This weekend’s Grip It & Rip It tournament at New Canaan High School, although it remains the premier event in the region and close to home, will be another 7 x 7 playoff on the summer circuit for many of the players on the 12 FCIAC teams participating.
For Greenwich’s Jack Warren, it is something much more special, the end of an eight-plus-month wait to return to the field.
“I’m so excited,” Warren said. “I’ve been waiting to get out there against competition and play.”
Warren, one of the Cardinals’ top running backs, suffered a broken pelvic bone in the sixth game of the season, against Fairfield Ludlowe. Warren was reduced to watching the team’s run to the Class LL championship and No. 1 ranking in the state on crutches from the sideline.
“It was really tough the first few months because this is the first injury I’ve ever had,” Warren said. “The surgery was a big deal and all. It was tough. I just had to stay around the team to keep my mind off of it. But there was obviously a part of me that was killing to get out there. Everyone running to the middle of the field and watching everyone celebrate. You try to use that as motivation at the end of the day.”
Warren’s talents have always been appreciated by the coaching staff.
“Jack was a major part of our 12-1 year and a major part of our 13-0 year at the beginning,” said John Marinelli, who stepped down as Greenwich’s coach last month, referring to the previous two seasons. “He’s outstanding. He runs like high 4.6s, low 4.7s. He’s special.”
Friday will be Warren’s first time back on the field.
“I haven’t had any competition since Ludlowe,” Warren said. “It’s a great opportunity for me to show my hip is better.”
Playing at one of the Cardinals’ deepest positions, Warren rushed for 174 yards — an average of 6.7 a carry — and scored four touchdowns prior to the injury. He also had 142 receiving yards and two scores.
As a sophomore he had 279 total yards.
If those numbers don’t jump out, consider that last year Greenwich had four players with 30 or more carries — Warren would have been the fifth — led by decorated back Tysen Comizio.
“He’s been one of our best offensive players since he was a sophomore,” Marinelli said. “You just don’t hear about him too much because he wasn’t the one-back guy because we had Tysen. It’s easier to spread the ball when you are three and four wide all the time. If anything we had more of a touching issue. We tried to get everybody to touch it. We definitely wanted to get kids the ball to show what they can do and Jack was one of the best offensive weapons we’ve had for two years. If he can stay healthy he will have a monster, monster season.”
Warren has been on a diligent rehabilitation schedule. His biggest battle has been with patience.
“I can’t be too eager to get out there because I don’t want to push myself too hard,” Warren said. “I have to take my time with everything. I have to be super disciplined with myself. In the spring I was good about that. It’s tough having to control yourself but it’s the right thing to do. The ultimate goal is to be ready for the regular season, not for the spring game or these 7 on 7 tournaments. The first game is Sept. 14th. I’m just holding myself back and making sure everything is OK.”
Warren was selected as one of the Cardinals’ captains. It is a role where he has had a head start making an impact.
“That was awesome. I feel this is a great opportunity to show my voice,” Warren said. “I’m excited to be a captain. The season hasn’t started yet but we’ve done so much already so I feel like I’m already adjusted to being a captain, so that’s nice.”
As the Cardinals set out to defend their title, the backfield will again be a position of strength. Warren will be joined by Spencer Hartley and Hunter Clark. The three combined for 849 yards.
In a featured role with Comizio also sidelined, Hartley had 27 carries for 128 yards in a win over Ridgefield. Clark had 187 combined yards against Ridgefield and Ludlowe.
“There are three running backs that can start anywhere in the state,” Marinelli said.
Like his teammates, Warren was caught off guard when Marinelli announced that he had accepted a job on the University of Arizona coaching staff.
“I think we were all in shock for a couple of days,” Warren said. “Nobody saw it coming, especially me. It was tough but it’s the right decision by him. I’m happy for him.”
The Greenwich coaching staff will remain intact and it is possible Marinelli’s replacement will come internally.
“What Coach Marinelli did for the program, we are set up so perfectly,” Warren said. “Even though he is not here we are in great hands with the coaches we’ve got and the program we’re in. I feel really comfortable with where we’re at right now.
“I think it will be a pretty good year for us. People are looking at you as a target. Everyone knows we are top dogs this year so we have to maintain that role.”