When John Marinelli was named the new coach at Greenwich three years ago, among the knee-jerk reactions was the vision of a coach who would take the same high-octane approach from New Canaan, where he was the offensive coordinator, and make it even more caffeinated. There was wild speculation that the Cardinals would soon be throwing the ball 70 times a game out of an offense that seldom took a break from the end of one play to the beginning of the next.
It has not happened. More so, the Cardinals are among the most balanced teams in the state, one reason they are currently ranked No. 1 in the polls and set to play for their first Class LL title in a decade on Saturday against Darien.
Marinelli has proved to be a pragmatist, in part because of the presence of running back Tysen Comizio.
“He’s the best running back I’ve had in terms of run, catch, block,” Marinelli said. “No disrespect to the great running backs I had at New Canaan and no disrespect to the great running backs I’ve had at Greenwich. He’s able to catch the ball out of the backfield, he’s able to block, he’s a power runner when he has to be a power running back, he’s a finesse runner when he has to be a finesse running back. I think it’s because of his football IQ that he knows what method to use when running the ball, when catching the ball in space.”
The numbers back up Marinelli’s praise. Comizio has rushed for 1,266 yards and 20 touchdowns, two of which came in Sunday’s semifinal win over South Windsor. Four of Comizio’s 32 receptions have also ended in scores, and he is the team’s top kick returner.
“We do run a complicated offense and the ball is not always going to you but you’re always involved,” Marinelli said. “The running back is involved in pass protection and constantly running routes. It is all encompassing, and his football IQ and his work ethic are displayed on game day.”
Comizio, a junior, arrived at Greenwich the same time as Marinelli and had a cursory knowledge of his coach’s reputation.
“I didn’t know much about Greenwich football in general,” Comizio said. “When I found out they were bringing in a young new coach I was pretty excited. I just really looked forward to meeting him.”
The Cardinals are 12-0 in large part because they don’t have any exploitable weaknesses. In light of the parity between pass and run — there have been just 30 more pass plays — the early expectations of what a Marinelli-run offense might look like now seem laughable.
Part of it is Marinelli’s pragmatism.
“Any good coach adapts to his personnel,” Marinelli said. “You’ve got to get your guys the ball. We try to get our kids in a position to be successful, and at Greenwich so far running the ball fits our team mentality and has fit our team’s personality.
Comizio has received plenty of touches, but he said that has never been a primary concern.
“I think we do a pretty good of balancing the run and pass game and I’ve been pretty happy with that,” Comizio said. “Not only run the ball, but you have to do other things like blocking or opening up lanes for wide receivers. It allows me to see a bigger picture. I can do a lot more than one thing, like running the football.”
Comizio acknowledged his personal success has been attributable to a number of factors: coaching, the unpredictability of the Cardinals’ offense and a strong offensive line.
“He’s the best running back I’ve had in terms of run, catch, block. No disrespect to the great running backs I had at New Canaan and no disrespect to the great running backs I’ve had at Greenwich.”
— Cardinals coach John Marinelli
“I’ve been playing with a lot of these guys for a long time, I know them really well and I have a lot of faith in them,” Comizio said. “They’ve been great to me all season. We have a great bond.”
Marinelli said the reason Comizio has made such an impact can be traced all the way back to the offseason, and workouts at Athletic Gaines, the training facility the Cardinals use.
“Certain kids you just know are going to be successful and Tysen in the months of January, February and March in some ways was more impressive than what he’s done in September, October and November,” Marinelli said. “He’s constantly working. Vision is huge. I’ll take a slow running back with great vision over a great running back with no vision any day. He’s got power, vision, speed and versatility. He rarely lets people bring him down with arm tackles. He’s a good student, he’s a great teammate, he’s unbelievable in the weight room. No one works harder than him and pound for pound he’s probably the strongest kid we have on the team.”
While Saturday will mark the final game for many of his teammates, Comizio will be back next season. And his best may still lie ahead.
“It feels good to know I can do my part and I have been doing my part,” Comizio said. “Basically what I do after each game is look to see what I can do better and I definitely need improvement in some areas.”