Football

Preseason Primer: A New Coach At Greenwich, A New Quarterback At Staples

AJ Barber had a big game in Greenwich’s Class LL championship win over New Canaan. (Matt Dewkett)

Football is back at New Canaan, St. Joseph, Staples, Norwalk, Ridgefield, Stamford, Wilton and Trinity Catholic/Wright Tech, the eight teams that did not partake in spring football. They had their first conditioning practices today. The FCIAC’s nine other members will join them on Friday.

The clock is counting down until the opening games on Sept. 13.

This has been a quieter offseason compared to recent ones in terms of breadth of news, but the changes that were made included some significant headliners.

As we focus our attention back to the fields, here is a preseason primer to get you caught up and looking ahead.

— The biggest news came out of Greenwich, which when last seen defeated New Canaan to win the Class LL title, complete an undefeated season and earn the No. 1 ranking in the state.

The Cardinals lost their top offensive and defensive players, quarterback Gavin Muir and defensive end Mozi Bici, to graduation. Then, in June, head coach John Marinelli stepped down to take a job as an offensive assistant at the University of Arizona.

Marinelli’s impact in his four seasons extended beyond the championship and the previous season’s trip to the state final. Marinelli laid down the infrastructure for sustained success. The numbers in the program make most opposing coaches salivate with jealousy.

Marinelli also brought youthful innovation, from practice drills to technology.

Jake Thaw will be moved around on offense after playing quarterback last year for Staples. (John Nash)

Taking over the program is running backs coordinator Anthony Morello, with tethered roots in Greenwich but somewhat of an unknown outside of town. Morello has been set up as well as any successor to a state championship coach. Almost the entire staff returns, including offensive coordinator Dac Newton and defensive coordinator Bryan Hocter. It is a testament to the closeness of the team Marinelli put together, and the respect the other assistants have for Morello.

Greenwich lost a number of important starters but has a lot of talent returning. It will also be fun to watch dynamic receiver AJ Barber, the breakout star of the state final.

The Cardinals will be more interesting than your average defending champion.

— Morello is not the only new coach in the FCIAC. Adam Behrends, an assistant coach with the IMG Academy football program in Florida, takes over at Staples and Thomas Broschardt is the coach of the Trinity Catholic/Wright Tech Co-Op.

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Broschardt and his Trinity players have been treated like yo-yos by an administration that doesn’t know much about athletics, but the bigger long-term issue is enrollment. At least there will be a team this season — and hopefully for many more.

Also of note, there were seven coaching changes last offseason. Fairfield Ludlowe’s Mitch Ross, about to start his third season, is a grizzled veteran.

— Is there anyone that can make a run at the big four — Greenwich, New Canaan, St. Joseph and Darien — that have dominated the league? The Cadets are also coming off a championship season. Right now it doesn’t appear that way but it is premature to make any predictions until better learning the personnel.

One coach recently told me if he had to rank the four he would do so in this order: St. Joseph, New Canaan, Darien and Greenwich.

— The favorite to break into the top tier based on last year is Staples, which finished 7-3 but was 6-1 before a tough three-point loss to the Cadets. The Wreckers have one of the biggest personnel changes involving a returning player.

Jake Thaw, last year’s quarterback, will be used at a number of different positions on offense, Behrends said, as well as on defense to take advantage of his versatility.

Jackson Zager, a Westport resident who had been playing at IMG, and Kyle Chamberlin will battle for the starting quarterback spot.

As far as other possible contenders, based on history you cannot discount Ridgefield and Trumbull. Norwalk is a possible sleeper. And Fairfield Ludlowe has a much more difficult schedule coming off a Cinderella season.

— New Canaan, which jumped up to Class LL last year, is back at L, joined by St. Joseph, which is making the climb from Class M. It will be a loaded class.

— The FCIAC season has opened with fireworks the past two years. St. Joseph knocked off New Canaan on both opening weeks, while Darien and Ridgefield was another matchup of top teams.

Don’t count on the same blast this year. The seven games involving FCIAC schools at this point appear to have a prohibitive favorite.

New Canaan, Wilton and Westhill play non-league opponents. The Rams travel to New London, which was 5-5.