TRUMBULL — The St. Joseph football team won the Class S title two years ago. It jumped up to the M division last season and repeated.
So will the pattern continue as the Cadets continue the climb and compete in Class L? It is an extremely difficult division, with returning champion Daniel Hand, the addition of New Canaan and a number of other potential top 10 teams.
The Cadets have a lot back, especially on defense. With a new quarterback and secondary, and a rebuilt offensive line, there is some uncertainty, but mostly optimism.
The song remained the same at St. Joseph last season. After the offense was shut down in a 22-7 loss to Darien in the third week, the Cadets rolled off 10 straight wins. They scored at least 42 points in all but one game, 171 in the state playoffs, capped off by a 70-18 win over Berlin in the final.
The most prominent player on the team, quarterback David Summers, had another dominant year but has moved on to Syracuse.
The offense was so good that it took attention away from the defense, which arguably was the better unit. The Cadets gave up just 86 points. There were 40 sacks and 122 tackles for losses. St. Joseph spent as much time in opponents’ backfields as the quarterbacks and running backs it defended.
The scary part is a bulk of the defense returns.
“Same feeling, same goals, still trying to win games, get back to the state playoffs,” said receiver Will Diamantis on the eve of the new season.
It is arguable where to start when discussing the current state of the Cadets: the front seven or the new quarterback. We will start with the front seven, which I think opens as the best unit on any team in the FCIAC, and a reason to consider St. Joseph as the preseason No. 1 in the league.
The line, with All-State tackle Jermaine Williams, an immovable force, Mike Morrissey, who had nine sacks, and Caden Porter will make the Cadets extremely difficult to run on and provide an explosive pass rush.
“They’re as good as any three around,” St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia said. “They are high energy guys.”
The linebacking unit, led by Alex Pagliarini (8 1/2 sacks), Cole DaSilva (six sacks) and Dennis Rotunno, is equally formidable.
“They were tremendous last year,” Della Vecchia said of the players that will stuff the box. “That’s the strength of our defense right there.”
The backfield is inexperienced but not a concern for Della Vecchia.
“Our secondary guys, they are getting better every year,” Della Vecchia said.
The other news is Jack Wallace, one of the stars of the defensive backfield, taking over for Summers. At 5-10, he will bring a different dynamic.
“He was the backup last year. He didn’t play very much at all. He was the next man in line,” Della Vecchia said. “He had a great summer for us. He’s a great athlete. He started two years in the secondary for us. He’s a competitor. He brings a lot to the table. It’s hard when you lose a two-time All-Stater in David and he’s the new guy replacing him. He knows the offense, he’s been working at it and he’s getting better every day.”
Wallace will be helped by a number of playmakers, starting with Jaden Shirden, a gamebreaking running back. A four-year starter, Shirden had 1,744 total yards a year ago. Wallace will have two strong targets in Diamantis, a 1,000-yard receiver, and Brady Hutchinson, who missed the first half of last season due to injury.
“Jaden is one of the top backs around,” Della Vecchia said. “Diamantis had a great year last year. Brady missed the first half of the year and when he came back it changed the dynamic of the team.”
The offensive line has two starters back, but two of the three players stepping in saw considerable time a year ago.
“The guys are looking very good, offensively and defensively,” Diamantis said. “Jack Wallace is putting everything together at quarterback. Brady coming back from his injury. Defensively, the D-Line is coming back, the linebackers. We are looking good right now.”
Player To Watch
Offensive Line. “I think it is going to be our offensive line as a group,” Della Vecchia said of a group that includes Nick DiIorio, Chris Kiley, Ken Martin, Dennis Elrod and Brian Robertson. We’ve been undersized and undermanned most of the time. Those guys so far are a little ahead of where we thought they’d be. We’re happy with them. You never know with the new guys coming in. There’s a lot of guys that have an opportunity to step up and make a name for themselves.”
The Cadets have all the pieces aligned for another title run, especially if Wallace plays as well as the team believes. But the schedule has big changes.
Besides New Canaan, they have Notre Dame-West Haven and Fairfield Prep on the non-league schedule.
Then there is the jump up to Class L, which is loaded and will be a much more difficult for the Cadets to navigate.
Diamantis said the players are ready.
“We already play LL teams, L teams during the regular season,” Diamantis said. “It just gets us even more prepared for the playoffs.”
Sept. 13 at Brien McMahon 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 NOTRE DAME-WEST HAVEN 7 p.m.
Sept. 27 at Wilton 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 at New Canaan 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 at Fairfield Prep 6 p.m.
Oct. 26 RIDGEFIELD 1 p.m.
Nov. 2 FAIRFIELD WARDE 1:30 p.m.
Nov. 16 STAPLES 1:30 p.m.
Nov. 22 at Stamford 7 p.m.
Nov. 28 TRUMBULL 10:30 a.m.