By Paul Augeri, Editor-in-Chief
On Sunday night, just 48 hours after his Middletown High football team kicked around an overmatched Bristol Eastern squad, coach Sal Morello had moved on, as is the routine.
Maybe with one eye open, because coaching and raising a young family will put you in a bleary state earlier in the evening than later, he was outlining the game plan for the Blue Dragons’ next opponent. Hartford Public visits Middletown on Friday.
Morello, his coaching staff and the players spend at least two hours watching film each Sunday following Friday’s games. Players are grouped by position – linemen, receivers, et cetera — with the coach who oversees that position. Performance on both sides of the ball is broken down and evaluated.
“We spend a lot of one-on-one time,” Morello said, “and we give not only constructive criticism, cover not only mistakes, but we reinforce the good things they’re doing. They pay attention.”
Middletown is off to a 2-0 start for the second straight season following its 35-0 victory over Eastern. In a recent conversation with the Mirror, Morello touched on a variety of topics.
MM: Two games in, what is one of the more positive takeaways of this team?
SM: I like the chemistry of the team. A lot of the seniors have played varsity since they were sophomores. I like the maturity. A lot of the kids know what to expect. Their leadership is really good. They know the routines (of the program), know the practices, the study halls, how we do things.
There are 20 seniors on the team and a lot of them are four-year kids of the program who understand the process. They’re helping the young kids along, so I like that.
It’s always good as a coach, when you’re sitting at 2-0, knowing there’s a lot of room for improvements.
MM: Between the pass and run, would you say the offense is balanced?
SM: When you talk about balanced attack, you run it 50 times and throw it 50 times, you say that’s balance. But the key for me is how efficient are we throwing the ball? Even if we throw 12 to 14 times … we don’t throw it just to throw it. We just want to be efficient throwing it. I’m happy with the offensive line, number one, because it’s been able to protect our quarterback. Stone Belzo is a first-year starter and I’m happy with him. He makes good decisions and he has great, great leadership ability. And he can put the ball down and run with it – the ultimate dual threat.
MM: What are the best attributes of the defense at 2-0?
SM: We are big and fast, fast and physical. And it’s an older defense. Some are three-year stdarters. It’s as good a defensive line as we’ve had.
We’re really trying to instill in the kids to worry about what we control. It’s Week 3 and we’re still trying to field depth. We’ve got really six to seven capable kids to play on the defensive line, so we have depth at that position and we’re trying to create healthy competition. The defensive backs and the linebackers (are areas where) we’ve got some depth. We’re trying to keep the kids fresh.
MM: At this level of football, how many teams out of 10 have the leg power and the kicking ability of Michael Aresco? (note: Aresco put four kickoffs into the end zone against Eastern and was 5-for-5 on extra points. For one kickoff, Morello instructed Aresco to kick the ball short of the goal line so the Blue Dragons would be able to put their kick coverage team to work.)
SM: Not too many. He’s a weapon. When you can get a kicker to get the ball to the end zone and have opponents start from the 20, it’s hard for teams to sustain an 80-yard drive without making mistakes. Mike’s field goal range allows you to play with a shorter field. From 40 and in he’s pretty accurate, pretty consistent.
MM: Your teams get flagged for a fair share of penalties. Are some penalties worse than others and how do you teach players to minimize these mistakes?
SM: The two types that really stick out and that frustrate me more than anything are pre-snap ones like off-sides or late hits, personal fouls, something that comes from a lack of discipline. High school football, any (level of) football, you can probably throw a flag on any play. As a coach, if it affects a play, you know a referee will throw the flag.
If a player jumps off-sides in a practice, they just go for a run toward the woods (at Middletown’s Skubel-Rosek Stadium) and come back. Then there’s film. We spend a lot of time on technique, hand placement, to avoid risking penalties. We’re constantly trying to work at it.