Rand is healthy again, playing key role for Valley/OL in Class SS football playoffs

Dec. 4—DEEP RIVER — Jake Rand has been exasperated whenever he's seen articles this season with pictures taken of him last year playing for the Valley Regional/Old Lyme football team.

Those pictures were taken when Rand had returned to the lineup after missing a month due to mononucleosis and losing 20 pounds because from it it. And that came after he missed time due to COVID-19, and before suffering a season-ending hand injury.

Rand is back this season and he and the Warriors are so happy about it. The senior co-captain has been their leading rusher and helped them reach the CIAC Class SS semifinals where they'll host the seventh-seeded Gilbert/Northwestern/Housatonic co-op on Sunday at 12:30 p.m.

"It's kind of a joke now," Rand said about last season's struggles. "This offseason, coach (Hill Gbunblee) kept saying, 'You rested. You rested enough last year.'"

Rand didn't play much football the previous two years. The 2020 season was canceled due to the pandemic. He played in the team's first scrimmage during the summer of 2021 and tested positive for COVID the next day. He said he didn't feel any adverse effects, but was forced to sit two weeks.

Rand returned, practiced for three days. .... and then came down with mono.

"I remember coming back from COVID and coach was like, 'oh, it's a bump in the road. Let's go,'" Rand said. "Then I had to tell him I had mono. It was the worst feeling because I had to tell him I was going to be out for another month.

"I was maybe awake for like two hours a day for like a whole week (from mono). It was terrible."

Rand missed the Warriors' first three games and returned a month later. And 20 pounds lighter.

"I was 155 (pounds)," Rand said. "I was so skinny. Like, God, I lost all my progress over the summer from lifting."

Rand played his first game against CREC on Oct. 23, 2021, then the next three. It was during Valley/Old Lyme's ninth game that he broke his hand. The team finished 4-6.

Asked if, by that point, he began questioning why all of this was happening to him, Rand said, "I was so mad. ... I played four games and then broke my hand. I was angry. I didn't know what to do."

Rand, as one might guess, was incredibly motivated for his senior year.

"My hand was better, probably like January, February when I actually started lifting a lot again," Rand said. "March was when I was bigger, back to like where I was. And then from March to the start of this season, I worked out every single day. Like, in the summer, every single morning I was here at 7 a.m. working out with Coach Hill."

The sixth-seeded Warriors finished 9-1 during the regular season. Their loss was to top-seeded Cromwell/Portland, 28-27, on Oct. 28.

Rand ran for a 26-yard touchdown and scored on a 55-yard interception return in last Tuesday's 26-13 win at No. 3 Foran.

"(He) was honestly the missing link last year," Gbunblee said. "You can tell the difference (in the team). If you looked at our games last year, we didn't really have a running back."

The Yellowjackets (9-2) had arguably last Tuesday's most impressive quarterfinal win as they routed No. 2 Windham, 34-0. The Whippets hadn't scored less than 20 points during the regular season but its high-powered rushing attack was held to 85 yards on 32 carries.

Gilbert/Northwestern/Housatonic runs the majority of the time and is led by senior Fred Camp, a 2021 Class M All-State running back. He's rushed for 1,075 yards and 19 touchdowns on just 99 carries, caught nine passes for 353 yards and five touchdowns, has six interceptions (three of which he returned for touchdowns), and has scored twice on punt returns and once on a kickoff. He's also thrown two touchdown passes.

The Yellowjackets moved from the Pequot Football Conference (where the Warriors play) to the Naugatuck Valley League this season. They were one just a few teams that gave Ansonia trouble, leading early in the fourth quarter before losing, 30-20 (Sept. 30). Ansonia (11-0) is ranked No. 10 in The Day's coaches' poll and the top seed in Class S.