Lunz Made the Right Call to Play Football This Fall
After playing football as a freshman, Connor Lunz was forced to step away from the gridiron for the next two seasons. However, when he came back to the field, Connor made an immediate impact for the Valley Regional-Old Lyme football team as a senior, becoming a varsity starter and earning All-Pequot Conference First Team honors with the Warriors this fall.
Connor began playing flag football in the Tri Town youth league when he was six. Connor was influenced to play the sport by his father Chris, who was his coach and had previously played football at both Valley Regional and the University of New Haven. Connor and his dad often tossed the football around in the backyard and watched New York Giants’ games together. After his dad introduced him to the sport, Connor wanted to be just like his father.
“My dad was huge in getting me to play football. He was my coach for a while. He got me involved at a very young age, just throwing the football around,” says Connor. “He has always been so passionate about it. I’ve been a huge Giants’ fan because of him. He taught me a lot, and I’m very grateful for that. I wouldn’t be into football as much as I am today without him.”
While he liked playing flag football, Connor quickly found out that tackle football was an entirely different story after he started competing at that level at age nine. There were times where Connor didn’t want to play, but his father told him that it’s important to finish what you start, so Connor stuck it out and completed the season.
Connor did end up leaving tackle football following that first season, but after maturing and getting stronger, Connor returned to the field in 6th grade as a member of the Old Saybrook-Westbrook (OS-W) football program. Connor made a bunch of friends there and started to enjoy playing the sport. Connor played for OS-W from 6th to 8th grade and was determined to join the Valley-Old Lyme football squad when he got to high school.
Connor played several different positions during his time in the youth ranks. He started off as a cornerback and a wide receiver before switching to quarterback and linebacker during his 7th-grade year. As a freshman, Connor suited up as a wide receiver and outside linebacker.
In his senior season, Connor played outside linebacker and defensive end for Valley-Old Lyme. Connor credits his positional versatility to his overall knowledge of the game and feels that his experience at quarterback made the transition to the defensive side of the ball that much easier.
“It definitely helped, playing when I was younger. I knew the game of football a lot more by watching it a lot,” Connor says. “Playing quarterback when I was younger helped me learn the game a lot more. It helped me understand what quarterbacks and offenses don’t like to see. It definitely helped me from a defensive standpoint.”
Connor mostly played JV for the Warriors in his freshman year, but still earned his varsity letter after seeing time on special teams with the varsity squad. Connor started playing outside linebacker with the JV team that season. While he had plenty of experience competing at the youth level, Connor says that going up against seniors who were much bigger than him at the Warriors’ practices provided an immediate wakeup call.
“Being on the scout team and going against varsity guys who were a lot older was definitely hard that first year. The seniors would have like 70 pounds on me most of the time,” says Connor. “I’d try my best, especially at linebacker, which is a bigger position. It was definitely a wakeup call.”
At the end of his freshman season, Connor suffered a concussion that forced him to miss his entire sophomore year. His junior season was then canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
During that time, Connor didn’t focus too much on football as he was competing in the shot put for the Valley boys’ outdoor track team and beginning to lift weights. When his senior year came around, Connor was unsure if he was going to play football again.
However, after giving it some thought, Connor decided to come back to the Warriors for his senior campaign. Connor wanted to give football another shot and felt that he would regret it for the rest of his life if he didn’t play this year.
“I really just wanted to try it out. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t play,” Connor says. “I was thinking I would just have a good time. I didn’t think I was going to be as good as I was.”
When he returned to the field, Connor saw that football was different than how he remembered it. Connor’s opponents were no longer 70 pounds bigger than him, and the overall experience was more enjoyable for the senior.
Connor became a focal point of the Warriors’ defense at both defensive end and outside linebacker this year. When the season came to a close, Connor was named to All-Pequot Conference First Team alongside senior captain James Marsden, seniors Tommy Rapp and Ian Mackenzie, and junior captain DiAngelo Jean-Pierre.
“It was pretty cool. I was excited to get it,” says Connor, who wants to play football in college. “By the end of the season, it wasn’t a huge surprise, but I was really happy that I got it.”
Along with football, Connor has also been a member of Valley Regional’s boys’ outdoor track team since his freshman year. He feels that the two sports go hand in hand since you have to be able to create as much power as possible and make split-second decisions in each of them. During his junior season, Connor finished second in the shot put at the Shoreline Conference Championship and then placed fourth at the Class S State Championship on his way to qualifying for the State Open.
“Since we didn’t have track sophomore year, when I came back, I hadn’t thrown in a very long time. I started to attempt to get better at it,” Connor says. “The season came, and I realized I was throwing a lot better than I was. I really enjoyed throwing after that.”
Despite missing two years of football, Connor became a dominant force for the Warriors when returned for his senior season. Connor feels honored to have reunited with his teammates, while following in his father’s footsteps at Valley Regional.
“It means a lot, especially since my dad played here. It’s nice to know that something he did, I did it, too,” says Connor. “It was fun to be back with my old teammates and friends that I missed so much time with.”