WESTPORT — With a roster full of players who will end up with numerous individual postseason honors, including some who started the year with fuller resumes, no one on the Darien football team has received more glowing praise from coach Rob Trifone than Jack Joyce.
While the question in the summer was whether the Blue Wave’s lines would hold up, there was little talk about the change at quarterback. Joyce not only was a new starter, he had sat out almost a full year after tearing his labrum and dislocating his shoulder last September while playing cornerback, making a tackle on Stamford’s Tyrell Diaz, a 250-pound running back.
Through the offseason, and the speculation over a battle for the starting job, Trifone knew as long as he was physically able, Joyce was his guy.
“He had had a long rehab and missed most of the passing league because of it,” Trifone said. “He was totally untested but he’s such a fierce competitor and a great athlete.”
As we reach the midseason mark, a strong case can be made that Joyce right now is the most valuable player not just for Darien, but the entire FCIAC. His multi-faceted skills were on display as Joyce threw five touchdown passes in a 32-6 win over Staples.
It was the reason Trifone said he told his players at halftime they were playing with one of the best quarterbacks in the state.
“I’m not really surprised but definitely… I might be a little surprised,” Joyce said with a smile when asked to evaluate his performance through five games. “I just go out and play. I think it just comes naturally. I am having fun out there.”
Joyce was known for his speed and elusiveness — he is averaging 10 yards a carry — but his passing has been most notable. He now has 15 touchdown passes this season, often hitting his receivers in stride.
“Just using my legs, getting out the pocket, that comes easily to me,” Joyce said. “I think throwing is the thing I worked on hardest and it’s starting to show.”
Coming off a bye week, Joyce ended the Blue Wave’s second and third possessions with touchdown passes to Brian Minicus, from 36 and 15 yards, respectively.
When Darien (5-0) got the ball back on its own 31 with 1:29 left in the half, Joyce’s 41-yard keeper got the team within scoring position. A 19-yard pass to Nick Green moved the ball to Staples’ 2-yard line. After a running play was stopped short of the goal line, Trifone gave Joyce the chance to extend the lead with his arm. His 1-yard pass to Green made the score 20-0 at halftime.
“Spot on. All the time,” Trifone said of his quarterback. “Not a day goes by that he’s not on, and laser-focused too. When the practice is dragging a little bit he says, ‘Hey, let’s go.’ And he’s all business. And I love him because the 25-second clock when we use it in practice, he takes it seriously like it’s a game.”
Joyce’s fourth touchdown pass came on the fourth play of the second half, from 32 yards to Patrick Burke. The last was from 38 yards to Alex Dehmel midway through the fourth quarter.
“I think the bye week helped a lot,” Joyce said. “The coaches did a great job preparing me. I was able to prepare for a good secondary like Staples has. All the players around me get credit for the win.”
The Blue Wave now have 30 straight and should come into Thanksgiving unbeaten against a New Canaan team that could be in a position to either jump them in the state polls or in need of a win just to qualify for the state playoffs.
That is far off. Joyce has been more in rear-view mode, appreciating everything that helped put him in his current position.
“Coach T made it clear that I was the starting guy this summer,” Joyce said. “It may not have looked like that because I wasn’t 100 percent. He made it clear that I was going to start and that helped me mentally to get to where I am right now.”
It would be easy to compare Trifone to a gambler always making the right call against the spread, but he felt months ago he was making the safest bet possible.
“All year long, and Jack knows this, I said Jack was my man,” Trifone said. “There were some doubters out there, but I said, no, Jack is the man. I think it solidified in the preseason because now I saw him every day. We scrimmaged Cheshire, which is a good football team, and he picked them apart.”
Joyce said he was not fully healthy until the end of the summer. The past year was not fun. The last five weeks have been pure joy.
“It was horrible,” Joyce said of watching from the sideline. “That’s why I play with an edge in every game. I waited all season for this moment.”