by Daniel Fappiano
In 2016 the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils won just two games and were tied for last in the Northeast Conference. Going into the season, they were predicted to finish no higher than fourth in the NEC, with very few expecting them to compete for the championship. After losing the first three games of the season, it seemed as if Central was in for another lost season.
However, the Blue Devils didn’t let their 0-3 record discourage them. They kept fighting and rattled off six straight wins prior to their championship matchup against Duquesne. As the underdogs, not many expected CCSU to be able to knock off the preseason favorite. But as the clock hit zero and the scoreboard read 28-27 in Central’s favor, they had done the unthinkable and won their first NEC Championship since 2010.
On the field, many different players stepped up to help lead the Blue Devils to eight straight wins, giving them an overall 8-3 record for the regular season.
Senior running back Cameron Nash had his breakout campaign, rushing 197 times for 1,003 yards and 13 touchdowns during the regular season. Voted Second-Team All-Conference, Nash led the NEC in rushing touchdowns and was one of only three running backs to eclipse 1,000 yards.
Outside of Nash, Central had six players voted First-Team All-Conference. Rookie lineman Connor Mignone was voted as the NEC Offensive Rookie of the Year, making him the first non-skill position player to win the award. Of the other five, defenders Randall Laguerre, Seth Manzanares and Jarrod Cann made the biggest impact.
Laguerre led the team with 83 tackles, putting him at sixth most in the NEC. Manzanares led the team in sacks with 3.5, tied for ninth in the NEC while Cann led the Blue Devils in interceptions with four, tied for second most in the NEC. Overall, Central’s defense was vastly improved and finished the year tied for most defensive touchdowns in the FCS with six.
Clearly there was improvement on the field from both the offense and defense. However, the Blue Devils success could be attributed to something much less apparent.
As CCSU begun to rack up win after win, you could see the player’s emotion on the sideline. They would jump up and down, trying to get the crowd in the game. They started having fun and stopped stressing over the outcome.
Following the team’s win against St. Francis, players on the sideline began to jump around and try to make other players who were being interviewed laugh. The team was having fun; they were building bonds, and you could tell the aura around CCSU football was changing.
Head Coach Peter Rossomando credited that new aura to the players on the team believing. Believing that even though they started out 0-3, even though no one thought they could be champions, that this could be their year.
Throughout the season, Rossomando touched on how his team’s belief in themselves was crucial to their success.
Following the team’s win against Bryant, their fifth straight, Rossomando said, “Our guys have done a good job of understanding where we are and that you’re the same team that was 0-3 at one time. You’re a good team then, you’re a good team now.”
Rossomando held the same sentiment following the Blue Devils win against St. Francis one week later. “Our players quite honestly just believe right now. They believe in everything that’s going on, they believe in each other, so important.”
As CCSU defeated Duquesne and became NEC Champions, Rossomando knew how important the victory was. Although, he knew it would be impossible without the team’s belief in one another. “It’s been one heck of a ride since I got here and seven in a row to do it, in that fashion, down 13 late, our kids never forgot and always believed, it’s great for our university.”
After a 0-3 start, it would’ve been easy for the Blue Devils to look down on themselves and pack it in. They weren’t expected to compete for a championship; they could’ve looked at the 2017 season as pointless. But they didn’t, they fought for each other, their brothers, and did everything in their power to win a championship.
A box will tell you the stats, but it could never tell you the amount of heart Central showed during the 2017 season. They knew the odds were stacked against them, yet they worked as a team to achieve their goals.
CCSU’s magical season might’ve come to an end against New Hampshire in the first round of the FCS playoffs. However, the 2017 season will not be easily forgotten. The Blue Devils did the unthinkable. Not only did they bring the university their first championship since 2010, but they gave the community something much greater, a reason to believe.