Grip It & Rip It Provides Some Early Impressions On FCIAC Teams

Norwalk’s AJ Hall catches a touchdown pass during Grip it & Rip It on Friday. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

NEW CANAAN — Seven on 7 football, to many, is a polarizing entity. There are those who decry the absence of linemen as making it little more than backyard pickup games. There are the proponents who point to the chemistry developed between quarterbacks and receivers.

Many coaches are in the middle: the most repeated quote is that while it is not real football, it is the closest form of simulation so that it can be closer to other sports that are able to go year-round. They also point to the bonding between teammates, which from my experiences appears to be a real attribute.

New Canaan held its annual 7 on 7 tournament last weekend. It had grown into the biggest in the northeast, and likely will regain that stature next year. But because of work that is just starting to install turf on surrounding fields at the high school, the event was limited to Dunning Field, which meant just two games at once and an overall field of 16 teams, less than half from the peak of a few years ago.

Darien’s Max Grant reaches for a pass. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

This year’s format was definitely more media friendly. We didn’t have to walk around to check out the seven FCIAC teams that participated. I have always enjoyed the event. I explain it as the preseason to the preseason, a chance to check out some players, talk to coaches and get a little insight into the teams. It is more about the networking than the wins and losses.

I got a chance to watch all seven teams on Friday. Here are some initial impressions, most of which will have a very short shelf live — until training camps open next month.

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— I didn’t need the 7 on 7 for this one, though it was slightly reinforced: if I had to pick a preseason top five in the league right now, New Canaan would get my vote for No. 1. That is based on the Rams having more familiar faces at this point, and a settled quarterback situation. It would be foolish to dismiss two-time defending state champion Darien, though it must replace quarterback Brian Peters and four-fifths of its outstanding offensive line.

Right now senior Jack Joyce and sophomore Peter Graham, whose brother Tim had a pretty distinguished career for the Blue Wave, appear to be the leading candidates. We may not yet know the names that will be new to the lineup, but history tells us they are usually top-stock players. And word is this is another title-worthy collection.

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The Rams, who will be looking for a fifth straight state title, should be strong on the line, have Drew Pyne back for his second year at quarterback, are deep at receiver and will have a formidable defense. It is too early to tell which other teams will be atop the standings, though I suspect Class M finalist St. Joseph will be one of them.

So New Canaan gets my vote for No. 1 team in the league…for July.


— St. Joseph’s new quarterback, Fairfield Warde transfer David Summers, looked sharp and throws a nice ball. He won’t back lacking for weapons, and the Cadets tend to do pretty well turning over offensive linemen.

— Another quarterback to keep an eye on is Greenwich’s Gavin Muir. The Cardinals were unbeaten in pool play Friday, which is significant only in that Muir seems to have developed good timing with his receivers. Henry Saleeby hopes to be healthy for a full season, and Jeremiah Harris is a name to remember.

New Canaan quarterback Drew Pyne delivers a pass. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

— Wide receiver is going to be a position of strength in the conference. Returning are two All-FCIAC players: St. Joseph’s Jared Mallozzi and Norwalk’s AJ Hall. Also back is Quintin O’Connell, who led New Canaan in receiving as a sophomore.

— A team that won’t be in the title hunt but earned a lot of praise from opposing coaches was Fairfield Ludlowe, and not just because of its sharp new uniforms and helmets. Former Darien offensive coordinator Mitch Ross’ fingerprints are all over the Falcons already after just a few months, as he prepares for his first season.

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Ludlowe looked to be more timing based on offense. Josh Evans will be at quarterback. It remains to be seen what that will will mean in terms of wins and losses, but it is unlikely any team in the league will have a more different appearance than the Falcons.

— One team with the potential to be intriguing on offense is Norwalk. The Bears lost just one starter on the offensive line and have a number of breakaway threats. The unknown is sophomore quarterback Kyle Gordon.

— Greenwich earned a state playoff berth last season, and to make a return it will need contributions from a number of young players who will be put into important roles. One gets the sense that coach John Marinelli and his seniors are being poker-faced about holding a strong hand.

— Stamford was the most difficult team at the 7 on 7 to get a read on, but the Black Knights will not be lacking for speed on offense.