Head coach Larry Badaracco and his New Milford High School football players are well aware of the lackluster history of their program.

They’ve probably heard the same stories a million times, that in roughly 50 years of competition, the Green Wave have never played in a state tournament game.

Since the South-West Conference was formed in 1995, the Wave have played in one conference title game, the 2001 final, and lost.

And in the last five seasons, the Wave have gone 17-36 under three different head coaches, including 3-8 last year in Badaracco’s season first at the helm.

However, Badaracco and Company can’t change the program’s history.

But they can change its future.

And they’ve worked tirelessly during the offseason with the hopes of doing just that.

“As a 3-8 New Milford football team, we have no respect. We’re just trying to get some, and we’re working for it,” Badaracco said.

Last season was a bit of a roller-coaster ride for the Wave. It lost its first three games, then won its next three to even its record, then lost its last five, capped by a 36-14 defeat at the hands of rival New Fairfield.

“Pretty much, the day after we lost to New Fairfield was when our season started,” senior lineman Brian Santivanez said. “We were in the weight room all of December. We went to a weight-lifting competition and got second, so we proved the other teams wrong and showed who New Milford really is. Then we went to camp and proved those teams wrong.”

And Badaracco has certainly liked what he has seen. He took over last year after John Murphy’s one year at the helm, and in spite of the 3-8 record, Badaracco saw progress last year.

“The entire coaching staff, we laid a foundation of what the expectation is to be successful,” he said. “Hard work comes first and you build off of that. Nothing is going to be given to us. We don’t have a reputation of being a powerhouse football team. We need to work harder than everybody else, and I think that we’re accomplishing that.”

Most importantly, it looks like the players are picking up what Badaracco is putting down.

“Coming off all the offseason lifts and morning runs, we have great sophomores, great juniors and great seniors coming in, and we have a great coaching staff. There’s nothing more I could ask for,” junior offensive tackle/defensive end Alex Pitser said. “Hands down, the hardest working team in the SWC.”

Cannon-armed senior quarterback Tyler Hansen (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) is back to call the signals again this season. He completed 124 of 255 passes for 2,135 yards and 30 touchdowns last season with nine interceptions. He also led the team in rushing with 87 carries for 585 yards and seven scores. As impressive as Hansen’s statistics are, his impact on the team goes way beyond the numbers.

“It’s great for us because he’s able to teach a lot of the younger kids,” Badaracco said. “He gets on them, and he’s a real leader in terms of being on point with all that. He really knows this offense inside and out. This is his third year in it and he controls the whole deal. He’s a heck of an athlete, there’s no way around it. And you’ve got these other guys rallying around him and working hard.”

Among Hansen’s targets this year are senior receiver Matt Ryan, who caught 38 passes for 615 yards and 14 touchdowns last year, and senior Jackson Olson, who caught 24 passes for 342 yards and four scores, along with junior Liam Kenny, senior Max Vaughey and junior Craig Shanahan. Senior Jake Plancon and junior Ryan Christopher both proved to be effective when catching the ball and when running with it. The speedy Plancon rushed for 231 yards and a touchdown last year and caught 15 passes for 130 yards and a score. Christopher ran for 56 yards and two touchdowns and caught four passes for 59 yards as a sophomore. Badaracco said he’ll stick with the spread offense again this year.

“I think we’re extremely prepared this year. We have a lot of returning starters,” Hansen said. “We’re not happy with last year’s record, so this is the year we’re turning it around.”

The offensive line, of course, is what makes everything tick, and the Wave has an experienced group up front this year, led by Pitser (6-2, 210) at left tackle, Santivanez (5-10, 190) at left guard, senior Matt Carlson (6-1, 210) at center, senior Dallas Kelly (5-10, 255) at right guard and senior Chris Ryan (6-1, 200) at right tackle.

“The key for is is, up front, those kids put in a ton of work,” Badaracco said. “We weren’t even in the ballpark of being physically dominant up front last year. This year, those kids took it personally and they really came out strong.”

Defensively last year, New Milford allowed 352 points in 11 games for an average of about 33 points per game. However, in its three victories, the Wave defense was dominant and allowed only 20 combined points.

“Defensively, we gave up a ton of points last year and we weren’t nearly as fiundamentally sound as we wanted to be,” Badaracco said. “We’ve worked really hard in the offseason to get our young kids up to speed and to play at a high level.”

Senior Brett Leonard is back at his linebacker post, where he registered 76 tackles last year. Pitser (46 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and Chris Ryan (68 tackles, three sacks) will lead the defensive front. Also watch for Christopher (13 tackles, one interception) at safety and senior David Carlson at cornerback.

“I feel like we’ve worked harder than any other team in the SWC, so heading into the season, we’re a step ahead,” Chris Ryan said. “We’re looking good.”