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Trinity Catholic football ready for 2016

September 7, 2016

STAMFORD — Coming off football seasons of 7-4 in 2014 and 9-2 in 2015, Trinity Catholic High School has had a wealth of gridiron success to relish.

Despite reaching the 2015 Class S state semifinals, the 2016 Trinity Catholic football squad is focused on a simple idea.

The Crusaders want more.

“To this group, posting the 9-2 record but losing in the Class S semifinals to Ansonia just wasn’t good enough,” said Trinity Catholic’s fourth-year head coach Donny Panapada. “We’ve talked all summer and our motto for the 2016 season is on the back of our practice T-shirts. ‘Finish.’ We feel we didn’t finish what we started in 2015. This year we WILL finish. The kids have bought in and let’s see where we can go.”

The Crusaders will begin their 2016 quest on Sept. 10 in arguably the toughest place in the FCIAC. New Canaan High School’s Dunning Stadium.

The game was supposed to serve as the unveiling of Trinity Catholic’s new artificial turf field, Gaglio Field. But construction delays forced the move to Dunning Stadium, the home of the three-time defending Class L state champion Rams.

“I’m excited to see the kids play,” Panapada said. “I know all the time and hard work they put in during the off-season workout program and the preseason practices. Now is the opportunity to show why they did all that.”

It will be a remodeled Trinity Catholic squad as 15 seniors graduated from 2015.

The overall roster numbers are down slightly (53 to 47) in 2016. But the Crusaders have had a minimum of serious injuries thus far thanks in part to being able to practice at new Gaglio Field.

And the Crusaders’ veteran staff of assistant coaches are all back. Billy DeVito has rejoined the staff making it even more knowledgable.

Trinity Catholic’s major graduation losses were its four captains. Quarterback Anthony Lombardi amassed 3,141 passing yards, 39 touchdowns and 14 interceptions over 2014 and 2015 with the Crusaders. Also gone are his favorite receiving targets Johnny Somers and Izaiah Sanders along with two-platoon lineman Will Dorvilier.

Trinity Catholic’s starting quarterback in 2016 will be senior Nick Granata. Granata, a quad-captain, played well in the 1 1/2 games Lombardi missed with injury in 2015.

“Nick was a great inside linebacker for us. And to have sat in the quarterback meetings and worked with Anthony (Lombardi) is a huge deal,” Panapada said. “Now all that will pay dividends for Nick. The starting QB situation will NOT be too big for Nick.”

Granata has displayed poise and a relatively strong and accurate arm in the preseason. But senior running back and quad-captain Jonmichael Bivona (1,247 yards rushing, 14 TDs) figures to be the offensive focal point in 2016. Trinity Catholic is experienced in the backfield as senior Justin Greene and junior Nick Melia return.

They will be running behind an offensive line that returns four starters and has three linemen at 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4.

Among those in the receiving corps will be senior quad-captain Dom Svrcek and senior John Petrizzi.

“Our receivers aren’t a well-known group. But they work incredibly hard and are team-first guys,” Panapada said. “There’s no 6-foot-3, WOW guys this year. But good tough receivers are fine with me.”

Since Trinity Catholic scored 401 points in 2015, the contribution of its defense might have been undervalued by those outside the Crusader football family.

The Crusaders’ defense returns seven key contributors in 2016.

“Our offense was flashy. But our defense did a great job stabilizing things,” Panapada said. “We will lean on them again. You have to shut people down in order to succeed in the FCIAC.”

The move to Gaglio Field is welcome as Trinity Catholic is the last FCIAC football team to go to an artificial turf field. Getting used to the new sun patterns and new crosswinds will be an issue early on as Gaglio Field was built in the opposite direction to the Crusaders’ historic grass field.

It’s just another part of the challenge in 2016, the Crusaders can’t wait to embrace.

“Crusader Pride has always been here. It’s not measured in wins and losses. It’s about tough kids playing hardnose football. That’s where Crusader Pride comes from,” Panapada said. “Opponents know they were in a dogfight when they play Trinity Catholic.

“I know we are on the right path. We’ve come a long way. And there is still a ways to go,” Panapada continued. “When you’re moving in the right direction, the path becomes clearer. It’s clear where we want to go. But it’s a process to get there. We can see the kids get better every day. You just need time to get there. You can’t speed up the process.”