Nonnewaug football team held its first official conditioning practice of the 2018 season on Monday. Because of the rain, practice was held indoors at the Woodbury Middle School gym.
And the gym was not crowded. With 16 athletes participating, it looked more like a basketball conditioning practice.
It’s also why Nonnewaug football is taking a step back this season. The Chiefs elected to not play a varsity schedule this season, as it hopes to build its numbers for the future.
The decision to not play a varsity schedule was not an easy one for head coach Zach Mihaly, who guided the Chiefs to a 2-8 record in his first season. But the writing was on the wall even before senior day 2017, when the team honored 15 graduating seniors on a team that already had dwindling numbers.
“As a program as a whole the decision was the best,” Mihaly said. “But by far it was not easy. No coach wants to be in that position.”
Mihaly added that he wanted something better for his 2 senior co-captains, Jarrett Michaels and Justin Southard, but is impressed that they decided to stay with the program.
“Coach came here last year and no one expected this to happen to the program,” said Southard, who, along with Michaels, are the only returning starters. “It is something that we have to go through as a team, but overall it will make our program better and hopefully keep our program alive.”
Southard and Michaels, who was Nonnewaug’s first-ever All-State player last season, wanted to stay put and said they had no plans of leaving Nonnewaug to play elsewhere.
“Coach stayed with us and we want to stay by his side,” Michaels said. “We just want to stay with the people we’ve been around, support our team, and representing our town.”
Mihaly said he and his staff are making sure playing a sub-varsity schedule is just an obstacle to clear, and not a negative. As in past seasons, most of Nonnewaug’s games will be played on Saturdays. Mihaly even scheduled a Thursday night game at Pomperaug, under the lights.
The rest of the schedule and opponents has not been revealed yet. However, Mihaly said playing outside the Pequot League means long bus rides for games in Cromwell, Durham, North Branford, and Higganum won’t be necessary.
Despite the sub-varsity schedule, Mihaly is also treating the Chiefs as a varsity program. That includes everything from game-planning to uniforms to drumming up fan support.
Mihaly said he could have walked away from Nonnewaug and applied for a job elsewhere but did not think that would be fair to the kids.
He said he has a good group of kids that he believes in, and he feels the kids believe in him. Mihaly also feels Nonnewaug has a good parents group that shows a lot of love and support for the kids, and support for him.
“Where would my values be if I left these kids in a tough situation?” Mihaly said. “I’m not going to get up and leave when times are rough. It’s not just rough for me, it’s rough for them, too.”
A few players were missing from practice from Monday, and Mihaly is working with a roster of 21. Mihaly’s hope is that the current players on the Nonnewaug roster can encourage other classmates to join the team.