NORWALK — The Ruden Report hosted its third annual FCIAC Football Media Day on Tuesday at Bogey’s in Norwalk. Fifteen of the 17 teams were in attendance. For many of us, it was the first time to see the coaches and players from a number of schools since preseason training started.
Early September is a less than ideal time to start making bold predictions. Scrimmages are about as accurate an indicator as NFL exhibition games. We are unfamiliar with many of the new players that have been thrust into greater roles. Too much weight is often placed on tradition until the first games are played, which, with the new FCIAC schedule, except for Westhill meeting Bridgeport Central on Saturday will be delayed a week (two weeks for St. Joseph).
Ironically, as the New Haven Register prepares to release its first state poll tonight, a series of emails among voters today weighed the merits of preseason rankings. Most of us will admit, try as we might, a lot of this is all guess work right now.
We will have a much more detailed preview package coming next week. For now, a few impressions gleaned from last night.
* It was hard to find anyone willing to go out on a limb and predict an outsider other than New Canaan and Darien that will play in the 50th (and final?) league championship game. Both teams, along with St. Joseph, have been the most consistent in recent seasons. Both were hit hard by graduation but each returns a number of strong starters and have promising reserves from a year ago ready to play more prominent roles. Anyone up for the Turkey Bowl at Boyle Stadium?
* Which team could disrupt the aforementioned from happening? There seem to be three popular — albeit longshot — choices. Two are Staples and Greenwich. The Wreckers should have a strong running game and may be poised to make that large step back up to title contention. Plus, it is Staples. The Cardinals have a lot of buzz with the arrival of John Marinelli as the new coach. He is a young, progressive mind who has created the biggest jolt among coaching changes in recent memory. Plus, it is Greenwich.
* The third team, and the one getting great praise, not just locally but with state writers as well, is Trinity Catholic. It helps when you have a returning quarterback as talented as Anthony Lombardi. The Crusaders have strong pieces in all positions. The offensive line, which was young and struggled a year ago, is more seasoned. Depth remains a perennial issue. If the Crusaders stay healthy, they should at least make a run at a Class S playoff berth.
* Looking for some intriguing teams? Norwalk seems to be tied with Trinity Catholic atop the sleeper category. Danbury lost a number of playmakers but has many back, and is overcoming the late resignation of coach Mark Ecke with the elevation of assistant Alex Trasacco.
* No one knows what to expect, part 1. Curiosity remains rampant about St. Joseph’s prospects. Many of its stars from last year’s state championship team have moved on. There are so many new faces, rebuilding is the most constant word tied to the team. But rebuilding with the Cadets could be different from most other outposts.
* No one knows what to expect, part 2. I can’t recall there being more uncertainty about how teams will fare than any time in recent memory. There are so many unknowns. Some team not yet mentioned is going to surprise. Perhaps one will disappoint. It is just so hard to gauge. Filling out my top 15 ballot for the first state poll was futile. But picking a top five in the FCIAC would be almost as daunting.
* The angriest team in the league right now? Stamford, and it isn’t even close. The Black Knights lost two key transfers, most recently when Omar Fortt left last week for St. Luke’s. Coach Jamar Greene and his players feel like they were disrespected from within. It remains to be seen if a team that was an entertaining surprise a year ago has the personnel to continue at a high level, but that chip on the shoulder is extra motivation.
* We filmed a number of interviews that we will soon start rolling out over the next few days. Highlights include (I believe) the first interview together on camera with Lou and John Marinelli, New Canaan quarterback Michael Collins and Darien defensive lineman Mark Evanchick, arguably the preseason Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, respectively, discussing the season, and, in an awkward but fun moment for me interviewing two colleagues, Sean Patrick Bowley (along with Scott Ericson) moving from social media to share his distaste on camera about the FCIAC schedule that preserves the championship game. Plus contributor and Staples junior Cooper Boardman handled two interviews.