High-SchoolConnecticut: Alex Manwaring

The past 12 months have been interesting, to say the least. To help us break down everything that happened in 2011 (and look forward to 2012), we're bringing in some experts.

Kahlil Dukes, a junior guard at Capital Prep, is one of the best basketball players in the state. He's averaging 29 points and 4.0 assists per game, and he's getting interest from Division I colleges.

Alex Manwaring, a senior running back, carried Ledyard to the state championship game this season by running for more than 2,500 yards and scoring 23 touchdowns.

We asked them about the best of 2011, and they gave us the answers.

* Dukes' responses are in Trailblazers' orange.
* Manwaring's responses are in Colonels' blue.


Best High School Team
Manwaring: Xavier. The way they churned out good teams in just about every sport, whether it was football or wrestling, was kind of amazing. They're good at everything.
Dukes: New London basketball, because I'm a big Kris Dunn supporter.

Best High School Athlete
Manwaring: This is a tough one, but I have to say [Ansonia running back] Arkeel Newson. He had something like 3,500 yards this year, and he's definitely tough to stop.
Dukes: Definitely Kris Dunn. Nobody knew who he was last year, then he went out during the summer and played against all the best players and really made a name for himself.

Your Best Moment of 2011 (On the field)
Manwaring: I guess I would have to say our game against Bacon this year. I ran for 317 yards, which was a school record.
Dukes: I'd say the live period in July when all the college coaches could watch me play. I think I made a lot of progress and let everyone know what kind of player I am.

Your Best Moment of 2011 (Off the field)
Manwaring: My best moments were all sports-related! I'm going to say Thanksgiving Day when I scored four touchdowns.
Dukes: When I got my first offer. I was in the airport, it was August 1st or 2nd. It was from Vermont.

Pro/College Athlete of the Year
Aaron Rodgers, because of all the success he had and the way he led the team to a 13-0 start after winning the Super Bowl.
Dukes: Cam Newton. Despite all the critics and the commotion, he still put that Auburn team on his back and delivered a championship.

Best Pro Championship Team
Manwaring: I'm a little biased but I have to say the Bruins. The way they kept winning in Game 7's was amazing, and Thomas' play was unreal.
Dukes: The Dallas Mavericks. They had a guy on their team in Dirk Nowitzki who could get the job done.

Most Memorable Game
Manwaring: The Michigan-Notre Dame football game earlier this year. I'm probably biased because I'm a Michigan fan, but I was watching at a friend's house and I made them put it on so I could check out the score. And right as we put it on, Denard Robinson was making the comeback.
Dukes: I think the game with Kemba Walker against Pitt when he hit the step-back for the game-winner in the Big East tournament.

Your New Year's Resolution (On the field)
Manwaring: The same as always -- to work my butt off, especially since it's my senior year. I want to win the state open in wrestling.
Dukes: Win.

Your New Year's Resolution (Off the field)
Manwaring: Do the best I can every day, and the rest should be good.
Dukes: To be the best person I can be.

The one story you want to leave in 2011
Manwaring: Tim Tebow. And I like Tebow, I'm a big fan. But it's too much.
Dukes: I don't get caught up in that too much. It's all good to me.

Disagree with the Best of 2011? Hit me on Twitter (@ESPNHSGrimala) and make your case.

Football: State championship picks

December, 9, 2011

The Game:
Holy Cross-Waterbury (11-1) vs. Cromwell (10-2)
Friday, 6:30 p.m.

The Players:
This is a classic matchup between a dominant running team and an unstoppable passing attack. Holy Cross loves to pound it, with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Dave DiGiorgi and Adrian Brown, while Cromwell features the most prolific quarterback in the state in Anthony Morales (42 TD passes).

The Prediction:
Holy Cross has the personnel up front to dominate the line of scrimmage and possess the ball. If the Crusaders can control the clock, I can see them winning a fairly low-scoring game.


The Game:
Ansonia (13-0) vs. Ledyard (11-1)
Saturday, 10:30 a.m.

The Players:
Understatement alert: Ansonia will lean on running back Arkeel Newsome in this game. The sophomore running back has already run for more than 3,300 yards on the season, and he's scored 54 touchdowns. So yeah, expect Newsome to get a few carries. For Ledyard, it will be about defense. The Colonels haven't allowed a single point in their past two games, so Newsome will have his work cut out. Also, Ledyard has a stud running back of its own in Alex Manwaring (more than 2,000 yards this year).

The Prediction:
This game turns into a land war between Manwaring and Newsome, with both approaching 200 yards for the game. But Newsome's breakaway ability (and dominant offensive line) wear down the Colonels and Ansonia pulls away in the fourth quarter.


The Game:
Daniel Hand (12-0) vs. New Canaan (11-1)
Saturday, 2 p.m.

The Players:
New Canaan looked dead in the water last week, trailing undefeated Windsor 24-7 in the second quarter. But quarterback Matt Milano led the Rams all the way back for a last-second victory. Daniel Hand also scored style points for its win last week, as the Tigers took down the top team in the state in routing Masuk, 35-14. Nick Vitale caught 12 passes for 148 yards in the win.

The Prediction:
Hand has played great defense all season, especially last week in holding the state's most explosive offense to just 14 points. But New Canaan proved it can light up the scoreboard in a hurry by storming back to beat Windsor. I think the Rams ride the hot hand of Milano and spoil another perfect season, making up for last year's loss in the Class L title game.


The Game:
Xavier (12-0) vs. Staples (11-0)
Saturday, 5:30 p.m.

The Players:
Staples has a stable of backs who can carry the load (Joey Zelkowitz, Jon Heil, Nick Kelly), but NO ONE moves the ball against Xavier. The Falcons have an historic defense that allowed just eight points per game on the season, including three shutouts. Senior linebacker Jovan Santos is legitimately terrifying, racking up a team-high seven sacks, while senior defensive back Ryan Jacobucci has seven interceptions (one returned for a TD).

The Prediction:
With two quality defenses on the field, I see this one staying close for most of the night. But Staples isn't diverse enough on offense to have success against the Xavier D. Look for the Falcons to crack it open in the second half, with Jacobucci making a big play to change the game, either an INT or a big reception.

Think I made a bad call? Hit me on Twitter (@ESPNHSGrimala) and let me know about it.

Football picks: State semifinals

December, 2, 2011
State football playoffs
Semifinal picks

Class LL

Xavier (11-0) vs. Norwalk (9-1)
Saturday, 2 p.m., at West Haven
If Norwalk scores two touchdowns, I would be a bit surprised. That's how well Xavier's defense is playing right now.

Staples (10-0) vs. Newtown (9-2)
Saturday, 2 p.m., at Bunnell
I feel an upset here. Newtown has proven it can score big points against good teams, and bruising senior running back Louis Fenaroli can control a game.

Class L

Masuk (11-0) vs. Daniel Hand (11-0)
Saturday, 7 p.m., at West Haven
Masuk has so many offensive weapons that the Panthers' defense tends to get overlooked. But the D can play, and I think they'll come up big in this game.

Windsor (11-0) vs. New Canaan (10-1)
Saturday, 2 p.m., at East Haven
New Canaan's only loss this season came to Stamford, when senior quarterback Matt Milano was knocked out of the game early. Milano's back at 100 percent now, and the offense has averaged 39.3 points in the last three contests. I think New Canaan wins a shootout to set up a rematch of last year's Class L title game.

Class M

Ansonia (11-0) vs. Berlin (10-1)
Saturday, 2 pm. at Sheehan
Berlin will need a huge game from senior running back Tom Undercuffler to hang in this one, and even that might not be enough. Ansonia's running game is absolutely rolling right now.

Ledyard (10-1) vs. Wolcott (8-3)
Saturday, 2 p.m., at Middletown
Wolcott junior quarterback Mike Nicol is one of the most dangerous dual threats left in the tournament (1,652 pass yards, 17 TDs; 911 rush yards, 14 TDs), but I think Ledyard can contain him. Look for Ledyard senior RB Alex Manwaring to out-produce Nicol and help the Colonels control the clock.

Class S

Northwest Catholic (9-2) vs. Cromwell (9-2)
Saturday, 2 p.m., at Cheshire
After knocking off top-seeded Capital Prep on Tuesday, Cromwell is rolling. The trio of senior QB Anthony Morales, junior RB Derrick Villard and senior WR Michael Antonio will be too much for Northwest Catholic.

Holy Cross (10-1) vs. Valley Regional (10-1)
Saturday, 2 p.m., at Meriden
The Crusaders will need a huge game from senior linebacker Anthony Jamele (6.5 sacks this season) in order to advance.

Think I made a bad call? Hit me on Twitter (@ESPNHSGrimala) and let me know what I got wrong.