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Joe Ciotti and the Hand football squad are aiming to get back to the playoffs for the first time in since 2013 with new head coach Dave Mastroianni this fall. (Photo by Chris Eadevito/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Delavante Hutton is looking to be a key component of the Hand football squad’s offense after making some big-time strides last year. (Photo by Chris Eadevito/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Julian Banerji and Tigers want to improve upon last season’s 2-8 record with longtime assistant Dave Mastroianni taking the reins as head coach in 2017. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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For the first time in nearly 30 years, the Hand football team is hitting the gridiron with a new head coach in the 2017 season. While the Tigers are certainly looking to get back on the winning side of things with their new leader, they are just as concerned with developing role models that everyone in Madison can feel proud of.
Following longtime head coach Steve Filippone’s final season at the helm last fall, former defensive coordinator Dave Mastroianni begins his first campaign as Hand’s head coach this year. Mastroianni takes the reins of a Tigers’ squad that is aiming to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013 after going 2-8 last year. Coach Mastroianni said that the first item on his wish list for his debut campaign is to cultivate a team that embodies all the qualities a community wants in its high school football squad.
“My biggest goal on the field is to get a team out there that the town can be proud of, and that doesn’t always have to do with wins,” Mastroianni said. “I want people in the stands to look at guys and say, ‘What a great kid he is.’ But of course, I want to win games. Winning makes life a lot easier. We had a very productive offseason, and we have big tests to start the year with our first two games, but they will be good tests to see if we have our kids ready.”
As they charge into the Mastroianni era, the Tigers feature a talented trio of senior leaders as their captains with inside linebacker Brian Casagrande, outside linebacker Connor Castaldo, and lineman Kevin Hughes. Mastroianni said that all three captains are the lynchpins of the best senior class that a first-year head coach could ask for.
“The seniors are all really great young men. I couldn’t have come in with a better senior class. They are committed to being good kids,” said Mastroianni. “Brian is arguably the best inside linebacker in Connecticut. He leads by his actions and his words. He loves Hand football, and you see that in what he does. Connor is a first-year starter at outside linebacker, and Kevin Hughes makes it impossible to have us keep him off the field with what he does. They are heavily involved in their school and community, and they are mouthpieces that have helped with the transition over to me and my staff.”
Hand has plenty of other seniors who are complementing the leadership of its captains and striving to make a big impact in their final season with the team. Receiver Matt Maxwell, fellow wideout Mike Tarantino, lineman Luke Weber, and starting running back Will Reiner are key seniors for Hand on the offensive side of the ball. Cornerback Nick Woods and Ryan Coady are also seniors for the Tigers.
“Matt has done great things as receiver. Mike had a great preseason and is doing a good job. Luke has a lot of things going for him, and Will is phenomenal back there as running back,” Coach Mastroianni said. “Nick looks to make huge contributions as a senior, and Ryan is a first-year starter at linebacker, but he’s getting better day in and day out.”
Mastroianni’s coaching staff is comprised of line coach/offensive coordinator Mike Ciotti, running backs/cornerbacks coach Mike Davis, Jack Callahan working with the receivers, inside linebackers coach Dan Ives, outside linebackers coach Paul Philpott, running backs/defensive linemen coach John Sagnelli, special teams coach Rich Bella, and volunteer coach Tom Kline.
Naturally, the best way for any team to start off its first year with a new head coach is by earning a victory, and the Tigers will get that chance when they open the season by hosting fellow SCC Tier 2 school Hillhouse at the Surf Club at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 8. Coach Mastroianni knows how pivotal that opening contest is, and so the Tigers will be vying to come out on the right side of that decision, and then apply what they learn from that game to their subsequent encounters.
“We want to win that first game. It’s a new era for everyone, so the best thing you can do is get a win. Things get easier and your mentality changes with a win. We lost to Fairfield Prep in overtime to start last year, and it could’ve been a different year if we had won,” said Mastroianni. “Defensively, we don’t want to give up the big play. We gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown against [Hillhouse] last year. We want to win, and you have to run the ball if you want to win in Connecticut high school football. We’ve had good success with running it in the preseason, so it will hopefully transition successfully to the Hillhouse game.”
In addition to Hand and Hillhouse, the other teams in SCC Tier 2 this year are Amity, Foran, Hamden, and Wilbur Cross.
2017 Hand Tigers Football Schedule
Friday, Sept. 8: vs. Hillhouse at 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 145: at Shelton at 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 22: at Hamden at 7 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 28: vs. Harding at 6 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 6: vs. Foran at 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 13: vs. Bunnell at 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 27: at Law at 7 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 3: vs. Cheshire at 7 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 11 at Cross at noon
Wednesday, Nov. 22: at Guilford at 7 p.m.
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