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Woodstock Academy football gets underway

The 2022-23 school year is right around the corner.

One tell-tale sign took place last week as the Woodstock Academy football team took to the field for its first full week of practice for the upcoming fall season.

And the numbers were good.

“We’re at 60-plus (athletes) and whenever we can get above 50-55, we’re in great shape. I think we’re sitting somewhere around 65 so that’s a nice turnout,” Woodstock Academy football coach and athletic director Sean Saucier said.

Technically, the team began to meet the week before with “Organized Team Activities” or OTA’s as it is better known in the athletic community.

It’s something that the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference began to allow last season.

“They are a little awkward because you are kind of starting but kind of not,” Sean Saucier said. “It gives you three days of short, about an hour and a half, practices. It gives you time to deal with the equipment, get up to the field and get organized; set up stretching lines, go through the routine and the nuance stuff that usually distracts teams in the first week of practice.”

Does he love the idea of OTA’s?

Not really.

“But they are helpful,” Sean Saucier admitted.

That morphed into full practices as of last Monday and this past Saturday was the first day that football teams could conduct contact drills.

The head coach likes what he has seen as far as the fitness of the group is concerned.

He said 20-30 athletes were in attendance much of the summer for strength and conditioning.

Still, everyone is coming off a few months of summer and that can be challenging.

“It’s tough to get into shape because football is a fall sport and coming back after summer, so there are few people in condition and lots of people lined up along the fence (throwing up). But after the first week, everyone is usually back in the swing of things,” said senior quarterback Braiden Saucier.

The Centaurs are coming off a 7-3 season in which they captured their first-ever Eastern Connecticut Conference Divisional title.

The reward, if it can be considered that, is a boost into Division I of the conference alongside Norwich Free Academy, Fitch and East Lyme.

“It’s really not much different to be honest,” Sean Saucier said. “We played two Division I teams last year, this year we play three. That is a little bit of a difference but we’re also not playing all the Division II schools and some of those are really good too. It’s six of one, half-dozen of the other.”

The Centaurs did lose 20 seniors from last year’s team.

“Even though we graduated a lot of seniors, we have 17 back this year and a lot of new kids. Numbers are up and energy is high. We’re feeling good,” Braiden Saucier said.

Braiden Saucier will have one of the tougher assignments.

He replaces Ethan Davis at quarterback.

The southpaw, now at Southern Connecticut State University, threw for 1,526 yards and 18 touchdowns and rushed for 961 and 12 scores last season.

“There’s definitely some pressure,” Braiden Saucier admitted. “The town of Woodstock is used to seeing good quarterback play at this point. I’ve been working three years of high school for this and I’m confident that I’m ready.”

Braiden Saucier did get some snaps under center last year, throwing for 414 yards and four touchdowns for the Centaurs.

It was valuable experience that he hopes will pay off.

“It definitely did help to see some varsity defenses and getting used to the level of play,” Braiden Saucier said.

In addition to the returners, the Centaurs have also seen an influx of talent, some expected, some not, and that could especially be helpful along the offensive and defensive lines.

“We have some new guys out here that will really contribute so it’s great to see some kids come out who didn’t play in the past,” Sean Saucier said.

His son agreed.

“I think (the line) was where we got hurt the most with seniors graduating like Everett (Michalski) and Huck (Flanagan), basically our whole offensive line graduated and were all key players. Getting some additions improves my confidence at quarterback,” Braiden Saucier said.

Like son, like father.

While Braiden Saucier is confident about what he sees on the field, Sean Saucier is just as confident as to what he has been seeing from the sideline.

“I don’t think we’ve lost much confidence or chemistry. This senior class has a ton of experience. I’ve been watching these kids play since they were in youth (football),” Sean Saucer said.

Then, he added, with a bit of a smile.

“I have to tell you, there aren’t a ton of holes,” Sean Saucier said.

The season begins on Friday, Sept. 9 at Enfield High School.