Alignment: Division II West
Last year: 1-8
Coach: Robert Clauss (1st season)
Captains: Peter Weatherill, Liam Denehy, Justin Burns, Tristan Hutchinson
First game: Tonight, 7 p.m., vs. Kingswood
Outlook: The Cougars have been riding a coaching roller-coaster over the past year. Since June 2018, they’ve gone from Paul Landau to Ray Puglisi to Steve Bartsch, and now to Robert Clauss.
The midseason firing of Puglisi and assistant coach Chris Frontiero, followed soon by the resignation of assistant coach Phil Juneau, was a particular shock to the system. ConVal went 1-3 under Puglisi, then finished 0-5 as Bartsch took over in the interim.
Now, Clauss says he plans to bring order back to this chaotic system, creating an identity the players can latch onto and a team the fans can be proud of.
Clauss said that during preseason camp, they had members of the Springfield College football team come down for two days to help coach the Cougars in the Flexbone triple-option offense, which is ConVal’s bread and butter.
Running that offense this year will be senior Peter Weatherill, a former receiver who surprised many by winning the starting quarterback job. He also surprised by doing a kicking camp over the summer and taking over the team’s kickoff and punting duties. He is also expected to play some cornerback on defense.
Another former receiver, Liam Denehy, is expected to anchor the offensive line at left tackle, while sophomore right tackle Gareth Armstrong could be a future Division I prospect, according to Clauss. The coach says Armstrong is already 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds and can bench press 150 pounds for 28 reps.
Rounding out the backfield for the triple-option will be junior running backs Reid Wilson and Griffin Filaski and senior fullback Justin Burns, who also plays strong safety for the defense.
That defense, which plays out of a 4-3 base, will be the team’s strength through the first 3-4 games while the offense catches up, according to Clauss.
The defense is run by Shawn DeCost, a former Franklin Pierce football player and assistant coach who stayed through last year’s coaching carousel in his first year at ConVal. Under his guidance, Clauss says the defense excels at the “force, fill and spill” method of swallowing up ball carriers.
On special teams, German exchange student and former soccer player Fabian Steinberg will handle field goal duties. Clauss said Steinberg can consistently kick from 45 yards out.
Coach’s corner: “I’ve been really happy with the buy-in. They went through some tough times last season with the coaching changes midseason. It’s kinda hard for any team to try and regroup after that. It was a culture that was broken and had to be repaired. They were hungry, they were hungry for success and they were hungry to be shown how to do it.” — Robert Clauss
Game to watch: Oct. 4, 7 p.m., vs. Manchester West
Not only is this ConVal’s Homecoming Game, it also comes at a critical point in the middle of the season.
Clauss said games at this juncture can define a season, and with this being the first season under a new coach, it could define the new direction this program takes.
— This story has been edited to correct the spelling of Gareth Armstrong's name