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Football Season Preview

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Football Season Preview

Football Season Preview

Written by Patrick Dallahan '23

The Avon Old Farms School has been home to one of the premier football programs in the Northeast for many decades. It’s seen 14 league championships, multiple undefeated seasons, countless college players, and most recently, a dominant bowl game win over Buckingham, Brown, and Nichols following the 2021 regular season, in the aptly named Kevin Driscoll Bowl.

But, with all the historic teams this school has seen, it would be quite the challenge to find a group with more anticipation than this Winged Beavers squad.

Led by first year head coach Jonathan Wholley, a former player for the University of Connecticut, the team has a goal of hoisting the NEPSAC championship trophy come November, and building upon the success of last year’s season, which resulted in a Founders League championship and the first bowl game victory in the history of Avon Old Farms.

If there was a group made to follow up such a tough act, it’s this one.

Avon Old Farms lost multiple pieces of last year’s historic squad, including Marco Scarano, Marshall Howe, Brady Hutchison, and Clayton Bone, but if there’s one thing Coach Wholley does not do, it’s rebuild. Instead, he reloaded.

Coach Wholley had some great returners to add onto heading into this season. The wide receiver group, led by captain Jackson Harper ’23, will not see a drop off in production. Harper is entering his senior season here at Avon Old Farms, and has been here since the 2019–20 school year. Harper recently committed to Jim Mora and the University of Connecticut to further his football and academic career. Lining up in the slot is captain Benn Johnston ’23, a four-year senior from Lake Forest, Illinois. Johnston is an incredible athlete, as shown by his commitment to Duke University to play lacrosse. Johnston has been ranked as high as the number two player in the nation for his class, and was a key contributor on last year’s AOF football team.

Joining the wideouts is postgraduate Maxwell “Mingy” Warren, a speed threat downfield who comes to Avon by way of the St. Joseph’s school in Shelton, Conn. Warren picked up 12 division I offers, from both the FBS and FCS level, but landed on Holy Cross for his college decision. 

The runningback corp is lead by a two-headed monster of postgraduate Luke Thorbahn, who comes to Mrs. Riddle’s Village from Milton Academy, and Kharon “Buck” Craig ’26. Last season, Thorbahn played for the Milton Academy Mustangs in the NEPSAC championship game against Loomis Chaffee, adding to lots of postseason pedigree on this squad. Buck Craig has been a hot topic of discussion before the season. The freshman from Hartford made his presence felt well before he stepped on campus, picking up offers from the defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs, Ole Miss, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Boston College, UMass, and UConn.

On top of returners Harper and Johnston, Wholley also returned many key pieces on the offensive line. Will Prince ’23, who has gathered 10 division one offers, and captain Ethan Shames ’23, a Williams College commit, will hold down the fort to keep their new quarterback safe. Shames and Prince will be joined by new additions Jack Hines ’24, Zack Gluckman ’24, and returner Owen Alicine ’24. Hines and Alicine stand both at a towering 6’7”, and Gluckman 6’3.”

To replace quarterback Marshall Howe, who is now on the roster of the Big Ten Wisconsin Badgers, Wholly brought in Ryan Puglisi ’24. Puglisi, who transferred last January from Lawrence Academy in Groton, Mass., is one of the most sought after quarterbacks in the nation. Over the summer, Puglisi picked up scholarship offers from the University of Alabama and the University of Georgia, on top of already having offers from Pittsburgh, Michigan State, Ole Miss, Duke, Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota, West Virginia, and Rutgers, just to name a few. 

On the defensive side of the ball, the Winged Beavers will be just as dominant as any team in Avon history. Led by safeties Christian LeBrun ’23, a UMass commit, KeShawn “Keke” Adams ’24, and newcomers J’mar Branion, a post grad from Durham, N.C., and Owen Moreland, a sophomore who joins the squad from Tilton Academy, the Winged Beaver secondary is poised to be very dangerous coming into the season.

Adams, a four-year repeat junior from Windsor, Conn., has been very hot on the recruiting block for quite some time, picking up offers from the likes of Syracuse, Duke, Temple, Buffalo, Akron, Massachusetts, UConn, Rhode Island, and Campbell. Adams has also heard from powerhouses like Oklahoma, Tennessee, Florida, and Notre Dame. 

The front seven of the defense is arguably the most talented and deep position group heading into the 2022 season. The linebackers are filled with division one prospects and athletes. Led by linebacker and former Navy lacrosse commit and all-American Christian Alliegro, this group looks to create havoc in the pass and run defenses. Alliegro, since decommitting from the United States Naval Academy, has received offers from Minnesota and Rutgers, proving that he is more than capable of playing division I football. 

On the defensive line there is no shortage of talent. Led by seniors Kevin Nizolek (Fordham commit) and Erik Lindstrom, who has received multiple division I scholarship offers, the two returners are joined by a new wrecking ball: Benedict “The Nigerian Nightmare” Umeh ’24, who comes to Avon by way of West Toronto Prep. Umeh has four division one offers and is “built like Superman,” according to Jackson Harper. The D-Line also returns Bennett Della Valle ’24, a two-sport recruit and a pain for lineman to block.

It’s a team filled with talent, athleticism, and energy, all of which stacks up against any team in the region.

The Winged Beavers play a very tough schedule this season, most notably against Loomis Chaffee (week 2), at Choate (week 3), and at Brunswick (week 7). But if you ask Coach Wholley which game he’s focused on? It’s the season opener at Kent on Saturday, September 24th, and he encourages you all to be there to watch the Winged Beavers in action!