WESTON, Conn. – Now that the most successful football season in a generation is in the books, the question for coach Joe Lato and his staff is: How can they capitalize on the momentum?
The Trojans finished 9-3, the most victories since it competed for the Class S state championship in 1989. They won one state tournament game before losing to Berlin on Sunday, 21-7, in the state semifinals.
Weston, however, will be faced with huge graduation losses next season. The hardest player to replace will be quarterback Tyler Hassett, who threw for 1,883 yards and 17 touchdowns. He was also their leading rusher, with 904 yards and 13 touchdowns, and their best defensive back.
Seniors Justin Schaffer, Austin Gomar and Jack Hamilton earned first team honors in the South-West Conference, along with junior Erik Dammen-Brower. Seniors Aaron Pomerance, Jimmy Brasco, Thomas McGlone and Zach Cannon made the second team with sophomore Sam Panton.
The seniors were special to Lato, and they will be hard to replace. They were part of a team that won just three games as freshman, but they helped post winning records each of the past three years.
“They worked so hard to get here,’’ Lato said. “Some people might be surprised that we got to the state semifinals, but we’re not. They should be proud of what they’ve done for Weston football.”
Dammen-Brower, who had 13 receptions and four touchdowns, will be one of the key players next season along with Panton, who rushed for 319 yards and four touchdowns. Peter Lummis, a sophomore linebacker who missed about half the season with an injury, looks like an emerging defensive leader.
There is an incoming class of eighth-graders that looks promising, and will be key contributors in a couple of years. The town also has its own program in the Fairfield County Football League, which should help the transition to high school. Teams in Westport, New Canaan and Darien have enjoyed success by having its high school coaches work with the young players.
The centerpiece to the organization is Lato, who coaches with the same passion and intensity he played with during an all-state career at Newtown. When the Trojans took the field for Sunday’s game, Lato looked for all the world like he wanted to grab a helmet and pads.
It is never going to be easy for Weston in the South-West Conference, where it plays against schools with much bigger enrollment, like Newtown, Pomperaug and Masuk. Weston’s roster had 36 players this year, and many of the starters played on both sides of the ball. Berlin also had a huge size advantage in Sunday’s game.
Lato believes the foundation has been laid to build a successful program. The Trojans might not return to the state playoffs next year, but it’s probably not going to be another 24 years, either, between drinks from the state football fountain.
“The key is to put the work in,’’ Lato said. “Every year, it has gotten a little bit better. They have to identify the things they did right, and know what they did to get themselves here. We like our process. It works for us.”