Telegram & Gazette: With a home and win streak, AmCats confident
By John Conceison
PAXTON — Anna Maria's football program can't be called trailer trash anymore.
The AmCats truly have a home now, and a couple of victories under their belt entering their fourth varsity season, the 27-game losing streak to begin their varsity existence a remote memory.
For the past two seasons while awaiting the construction of a new athletic facility, Anna
Maria's football team established residence in three trailers.
"Our freshman year, we didn't even have a trailer," recalled strong safety Dan McKenna, one of 10 seniors from the AmCats' first four-year class. "Our entire freshman season was spent in a bomb shelter right underneath Madonna Hall. That was our locker room; it was called the Cats' Den. It was just a fallout shelter with a plastic folding chair."
Today, they're in the AmCats Center, which opened in January and houses athletic offices, meeting rooms, a supplementary training facility (the main weight room remains across campus at the Fuller Activities Center) and, of course, a genuine football locker room.
"It's a great thing — I actually feel like a college athlete," said junior Dylan Bedard, an anchor of the offensive line. "It brings everyone together a little bit more. It makes you appreciate what we have after what we had before."
"The school has made a commitment to the program," said first-year coach Vince Sinagra, Anna Maria's defensive coordinator for two years before succeeding Marc Klaiman. "We appreciate everything that has been done for us. We didn't have a place, we didn't have a heartbeat before, and now we do.
"This is a place we can hang our hat on," he added. "It's one less excuse for us. Now we can't say we don't have this or don't have that."
Another thing the AmCats have is a winning streak entering this weekend's opener with Worcester State. After edging Becker at home, 35-33, on Nov. 5, they rallied the following week to win at Husson, 31-28, and finished 2-8.
"It's a whole different atmosphere," said senior quarterback Santino Simone, a second-team Eastern Collegiate Football Conference selection last fall. "Coming from Holy Name where we always won, I knew it was going to be tough. When (the win) finally came against Becker, it was one of the best feelings I've had, knowing how hard and how far we came to get to that point. It just lowered the anxiety around here after getting that first win."
Anna Maria's 1-2 combination will bolster the offense. Senior Domenique Concepcion, a first-team all-ECFC selection last season who wears No. 1, hauled in 59 passes for 782 yards and eight touchdowns from Simone, who wears No. 2. Simone threw for 21 TDs and ran for 11 more.
"In my opinion, he is one of the best guys in Division 3," Sinagra said. "He can throw, he can run, he's a double threat. Now he's more tuned in, he's the total package, he can decipher the secondary. He always knows what we're doing and why we're doing it."
Junior running back Robert Small enjoyed some big games down the stretch and finished with 848 yards in nine games, a 94.2-yard average.
On defense, a seasoned linebacking crew returns, including junior Jordan Koehler, who last year led the team with 82 tackles, classmate Mike Joseph of Marlboro, and sophomore Kevin Card. Sinagra is high on his secondary, led by McKenna and juniors Tim Ray and Tony Valente.
Juniors Joe Williams (6-0, 260) and Pat Driscoll (6-0, 250) lead a defensive line that "averaged about 195 pounds when I first came here. Now it's up to about 240," according to Sinagra.
"We're not the doormat anymore," Concepcion said. "We've got to play with a chip on our shoulder. We're no longer just a team's stepping stone, we're trying to get that conference title."
After attaining a taste of victory, the goals get loftier. But the AmCats know championships are won week by week. Simone points out that after beating Becker, they put the win behind them and zeroed in on Husson — "we just played football."
"The whole thing is believing," Sinagra said. "They've got something in the bank now, now they have to get some interest on it."
"Conference championship, hands down," Simone said of the season's main objective. "That's what we're pushing for every day. Obviously, it's a high bar to accomplish, but that's what us 10 seniors want and that's what we want to get. We're going to work hard at it every day and try to come out with a ring."
Anna Maria at a glance
Coach: Vin Sinagra (first season).
League: Eastern Collegiate Football Conference.
2011 record: 2-8, 2-5 conference.
Top returnees: Sr. QB Santino Simone (Holy Name; 158-312, 1,972 yards, 21 TDs, 14 INT, 513 yards rushing, 11 TDs), Sr. WR Domenique Concepcion (59 catches, 782 yards, 8 TDs), Jr. RB Robert Small (181 carries, 848 yards, 2 TDs), Jr. LB Jordan Koehler (82 tackles, 8-1/2 for loss, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 INT), Jr. LB Mike Joseph (Marlboro; 69 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT), So. LB Kevin Card (66 tackles, 3 sacks, 15 for loss).
Key losses: LB Nii Quartey (Burncoat; 49 tackles, 17 for loss, 3 sacks), DL Jason Campbell (73 tackles, 5 sacks), TE Blake Simpson (12 catches, 184 yards).
Notable newcomers: Fr. LB Marcus De Leon (Doherty), Fr. LB Victor Sambola (Worcester Tech), Fr. OL Timothy Whittemore (Bay Path, Oxford), Fr. OL Peter Barbosa (South), Fr. WR David Meuse (Hudson), Fr. WR Jaylen Dottin (Tantasqua, Sturbridge), Fr. LB Ronald Kikonyogo (North).
Aug. 31…at Worcester State, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8…Maine Maritime, 1 p.m.
Sept. 15…at Husson, 1 p.m.
Sept. 29…at Gallaudet, noon
Oct. 6…at Mount Ida, 1 p.m.
Oct. 13…Maritime (N.Y.), 2 p.m.
Oct. 20…Castleton, 3 p.m.
Oct. 27…Norwich, 1 p.m.
Nov. 3…at Becker, noon
Nov. 10…Husson, 1 p.m.