The culture of the Southington football program began a slow shift last season. After going 0-10 in 2010 and being outscored by nearly 40 points per game, the Wildcats brought in new coach Ryan Slone and the team improved to 3-6 in 2011.
One of the players who is being relied on to continue that improvement is junior Brendan Baugher, who has added 20 pounds and is now 5-foot-10, 170 pounds.
Slone praised Baugher both for his abilities on the field, but also for his actions off it.
"Not only football wise, his out of school things," Slone said. "He just went on a mission trip with some of the other players. Morally this is a great individual. He scored 32 on his ACT. He's going to be a very successful young man in his life. He's a great young man and he's going to have a bright future because of what he is off the field.
"As a player, he brings a work ethic. In three sports football, baseball and basketball he's always going. He has a very high GPA. The kids see that and what he can do on and off the field. He lifted all summer, all through baseball, to make himself a better player. He's a vocal leader and a silent leader in the same sense."
Last season, Baugher had 55 tackles, two forced fumbles, two tackles for loss, an interception and two fumble recoveries from his linebacker spot.
"Last season we went 3-6 but it felt great," Baugher said. "The year before we went 0-10 and were getting a new coach in. It finally felt like a team everybody was happy with. When we lost we wanted to get back in and work harder to win the next game."
Both Slone and Baugher named the same games when they were asked which were Baugher's best from last season.
"The St. Wendelin game," Slone said. "He opened holes for our running back. As a linebacker he played a crucial role for us. Middle linebacker was his role last year. He had more than half a dozen tackles (against St. Wendelin, a 20-14 victory). He opened holes and we ran for almost 200 yards. Against Lutheran East we ran for 250 (which the Wildcats won, 42-12). He's a great tackler and had over 10 in that game. Against Pymatuning Valley we hung tough and he kept us in the game. He had more than half a dozen tackles there."
The Lakers hung on to beat Southington 27-14 in that Week 8 contest.
"Against Pymatuning Valley we were hanging with them and I don't think they expected it," Baugher said. "Mathews was a good game (a 26-20 win). It came down to the wire but we pulled that off. St. Wendelin was our first win after going 0-10. That was a real confidence booster."
Baugher said Southington's attitude is improved heading into the 2012 season.
"I'm really happy about how it's going so far," he said. "Everybody has been giving it their all. We're the most prepared we've ever been and I'm very optimistic about it. Everybody is giving 100 percent and doing what they need to do. No one's goofing around. This is the best team we've had a in a couple years."
In addition to his play at middle linebacker, Slone said Baugher will get more looks in the offensive backfield.
"We expect he's going to get more carries at fullback," Slone said. "We're looking for him to get a few hundred yards this year. He's the anchor on defense. We expect him to be the leading tackler and make a lot of plays."
Baugher was asked what his goals are for the season.
"Offensively to just create room for the running backs," he said. "Blow up holes for them. On defense, try to be a leader. I'm the middle linebacker so I just want to get everybody pumped up and get them ready to play.
"Team-wise, to be a leader on the defensive and offensive side. I want to win the NAC, obviously. For the team, I want everybody to work hard and have fun and have no regrets. I want everybody to know they gave their all."