Football

Grip It & Rip It Takes On Added Significance Following A Lost Season

Darien’s David Evanchick will be one of the top returning players after last year’s canceled season.

The Grip It & Rip It 7 on 7 passing tournament has become a local summer circuit staple since 2007. While the contests, played with no linemen, are ubiquitous in the offseason, the annual event at New Canaan has stood out because it is the largest one in the northeast, attracts a number of teams throughout the state and region, and is local.

Coming a year after the coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of last year’s season, this year’s Grip It & Rip It, which will be held on Friday and Saturday, takes on greater significance for the players as well as coaches.

“I don’t know how long it has been for us, about 18 months, but it’s a great way to go out, see some other teams, get to see where your team is and you get to compete against some of the best teams not just in Fairfield County but the tri-state area,” Trumbull coach Marce Petroccio said. “Do you look at it a little different, absolutely. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. It should be a great way to evaluate, have some fun with the kids and compete.”

There will be two sessions featuring 30 teams, with 12 from the FCIAC. Only St. Joseph, Danbury, Fairfield Warde and Bridgeport Central won’t be participating. New Canaan and Greenwich will field two teams.

There will be a session on Friday from 1 until 4 and a second that runs from 4:30 until 7:30. Double elimination play will start Saturday morning.

There will be two first-year coaches. Aland Joseph recently took over at Westhill. And Pat Miller succeeded Sean Ireland at Norwalk in the winter of 2020 but due to the pandemic has spent more time with his players on Zoom than in person.

“This is the first real major thing that we get to do as a team so we’re definitely excited for it,” Miller said. “Putting kids in competitive situations is obviously a big deal. The kids are excited. They’re excited to compete. They’re going to keep score, there’s going to be a tournament aspect to it. Those are things that are really, really hard to replicate during the summer. We try doing things, but there’s going to be touchdowns scored now. That’s the thing we’re going to get out of this the most, that aspect.”

Most coaches said despite the limited time on the field, they have a pretty good read on who will be starting for them on opening day. But knowledge of opponents is very limited. There were few sophomores or freshmen on All-FCIAC teams two years ago that are back.

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“Everyone has a pretty good idea on what they have and I’m sure most coaches know little about what everybody else has,” Petroccio said. “You’ll have one eye toward the competition and see exactly where they’re at.”

Norwalk has been a .500 team for almost a decade — Sean Ireland, Miller’s predecessor, had a 40-40 record over eight seasons and went 5-5 in his final one. Miller was reminded that another Norwalk coach started this spring in a similar situation. Ryan Mitchell missed what would have been his first season as the Bears’ baseball coach due to the pandemic. Last month he led his team on an emotional run to its first state title.

“Every football player that I saw after the final game said it can be done here,” Miller said.

For now, with the start of official practices for the season a month away, there will be 30 coaches at New Canaan this weekend sharing the same mindset.

“No one is going to win a state championship on Friday or Saturday but we’re all excited about it,” Petroccio said.