Since they began playing football together in fifth grade, Cheshire High School seniors Will Bergin and Sean Cangiano have spent countless hours learning to play on the offensive and defensive lines. While the positions don’t often get glory, the friends take pride in the impact that they can have up front.
“The action starts and ends with us,” said Bergin. “We can decide the fate of a game. It is one of the most satisfying parts of being a lineman.”
While the seniors have decided to attend different schools this fall, they will both carry their passion for football with them. Cangiano has chosen to compete on the Division III level at Trinity College, while Bergin will spend a post-graduate year in town at Cheshire Academy.
“Since fifth grade, I’ve always told my parents that I was going to play college football,” reflected Cangiano. “I knew that I could do it.”
After talking with his family, Bergin felt that it was in his best interest to take an extra year before going to college.
“Since I’m only 17 now, my family and I feel that becoming a post grad will give me time to grow,” stated Bergin, who also liked the idea of living at home. “I think that I have room to improve physically and mentally.”
Last fall, CA earned a 3-6 record under Dave Dykeman.
“I think we can build something special this year,” said Bergin, who hopes to play on offense and defense. “I went to the Cheshire Academy football camp last summer and liked what I saw.”
This spring, he chose to not sign up for baseball at CHS, so that he could focus on football.
“I want to become a better player and person,” said Bergin. “There is always room for improvement. No one is perfect.”
“Watching Will grow and mature was awesome to see,” said CHS Head Coach Don Drust. “He brings a ton of energy and effort.”
For Cangiano, his college decision was about planning for his future. He looked at Bentley University (Massachusetts), Brown University (Rhode Island), and Central Connecticut State University, but was drawn to the alumni program at Trinity.
“I realized that I’m going to have a life after football and Trinity gave me the best option academically,” Cangiano explained.
Trinity football went 5-4 last year. Early in his recruiting process, Cangiano formed a positive relationship with the coaching staff led by Jeff Devanney.
“They called me last year to make sure that I was doing well in school,” said Cangiano. “They have a great football program that keeps winning every year.”
CHS has had several players compete at Trinity. Cheshire resident Lew Acquarulo, the Associate Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator, reached out to Cangiano about the school.
“He had the same experience at Cheshire High School and really reeled me into Trinity,” stated Cangiano.
“Sean is a tremendous student and person,” said Drust. “His family can come watch him play in a great conference (New England Small College Athletic Conference) for good coaches.”
Since committing last summer, Cangiano has looked forward to seeing 2018 CHS graduate Michael Jeffery, who plays for NESCAC rival Amherst College (Massachusetts). A four-year starter at CHS, Jeffery co-captained the 2017 Rams.
“He was the one who got me into football in fourth grade,” recalled Cangiano. “I can’t wait to go up against him and have that rivalry with our families.”
In graduating from the CHS football program, Cangiano and Bergin both feel that the hardest part is saying goodbye to teammates, especially their 14-member senior class.
“Nothing will match playing under the lights at Cheshire (High School),” said Bergin.
The seniors developed a close bond in Cheshire Junior Football.
“CJF set me up for playing college football,” recalled Cangiano, whose younger brother Jake ended his youth career with five straight Shoreline Youth Football Conference titles. “It is great to see what my little brother is doing and I’m excited to watch how he does in high school.”
At CHS, Bergin and Cangiano both broke into the varsity lineup as sophomores. Led by a record 27 seniors, the 2017 Rams earned a 6-4 record.
“I was nervous because I had never been on that level before,” said Cangiano. “Those seniors got me ready to play football.”
After graduating their experienced leaders the next year, the Rams went 3-7 with a younger lineup in 2018. In earning Defensive Player of the Year, Cangiano broke through to earn 6.5 sacks (team best) and 43 tackles, while Bergin compiled 50 tackles and received All-Southern Connecticut Conference distinction.
Bergin also joined Jason Shumilla as Cheshire’s first junior captains and they led the 2018 team with seniors Elijah Allston and Tim Krutz.
“It was a tremendous honor to be selected,” recalled Bergin. “It shows that they (the coaches) had trust in Jay and me as juniors.”
Last fall, Bergin and Shumilla returned to captain the Rams to an 8-3 record. For the first time in a decade, CHS made the Class LL playoffs.
“As a senior class, we don’t like to lose and we said as a group that we weren’t going out that way,” reflected Cangiano.
Playing up front, Bergin and Cangiano played key roles in the team earning a seven-game win streak last year. On the offensive line, the friends combined with juniors Dan Bourdeau, Colin Crowe, and Chisom Okoro.
“They were great pieces to add to Sean and I,” said Bergin. “Chisom is a freak athlete. Dan was undersized at center, but stepped up big time and so did Colin.”
Behind the offensive line, senior Jake McAlinden ran for 20 touchdowns. After having his 2018 season cut short due to a broken leg, Shumilla made a full recovery and capitalized in being given time to find teammates in the passing game.
“Jake is a tremendous athlete and made our job easier with all of the touchdowns he scored,” said Bergin. “As a junior, it was tough watching Jay (Shumilla) get hurt. He came back last year and led us to an amazing season.”
On the defensive line, Cangiano and Bergin teamed with Okoro and junior Cole Feinauer to control the line of scrimmage. Along with his play up front, Cangiano enjoyed getting to carry the football for the first time. In a 24-12 win at previously unbeaten Shelton, he recovered the ball after a blocked punt by Feinauer.
“The punt block was one of the craziest plays,” said Cangiano. “I look at that video all the time.”
Cangiano returned to score his first touchdown, a 4-yard run, in a 48-14 victory at East Haven.
Despite battling injuries, he earned All-SCC honors for the first time. At season’s end, Cangiano underwent shoulder injury and missed his indoor track and field season as a captain.
“I probably shouldn’t have played, but I knew that I needed to suck it up and be a part of men who changed Cheshire football,” explained Cangiano.
“Sean has always been that tough kid,” added Bergin. “I know that Trinity got a great one in him. He will play through anything.”
Bergin and Cangiano contributed to a stellar defensive effort in their final home game on Thanksgiving, but the Rams dropped a thriller, 21-20, to Southington. The Rams scored in double overtime, but when they tried to win on a two-point conversion run, Southington stopped CHS on the goal line.
In the Class LL quarterfinals, Cheshire raced out to a 14-0 lead at Simsbury, but the Trojans came back to pick up 17-14 victory.
“All along, our goal was to make it to states. As a group, we can’t complain about how well we played,” reflected Bergin. “The juniors know to pick it up from where we left off.”
Bergin repeated as an All-SCC honoree, as well as being named to the Walter Camp Football Foundation First Team.
“As an offensive lineman, you don’t really get the glory, but it felt great to have coaches put my name down and have Coach Drust pushing for me,” said Bergin.
Along with Cangiano and Bergin, McAlinden (Southern Connecticut State University), Dubois (Salve Regina University-Rhode Island), and Shumilla (Western New England University-Massachusetts) will play football after graduation.
“It shows that our senior class has football in our blood and we refuse to quit,” stated Bergin.