We’re only a week or so into fall practices. We’re still gathering info and still short on details. A lot can change over the next three weeks as we learn more and more about our 2011 high school football contestants.
By no means is this a definitive preview. But it’s worth taking a quick glance at our regional conferences and attempt to tackle the important issues facing our local teams. We won’t have all the answers, but we’ll give it a shot.
We’ll start on the Gold Coast and work our way east.
Who’s best team in the FCIAC?
With all due respect to defending league champion Darien, New Canaan was the league’s best team in 2010.
In fact, the Rams have been the class of the league for at least four years running. They’ve reached five straight state championship games, won four state championships, earned a No. 1 ranking in 2008.
Every time we’d wonder if they could dominate again. Every year, they do.
So we’ll ask again: Is this the year New Canaan is usurped as the king of the FCIAC?
We’ll say this much: With a roster that includes Matt Milano (above), the school’s first incumbent quarterback since Curtis Casali in 2006, and quality returning stars in Patrick Newton (right), Kevin McDonough, Tom Rochlin, Dylan Leeming, Connor Kilbane, and Bobby Distler, the Rams look like the most talented and experienced team in the league.
Of all the graduated stars, losing do-everything WR/DB Kevin Macari hurts the most. But so was losing Kurt Ondash after 2008 and Charlie Westfal in 2007, and so on.
And then there’s the schedule. It’s a bakery until season’s end.
We’d be shocked if this team loses more than one regular-season game. That would put them right in the mix for FCIAC and state playoff berths.
[Who do you think will be the best team in the FCIAC? Vote in the poll at right]
OK, can anyone knock off the Rams?
While Trumbull, Staples and Darien all suffered significant graduation losses, they’re looking like the best bets right now.
Trumbull, the FCIAC and Class LL runners-up, bring back studs in RB/LB Don Cherry (left) and OL/DL Zach Voytek. The rest are talented, but virtual no-names who will be counted on to replace the likes of Phil Terio, Ian Milne, Tom Pauciello, Brian Gallo and Matt Lena.
Staples has standout junior Nick Kelly back from injury and QB Jack Massie, a sophomore with big-game, playoff experience on his side. While there’s some gaping holes in the infrastructure to mend (Pat Murray, Rob Gau, Chris Coyne, Tyler Jacobs), the Wreckers typically find a way.
Trumbull plays New Canaan in the regular season (Week 9) so they’ll get first crack. Staples won’t face New Canaan unless they reach the FCIAC title game.
How about arch-nemesis Darien, the actual defending FCIAC champions? Though seriously depleted by graduation, the Blue Wave are hoping to reload quickly for another title run. Junior Peter Gesualdi returns in the backfield, there’s plenty of talent at receiver and a growing buzz over 6-foot-3 QB Henry Baldwin. Defense is Darien’s concern. If the Wave can shore up the weak spots early, they’ll be in great shape to contend. The road to the Turkey Bowl is no picnic this year. Trumbull awaits in Week 5. Staples in Week 7.
Who’s lurking in the shadows?
You’re going to hear a lot about Stamford this season. Many of last year’s stars return from a squad that rebounded from an 0-2 start to finish 6-4, including an upset of Trumbull. QB Bryan Boderick leads a hungry group anxious to sink their teeth into a bigger chunk of FCIAC meat. Stamford has dropped into FCIAC Central and the schedule isn’t as foreboding as it once was.
And, yes, they will get a crack at New Canaan in Week 8. But that’s still a ways off.
We’re not saying they’ll be in the FCIAC championship game. This team still must learn how to win. But it’s worth watching. Closely.
Others to consider — Ridgefield: The Tigers won’t have Tommy Jordan to run behind, but they do have enough returning talent to correct the ills of last season. Ridgefield’s schedule isn’t too daunting. If they can get by a Week 1 date at Greenwich, the Tigers might be pretty decent. McMahon: Lots of talented skill players return from a solid 6-4 team. The schedule’s rough, but they might be capable of an upset or two. Central: The Hilltoppers are typically deep with some experience returning. But they’re still looking for some superstars to lead them back to playoff form. Danbury: While underwhelming at times a year ago, the Hatters have a supremely talented backfield in Villanova commit Austin Calitro, and Aaron Dixon. They’ll be tough if the offensive line comes along.
We’re still wondering about how Norwalk will fare under new coach Sean Ireland, or Fairfield Warde, now in Year 3 of the Duncan Della Volpe era (big lineman Mike Money is getting some looks), Trinity Catholic, Wilton and the others.
Who’s going to fall the hardest?
That’s a hanging curveball:
Everybody’s gone from the two-time defending state champion. Everybody… even incumbent QB Joe Burns, who’s ditched the pads for a budding baseball career (with two state championship rings on his fingers, who can blame him?)
It’s a brand new team with an all new cast of characters. No Matakevich, no Joe Della Vecchia, no Pat Mulligan, Quinn Irwin, Sean Chinova, L.J. Hunt…
Oof. We’re sure there are some good players anxious to prove something. But if this team breaks even this year, we’ll be impressed.
The coaching staff knew this was coming. With two new championship banners hanging in the gymnasium, we’re sure they don’t mind too much.
Should we still ‘Fear The Bird?’
If you’re most FCIAC teams, yes. Greenwich is Greenwich, even if the mystique has dimmed these last few seasons.
But there’s work to do if the Cards want to get back to the halcyon days of spreading fear and loathing across the FCIAC. Greenwich is coming off a 5-5 season, its worst record in over 40 years.
The Cards do have a few standouts, particularly with linebacker tandem Shane Nastahowski and Kyle Camacho and returning QBs Liam O’Neil (the incumbent) and Chris Daly (the challenger). There were plenty of underclassmen who saw playing time and begrudgingly took their licks last season. Somebody’s bound to make a difference, right?
With some of the contenders falling back a bit, Greenwich is a better bet than most to fill the vacuum. The schedule isn’t overwhelming. We’ll find out plenty about the Cards when they play host to Ridgefield Week 1.
Incidentally, Greenwich has been having problems with toxic fields around the school. Cardinal Stadium is fine, but it might have to be shared. All this and more from Greenwich Time: Greenwich football team opens practice
Hey! My team’s only playing nine games. What gives?
Yeah, bye weeks have been a problem since the league grew to 19 teams in 2005. The problem is compounded when the nine open dates rotate back to the big schools every two years.
The big schools have always found it tougher to fill byes than smaller ones. There aren’t many schools in Connecticut with matching bye weeks and, sometimes, the ones that do aren’t up to the challenge. It forces teams to go out of state or, worse, leave the date unfilled.
Right now, Trumbull (Catholic Memorial, Mass., Week 1), Danbury (at Fitch, Week 2), Westhill (at Franklin, Mass., Week 5), and Central (at North Haven, Week 7) have filled their bye weeks.
That leaves Staples (Week 4), Stamford (Week 6), Greenwich (Week 3), Harding (Week 9) and Norwalk (Week 8 ) still looking for opponents.
Harding might still have a shot to hook up with Bullard-Havens during FCIAC championship week (they’ve done it before).
But the rest probably won’t find games.
There was some chatter that Greenwich might match up with Sacred Heart-Waterbury in Week 3. But the two schools couldn’t work it out.
Staples lined up with Wilbur Cross in Week 4, but the Governors opted to keep the date open and play NFA the week before Thanksgiving.
So there you go.
Speaking of Schedules…
As mentioned, Staples now resides in the FCIAC West along with Stamford, Greenwich, Trumbull, Westhill and Central.
Stamford dropped into Staples’ former spot in the FCIAC Central with Norwalk, McMahon, Ridgefield, Harding and Fairfield Ludlowe.
Also: We understand there is a deal in the works that could match the FCIAC and the SCC together when the state allows an 11-game schedule in 2013 and 2014. That wouldn’t solve the current bye quandary, but it would at least guarantee one bye week filled.
NEXT: THE SWC