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2023 Preview: Another large graduation class means new thought process

It’s not easy for a high school football team to bounce back from losing in excess of 15 players in a year, two years in a row, to graduation.

Just ask Woodstock Academy football coach and athletic director Sean Saucier and his team.

It can force a coaching staff to, literally, change its game plan.

“It’s difficult, it really is,” said senior Henry Wotton. “But it gives a chance for the younger kids to step up, start working harder, and get into the game.”

The Centaurs were hit hard in the trenches, losing players like Evan Roy, Marcus McGregor, Jared Eaton, Trevor Costa and Evan LaBounty from last year.

All of them were not only experienced players, but also had some size to them.

That will be a little different this season with speed being the solution to the lack of size.

“We had to adjust our philosophy on how we’re going to block. We have to get back into some gap scheme stuff, less zone. Give kids angles and let them run and hit instead of just blocking face-to-face,” Saucier said.

Seniors Riley O’Brien, Kenneth Brown and Anthony Buckner will see time on that unit along with juniors Abdullah Choudry, Ryder Chaput, R,J. Duncan and Kyle Grist and sophomores Jacob Say and Eli Manning.

Sam Clark will be one of those helping on the line from his new tight end spot and will also be called upon to play linebacker.

The junior captain said the Centaurs do have another weapon besides just their feet.

“I think we’re going to need our speed, but we also have a lot of heart this season. We have a lot of players ready to work, use their heads, and get in there. As long as we know what we’re supposed to be doing – we will be good, I have faith in the O-line and D-line,” Clark said.

Wotton was on board with that.

“We do need to be quick and fast, just because there probably aren’t going to be too many teams smaller than us,” the wide receiver/safety/kicker said.

The Centaurs are already dealing with some early-season dings.

“The O-line is definitely the area where the injury bug has struck. Nothing drastic. In a couple of weeks , we will be back to full strength. In the meantime, we build depth. It doesn’t always look as tight or as pretty but I know the depth we’re building will help us later on,” Saucier said.

Wotton, fortunately, will be familiar with the person throwing him the ball.

Teddy Richardson, who transferred into Woodstock Academy as a junior and quickly had to step into the starter’s role when then senior Braiden Saucier went down in the first regular season game, is back for his senior season.

“I think it gave him more experience coming into this year and got him ready,” Wotton said.

Richardson completed 111 of his 203 passes for 1,536 yards and 12 touchdowns.

“I have a lot of respect for him after the position he was put in last year and how he really tried to do his best to fill the shoes and we had some success. We beat Fitch which was a huge win for our program and were just a few plays away from winning the (Eastern Connecticut Conference) Division I title. He has put in the work in the offseason to get stronger. I’m ready to hitch my wagon to him,” Sean Saucier said.

Richardson did lose two of his top targets, Carter Saracina (35 catches, 773 yards, 8 touchdowns) and Brandon Nagle (16 catches, 243 yards, 3 TD’s) to graduation.

But on a good note, senior Lucas Theriaque (29-303-2) returns and fellow senior Hunter Larson, out for the sport for a first time, could make an impact in the receiving game as could junior Mason Bourget.

Richardson was also the second-leading rusher on the team with 355 yards on the ground, behind only Trevor Savoie (375) who has also graduated.

David Bunning was next with 123 yards and will be the featured back.

“He’s a talented kid, the fastest on the field, at least, on our team. He ran a 4.6 40 (yard sprint) at the Nichols (College) camp which was electronically timed. He’s a fast kid and when he gets some open space, not too many kids will catch him,” Saucier said.

Senior Eric Mathewson, junior Gabe Luperon-Flecha, and sophomore Dylan Phillips will join Bunning at running back with Jacob Lizotte as a fullback.

Lizotte will also be a key on defense where he will anchor the unit at middle linebacker.

“There is lots of experience there, years of playing in the middle and he will be just a great presence for us,” Saucier said.

Lizotte was also the ECC Division I all-star punter last season.

Those who play on the offensive line will also comprise the defensive line, thus the concern about depth.

Clark, Bunning, senior Zach Majewski, and junior Aiden Brailsford will surround Lizotte at the linebacker positions with Wotton and Theriaque at safety.

Mathewson, Richardson, junior Dominic LaFleur, Luperon-Flecha, and senior Waylon Breault will take care of the corners.

“We have to work hard, man,” Wotton said. “We have to hit and we have to come out aggressive every game.”

Saucier thinks he has a team that can improve upon its four wins of last year.

“I think we have a schedule that, when I look at it, we can win some games,” Saucier said. “We just have to stop getting injured. We’re just not deep enough nor experienced enough to have a lot of injuries. We have to get lucky in that department and, hopefully, the weight training we did in the offseason and all summer is going to help us with that. Like most high school football teams, at least around here, we have to stay healthy.”