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Senior Ben Conrad provided a major presence on the offensive and defensive lines for the Warriors’ football team the past two seasons. This spring, Ben was slated to be the starting catcher on the Valley baseball squad. (Photo courtesy of Ben Conrad )
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Ben Conrad has enjoyed an impressive career as a two-sport athlete at Valley Regional. Ben contributed at a variety of spots with the baseball team by playing third base, the outfield, and designated hitter for the Warriors, and was slated to be their catcher—his natural position—as a senior this spring. Ben also manned both sides of the line on the Valley-Old Lyme football squad and will continue his career as a defensive lineman at Bates College in Maine later this year.
Ben got his start on the line during his sophomore year at Valley. He had previously played linebacker, but moved up front due to some injuries that season. Ben remembers that one of his first games as a starting lineman had a big impact on him.
“My biggest win was my sophomore year. We played Cromwell, and they were heavily favored,” Ben says. “That game was like the Pequot championship for us. We had a great win in overtime. I was 50 pounds lighter than everyone on the other side. I never got a championship as a player, but that was a big part of my career.”
Ben became a mainstay for the Warriors in his junior and senior seasons. Last fall, he earned All-Pequot Sassacus First Team honors and was also named Valley’s Most Valuable Player.
Ben believes that his speed and agility are a huge help when he’s going up against bigger athletes. It took a lot of hard work, and Ben reaped the rewards of that effort.
“Before my junior offseason, I worked with Ben Falivene, Kyle Metz, and Garrhett Watrous. The hard work has gotten me to an elite level on the D-line,” says Ben, who’s 6 feet and 250 pounds. “We would lift weights five days a week. Every Saturday morning, we would do ladders and run sprints for hours. We did a lot of hills, and that was the season we got those ‘Defend the Hill’ shirts. We also worked with BreakOut Athlete in North Branford. We would drive there after lifting. That really helped with my speed, and that offseason really helped me as a player.”
Ben enjoys breaking up run plays or quickly getting into the backfield to stop the passing game. Ben has a wide repertoire of skills at his disposal, but he relies on his effective swim move most of all.
“What I do depends on the scenario. On a pass play, I want to get in quick. When it’s a run play, you have to have a little more power,” Ben says. “I do a cut left, swim right or cut right and swim left a lot of the time. I like coming off the edge and giving a guy my shoulder to get around him. With a bigger tackle a lot of times, I can just run around them.”
Ben has been invested in football and baseball for quite some time. He feels that playing both sports gives him an advantage in each of them.
“In football, everyone is on edge, and everyone’s very passionate. I think people are passionate in baseball, too, but they are more calm. When you get angry in baseball, you can’t win,” says Ben. “Because of the baseball side, I was able to be calm in football. I’d still be prepared, but baseball allowed me to see through another lens. When it came to baseball, it was always nice to have that little edge from football. Both sides complemented each other.”
At first, Ben pictured himself toeing the rubber on the baseball diamond. When that didn’t come to fruition, he found his home behind the plate.
“I always wanted to be a pitcher. One practice, my Little League coach Donnie Rankin had me try catcher. I fell in love and, after that practice, we went to Dick’s and bought a chest protector and gear,” Ben says. “The biggest change in my game came playing with the Shoreline Hammerheads AAU team. That’s when I learned the ins and outs and the mechanics of the game. Coaches Wendell Anderson, Jason Thornton, Lou Merlon, and Brian Levesque gave me a lot of pointers. Obviously, my Valley coaches Brian Drinkard, Charlie Wolf, and Gene Robida helped me progress, as well.”
As for this year, Ben has been ready to take the reins as Valley’s catcher ever since former senior captain Josh Ross graduated. Prior to the season, Ben made sure that he hit the field as often as possible to get in as many reps as he could.
“I played a lot of third base my sophomore and junior years. I got some outfield in, but we decided that wasn’t quite for me. I DH’ed, too. Josh Ross was a very good catcher in front of me, but Coach Drinkard wanted me in there in some way,” says Ben. “At DH, I was still able to keep the vibe of the game in the dugout. It’s tough, though. You don’t get to see everything or talk to the ump every play. DH has its other perks. When I’m catching, I’m very focused on catching. So, being DH helped me develop as a hitter.”
Coach Drinkard did his best to get Ben his fair share of playing time last year. Drinkard planned on Ben playing a major role as the man behind the dish, as well as one of the Warriors’ senior leaders this season.
“I was expecting big things from Ben this year both on the field and as a leader. He was waiting to catch patiently behind Josh for the last couple of seasons. It’s never easy when you have a player like Ross in front of you, but Ben was always supportive,” Drinkard says. “Ben is one of those players that a coach likes to see in the on-deck circle with a chance to knock in some runs. We had to find a way to get his bat in the lineup. His hard work on the football field carried over onto the diamond and, in the winter, you could always find him in the weight room.”
In his senior season, Ben took on a prominent role as a leader for the underclassmen on the football team. He hopes to continue that trend with the baseball squad.
“The biggest thing I want to do is set the tone for guys in the future. Even when you lose, you don’t have a losing mentality,” says Ben. “The freshman class coming is going to be one of the best in a long time. I’m confident in the teams of the future. I hope my presence helps them know what to do and what not to do.”
Whatever happens this spring, Ben feels great about the connections that he’s made with his teammates and his classmates at Valley Regional.
“One thing I’ve always been proud of is that we’ve always had such great chemistry. We hang out outside of baseball. Some of my best friends are on the baseball field,” Ben says. “That helps with teamwork and wanting to do what’s best for the team, because everyone’s together. We pick each other up. I was really confident about this season. It’d be tough to have it go away. I thought we could do a lot of damage in Shorelines and states. I’d just say, I’m going to miss everybody.”
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