Grizzlies Striving to Keep Climbing on the Gridiron
The Guilford football team shook off the rust and battled through many obstacles to earn some respect in the Southern Connecticut Conference last season. With a new campaign about to get underway, Head Coach Anthony Salvati has his squad primed for more success on the gridiron and wants to see the Grizzlies fare even better this time around.
After seeing the 2020 campaign get canceled, Guilford bounced back from an 0-2 start to win six of its last eight games and finish with a
6-4 record last fall. The season proved beneficial for several sophomores who gained key experience due to a wave of injuries that hit the team.
Coach Salvati is anticipating that the experiences from last year will lead to some breakthrough moments for the Grizzlies in 2022. Guilford kicks off its season with a home game versus Fitch at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 9.
“Going into this season, now we have an abundance of experience coming back. On paper, with all of the returning starters and younger guys, I think we’re all poised,” Coach Salvati said. “I think we’re excited to do some nice things in Guilford this year.”
Guilford heads into its new season with some holes to fill on both sides of the ball. On offense, Grizzlies said good-bye to wide receiver Eric Dolmus, who earned All-SCC Tier 3 honors as a senior before graduating. Guilford also graduated three seniors who received All-SCC Tier 3 accolades on defense in Jack O’Brien, Eddie Barlage, and Aiden McBrierty. Barlage, Dolmus, and O’Brien served as Guilford’s captains last season.
“Last year, that senior class was special. The work that they put in over the years that they were with me is going to be missed altogether,” said Salvati. “I think we have some young guys now with some experience that can step into that role nicely. They could have that potential for us.”
The Grizzlies are bringing back a pair of All-SCC Tier 3 honorees from last year as they take the field for the 2022 campaign. Senior running back Mike O’Brien and senior lineman Luke Carignan will both play major roles as two of the team’s four captains on the heels of their All-Conference seasons. Coach Salvati calls O’Brien the “pulse of the offense,” while Carignan will lead the wall of linemen on both sides of the ball for the Grizzlies.
Guilford will also be led by senior captains Liam Alberti and Hayden Eldridge. Salvati is expecting Alberti to fill the role that Barlage held as a linebacker last year. Eldridge, who Salvati calls “Mr. Consistent,” has started for the Grizzlies since his freshman season and is a staple of the offensive line at the center position.
Coach Salvati knows that Guilford’s captains have been integral to the rise of the program, but he feels that the Grizzlies are also going to receive great leadership from the other members of a special senior class. Guilford’s senior corps also includes Dillon Burlakoff, Alejandro Colberg, Dan O’Connell, Zachary Ellesio, Leo Farricielli, Rence Jewett, Nicholas Paradise, and Brianna Seixas.
“This is my first full group [of seniors] that I’ve had come through for four years. They’ve done everything that I’ve asked, and they bought into the system for the past four years,” Salvati said. “Their hard work and dedication has gotten us into this point that we’re in going into the season.”
Salvati is looking forward to seeing the impact that O’Connell is going to make on the offensive and defensive lines this season. O’Connell has proven himself as a force in the trenches throughout his high school career.
“He’s the most physical kid,” said Salvati of O’Connell. “He’s that nasty kind of lineman that we need, but he’s a great kid.”
Coach Salvati is also excited about seeing Burlakoff help the Grizzlies move the sticks on the offensive side of the ball. Salvati refers to Burlakoff as Guilford’s sparkplug on offense due to the senior’s versatile skillset.
As Salvati looks for playmakers on offense, he feels confident in the abilities of junior quarterback Tyler Hilgert, who saw plenty of snaps under center last year. Salvati said that Hilgert has looked poised, focused, and comfortable in the pocket throughout the preseason.
With the loss of Dolmus, Coach Salvati is looking for juniors Jake Jahnige and Joe Tafro to carve out big roles at the wide receiver position this year. Salvati said that Jahnige has the ability to stretch out opposing defenses downfield and added that Tafro is reliable option for the Grizzlies in the slot.
Coach Salvati knows that every single player will need to be on board as Guilford strives to take another step forward and increase its win total this season. Injuries hampered the Grizzlies in their quest to make the playoffs last year. This year, Salvati wants to see his team’s chemistry on full display as Guilford pursues a successful season in 2022.
“I think we have to play together. You can’t have any cracks in the foundation,” Salvati said. “We are a pretty tight-knit group from the seniors all the way down to the freshmen. For us to reach our goals, we have to stay together, even in tough times and adversity.”
This year marks the 50th season of the Guilford football program. The Grizzlies’ season will feature appearances from program alums each week to go along with an alumni dinner that will precede its annual finale against Hand on Wednesday, Nov. 23.
With an experienced lineup returning to the field, the Grizzlies are champing at the bit and ready compete this season. Guilford’s athletes have major goals and are motivated to become the best football team they can be with hopes of making some noise in the playoffs by the end of the year.
“We’re happy with the 6-4 season we had last year, but that’s just a stepping stone for us. Now, we want to take the next step and show to everyone, prove to ourselves, and represent Guilford to that next step to be at that next level of football,” said Coach Salvati. “Guilford football as a whole, from top to bottom, should be excited for what this year is about to become.”
2022 Guilford Football Schedule
Friday, Sept. 9: vs. Fitch at 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 16: at Branford at 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 23: at West Haven at 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 30: vs. Lyman Hall at 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 14: vs. Bassick at 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 21: at Jonathan Law at 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 29: at Woodstock Academy at noon
Friday, Nov. 4: at Foran at 7 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 17: at East Haven at 7 p.m.
Wednesday, Nov. 23: vs. Hand at 7 p.m.