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09/19/2023 02:29 PM

North Branford Football Locked and Loaded with Veteran Talent

Luke Blomster is back for the North Branford football team this fall as a sure-handed tight end and senior captain for the Thunderbirds. Photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Sound
Lineman Lucian DePino (No. 74, left) will lead the pass protection unit on the gridiron, and the T-Birds’ football squad away from it, as one of the club’s four senior captains in 2023. Photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Sound

No matter who is piloting the ship, the North Branford football team is ready to move full steam ahead with a bountiful crop of young student-athletes and give every inch of its competitive fire and heart toward taking the next steps on the path to potential state championship glory.

For the 2022 campaign, North Branford compiled a 6-4 regular season mark--good enough to edge out rival Haddam-Killingworth for the eighth and final spot in the Class S State Playoffs. There, the T-Birds took a 43-13 road defeat to top-seeded and eventual state champion Ansonia in the quarterfinals.

This fall, the Thunderbirds will look to maneuver their way back to another postseason berth with a new man at the helm in Anthony Salvati as the first-year head coach for North Branford. Despite the new looks on the sidelines with respect to the coaching room, the squad is welcoming back many familiar faces and key contributors to that six-triumph team of a year ago.

A four-man front will share the leadership duties for the T-Birds this year with senior captains of tight end and outside linebacker Luke Blomster (6-foot-1, 190 pounds); receiver and free safety Braden Burns (6-foot-1, 180 pounds); 6-foot-2, 250-pound two-way lineman Aidan Chittenden; and fellow duo lineman Lucian DePino (6-foot-3, 280 pounds).

Salvati said that the Thunderbirds will take flight offensively with a spread offense, while on the opposing side of the ball, they will counter with an odd-front defense. North Branford welcomes back three starters on offense and four defensively.

Behind center, the T-Birds will be led by sophomore dual-threat quarterback AJ Sigel (5-foot-11, 175 pounds), plus junior Tommy Hansen (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) is back for his third year as the starting running back. In the receiving corps, there are a pair of sure and reliable hands on both Blomster and Burns.

“AJ saw some varsity action on defense as a freshman, and he also filled in at quarterback in the opening game after an injury to the starter,” said Salvati. “Tommy Hansen is a returning All-Conference running back who has all the attributes to take us to the next level. Brayden and Luke are two reliable targets that will go up and get the ball. We also have some sophomore slot receivers with speed that are looking to break into the lineup and help stretch defenses.”

Protecting those quality skill position players up front will be an offensive line that Salvati maintained will be fortified by raw athleticism, while learning a new order of operation under this coaching staff.

“We have good size and strength up front with guys that can move quickly to get up to the next level,” said Salvati. “Learning a new system will be a little hurdle, but we will go as far as they can take us. Having a returning All-State left tackle is a huge upside.”

Not much will be different when defending the ball in the trenches on the defensive line of scrimmage as the T-Birds feature stacked athletes who look to create nothing less than tumultuous times for any adversary looking to advance the ball.

“We can be very stout with our front seven,” said Salvati. “And we hope to create pressure and havoc from all angles on opposing offenses. We expect to play hard, be competitive, and to be in every game in the fourth quarter. If that happens, then we will win our fair share of games, and will maybe shock some people along the way.”

The Thunderbirds kicked off their 2023 regular-season slate with a road trip on Sept. 15 at Ellington and won the contest by a 21-17 score.

Anthony Salvati’s assistant coaches are Jon Byrd, Nick Sagnella, Mike Katz, Nick Mancini, Jake Dobos, and Nick DiMaggio.

The 2023 North Branford football team roster is comprised of seniors Blomster, Burns, Chittenden, Patrick LeBeau, Chris Olsen, and DePino; juniors in Hansen, Tyler Scott, Ethan Helff, Sean Boardman, and Jayden Giardina; sophomores of Brandon Longo, James Criscio, Sigel, Luca Landino, Gregory Ferraro, Zachary Beecher, Joseph Raffone, Chase Nugent, and Christopher Bruno; and freshmen with Christian Wright, Dylan Yarnall, Landen Burns, Craig Miller Jr, Nicolas Salvati, Mario Urbano, Angelo Raffone, Daniel Frani, Jacob Hoskins, Connor Watterworth, and Frank Laboy.

2023 North Branford Football Regular Season Schedule

Sept. 15: North Branford 21, Ellington 17

Thursday, Sept. 21: at Plainfield at 6 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 29: vs. Capital-Achievement at 6:30 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 6: at Granby-Canton at Granby Memorial at 6:30 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 20: vs. Haddam-Killingworth at 6:30 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 27: vs. Valley Regional-Old Lyme at 6:30 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 3: vs. Rockville at 6:30 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 10: at Morgan-Old Saybrook-Westbrook at Peters Complex at 6:30 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 17: vs. Cromwell-Portland at 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, Nov. 22: at Coginchaug/Hale-Ray/East Hampton at Coginchaug at 6 p.m.