WESTPORT — A year ago, Harris Levi spent the summer in what was essentially rehearsals for a supporting role. With Ethan Burger returning as the workhouse in the backfield for the Staples football team, Levi was ready to make the most of any opportunities.
When Burger did not play because of a knee injury, Levi was more than ready to step in. He led the Wreckers with 1,024 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. He went over 200 yards in successive games.
This offseason Levi has been prepping to continue being the leading man for Staples, which finished 5-5, a rare off year for the program.
“What I did last year, I didn’t help the team enough if you talk about our record,” Levi said. “I don’t really like to talk about how many yards I had. That’s not important to me. What’s important is having a winning record and eventually a state championship.”
Levi is one given for the Wreckers, who lost most of their main offensive contributors as well as a number of defensive starters.
Staples coach Marce Petroccio said contrary to what many thought, Levi figured prominently in his plans a year ago.
“We knew he would have to get some time,” Petroccio said. “We knew we had something special in Harris, that’s for sure. He’s a long, slashing, tall, fast runner. He can do some damage. He has great hands. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He can do a lot for us. This year he’s going to play some defense too, he’s that good.”
The Wreckers were 5-1 last season before losing their last four games — all to schools that earned state playoff berths. Three of the games were one-sided.
That has only served as motivational kindle for Petroccio, whose expectations are always to be playing in December, not planning ahead.
“We’re going to have to work a lot harder,” Levi said. “Everyone is going to have to be involved, from the young kids to the seniors that have been playing for three years.”
Petroccio said there are a number of players that are loaded with potential who will be elevated into starting spots, including receivers Max Lonergan, Kevin Rabacs and Ben Pearl, and quarterback Danny Thompson, who saw some action last year.
If they contribute, defenses will not be able to key on Levi, making him even more effective.
“He has to get his touches, but the thing about us this year, we’re probably more athletic than we have been in the last few years,” Petroccio said. “We have some depth. We don’t want to be a team where it’s a one-man show, but we are going to open things up for him.”
Levi is as humble as skilled, especially when talking about his breakout season.
“I can’t take credit for all my success,” he said. “Obviously it’s a team effort in football. They were there right with me.”
That makes for a good segue into the biggest question mark this season: the Wreckers’ offensive line. All five starters are gone, and the unit’s performance may hold the key to whether the team continues to flirt with the .500 mark or climbs back up the standings.
“They get better every day,” Petroccio said. “We will know more about ourselves when we scrimmage West Haven on Thursday.”
Levi remains optimistic.
“We’ve been working all summer with the linemen,” Levi said. “Come the season they will be ready.”
As a captain, Levi is aware his contributions this fall cannot come just with his hands and legs.
“I will have a much bigger role as a leader this coming year and I have to make sure it’s a full commitment from every player on this team,” Levi said. “Naturally I like to lead by example, but this year I’m going to have to step up vocally.”
Petroccio is going to let Levi return to playing outside linebacker as well this season. Part of the plan is to make the players around Levi better, which will make him even more of a threat.
“We have to open things up for him,” Petroccio said. “You can’t be a team that continuously runs the ball 70 percent of the time in this day and age. And when you don’t have humungous offensive linemen it makes the job harder. I think he’s going to have a great year on both sides.”