GREENWICH — The Greenwich football team hit all the right notes last year in rolling — quite literally — to a state championship.
Can the Cardinals repeat? It is hard to say no, but there are so many question marks right now that until we see the team on the field they are a little hard to get a read on. Will they merely be very good or great once again?
Can a season get any more perfect than what the Cardinals accomplished? Sure, there were the 13 straight wins, Class LL title and No. 1 ranking in the state. But the manner in which it was achieved was the essence of dominance. The closest win was by 29 points. That 29-0 win over Staples was the only time Greenwich failed to top 30 points. Forty points was reached nine times; 50 on five occasions.
Defensively, there were just two games when an opponent scored more than seven points, with the high being 14 in a regular-season game against New Canaan. The Cardinals posted six shutouts and allowed just three points on two other occasions.
Quarterback Gavin Muir and defensive end Mozi Bici both won Player of the Year awards, fitting because it was difficult to tell which side of the ball had the greater success.
Often times the Cardinals found their greatest competition at practice. It was the culmination of four years of hard work by coach John Marinelli, in getting the numbers out, laying a foundation and being innovative on and off the field.
If the Cardinals were searching for a theme song this preseason, David Bowie’s Changes would be a perfect choice. Where to start?
Obviously with Marinelli, who is fulfilling a dream at the college level, as an assistant at Arizona. It is hard to discount the size of the loss, and how much Marinelli accomplished in a short period of time. His fingerprints were on every part of the program.
Fortunately the rest of the staff for the most part has remained intact, with Anthony Morello being elevated to head coach. Morello grew up in town and played at the school, so he is equipped for the pressures that come with the position.
“It’s going great,” Morello said of the transition. “I love every second of it and being out here with the guys is as normal as it gets. There is more that goes behind the scenes and making sure everyone is prepared for the day but once I get out to practice it is football.”
The rest of the staff is almost the same, a testament to the respect for Morello and the unity that was established.
On the field will be a number of new faces on both sides of the ball. Junior James Rinello is expected to be the quarterback for the opener against Danbury in nine days.
“James has stepped up,” Morello said. “He’s the frontrunner for the job. We haven’t made a formal announcement yet. He’s taken a leadership position on and off the field. I like what I’m seeing in practice. I like his mentality. He keeps getting better.”
The Cardinals have a number of dangerous playmakers. A.J. Barber put on a show in the state championship win over New Canaan at receiver and will play a larger role. The loss of running back Tysen Comizio will be filled by committee, with a healthy Jack Warren, Spencer Hartley and Hunter Clark.
“It is going pretty good,” Hartley said. “We’ve progressed a lot. We’re getting better and better every practice. It’s definitely a little weird because we’ve been playing together the last two years. Now those seniors left and we have a lot of spots to fill.”
The offensive line is almost entirely new, anchored by Callum Abernethy.
“We have to find ways to get our skill guys the ball and we have to be creative in that aspect,” Morello said. “Up front we’re young and we’re going to be young all year. Coach the kids up and how fast they progress as linemen will dictate how much we can do offensively, but right now I’m just concentrating on getting these guys better and ready for week one.”
The defense will rely on a number of players that have been waiting to showcase their skills. One constant is Eddy Iuteri on the line.
“There are a lot of new players defensively anchored by Eddy Iuteri on the defensive line, who has given us fits in practice every day,” Morello said. “We’re the same coaching staff and that coaching staff is preaching the same philosophies it did last year and years before that, so we’re confident that our defense will be just as good if not better than last year.”
Player To Watch
Will Montesi. Montesi is a junior defensive end and tight end who Morello feels is ready to have a breakout season.
“Will was talked about a little bit last year,” Morello said. “He got involved a little on the offensive side of things as the season wore on but I think he’s a name you are really going to hear on offense and defense. He does it all. He’s definitely a kid to look out for.”
The Cardinals will remain at an elite level, but are they championship stock? It is hard to get a read on them right now. They will be dependent on more than a number of players that saw time in the second halves of blowouts. That does not mean a big fall is inevitable; depth has been one of the program’s best features. But as far as preseason predictions, it is difficult at this point to get an accurate read.
A number of people have said they expect Greenwich to be the fourth-best team in the league, behind St. Joseph, New Canaan and Darien. Certainly that is not how the Cardinals view themselves.
“Expectations are the same,” Morello said. “We just want to play Greenwich football and we want to play hard, aggressive football. We want to be classy, we want to be strong at all facets of the game and not miss a beat.”
Sept. 14 DANBURY 4 p.m.
Sept. 20 at Trumbull 7 p.m.
Sept. 27 NORWALK 7 p.m.
Oct. 3 at Bridgeport Central 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 WESTHILL 3 p.m.
Oct. 26 DARIEN 4 p.m.
Nov. 2 at Trinity/Wright Tech 1:30 p.m.
Nov. 8 at Fairfield Ludlowe 6 p.m.
Nov. 16 RIDGEFIELD 4 p.m.
Nov. 28 at Staples 10 a.m.