NEW CANAAN — When the new starting running back for the New Canaan football team needs advice from the injured player he has replaced, Matt Cognetta does not have far to search.
Guidance is just a couple of bedrooms away.
“He’s always on the sideline helping me, knowing the plays and hitting holes the right way,” said Matt, referring to his older brother, Frank.
As the Rams prepare for Saturday’s homecoming game against Greenwich, there have already been a number of storylines starting to shape their season. One involves the Cognetta family, which has a number of its own storylines.
Frank was a major contributor a year ago to New Canaan’s 14-1 finish and FCIAC and Class L championships. He led the team with 1,225 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.
Frank, a senior, broke his foot during a 7 on 7 tournament the team hosted in July. As he heals — the hope is for a return in the next few weeks — Matt, a junior, earned the starting job and rushed for 98 yards in a season-opening win over Daniel Hand.
That’s just part of the narrative. Matt’s twin, Mike, is a starting defensive back who had 11 tackles against Hand and a fumble recovery that secured the win.
“It has obviously been frustrating,” Frank said. “As a captain and a senior, you hate to start your season on the sideline and watching your team, but in that frustration I think we found something out, and that is we have two juniors in my brothers who can step up and be just as good.”
As for having his replacement being someone he shares a bathroom with, Frank added, “It is a little odd, but I think I knew somewhere deep down that this is where he would end up because both Matt and Mike have a tremendous around of talent. They were destined for this spot.”
The same can be said for a deep junior class that has helped fill vital spots after the Rams were hit hard by graduation losses, especially on defense. It is a group that lost just one youth football game in the 4th through 8th grades — and that was the final one, in a championship with Darien.
The coach of those teams was the Cognetta family patriarch, Michael, who is also the president of New Canaan Youth Football.
“To get someone as dedicated to the game as he has been has helped with the continuity of our program,” said Rams coach Lou Marinelli. “I think we all work together and he’s been a big part of it. It is a very instrumental family as far as New Canaan football is concerned.”
The brothers — there is a fourth, Vincent, who plays on a 5th grade team — admit that traditional sibling rivalries have expedited their development.
“We’re always competitive between the three of us,” Mike said. “We all want to be better. I think that’s what really helps us, pushes us to make us better.”
Matt said the way he earned his starting job was a bit unusual.
“You never want to see your teammate, especially your brother, get hurt, but he’s coming back soon so we will get better,” Matt said. “It has been a little surprising. I wasn’t expecting as many carries as I got against Hand, but I did what I could.”
Mike is similarly enjoying taking advantage of increased playing time.
“It has been a lot of fun,” Mike said. “I never expected to have as much of an impact on defense. It feels great helping the team. It feels great contributing. It is really exciting. You are out there in game situations. It has been a blast.”
Marinelli said the three brothers have varied dispositions but one shared trait.
“You can’t paint them with the same brush,” Marinelli said. They definitely have different personalities. They are great guys to have on the team. They don’t say much, they are soft-spoken. The one thing they have in common is they are all very good football players.”
The brothers also share one dream: contributing to the Rams defending both titles.
“That would definitely be something special,” Frank said. “Last year we had that snow bowl victory against Darien. If we could win the FCIAC and state championships together as brothers, that would definitely be something we would never forget.”