RIDGEFIELD — Tommy Jordan, the former star Ridgefield High School lineman, was working with his alma mater recently when coach Kevin Callahan asked him if he thought the Tigers used the right offense his senior year.
Jordan, whose college career at Florida was cut short by injury, according to Callahan had a succinct response: “No, we should have been in the spread.”
Better late than never. Callahan has since adopted the strategy, and this fall may be better equipped than ever to maximize it in part because of the return of three key players.
Drew Fowler was one of the FCIAC’s most proficient quarterbacks a year ago, and two of his favorite targets, Chris Longo and Collin Lowe, are also back.
The trio are the headliners of an offense that averaged over 33 points a game last season.
“As a coach it doesn’t matter if you like running the ball or passing the ball, but right now we have an offense that we can feature one or the other and we have some pretty talented kids who can catch the ball, so it’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Callahan. “It’s going to be fun to watch, that’s for sure.”
Ridgefield enters this fall in an ornery mood, dissatisfied by the label it adopted at the end of last season: the best team not to qualify for the state playoffs.
The Tigers finished 7-2, losing out on a tiebreaker by less than a point. Fowler said he was at the league championship between Darien and New Canaan when the text came in delivering the news.
“It was a dagger,” Fowler said.
Adding to the frustration: Staples, a team the Tigers defeated during the regular season, qualified for the tournament.
“I don’t care about points,” said Longo, bitterness still in his voice. “We beat them, we have the same record, we’re in.”
Ridgefield enters this season considered by many not as a sleeper but a contender, especially because Darien and New Canaan, defending state champions that have played in the last two FCIAC finals, graduated so many starters and at this point are somewhat unknown commodities.
“Right now we’re just hitting the ground running,” Longo said. “Everyone knows what they’re doing. Everyone is going hard right now.”
Fowler was one of the state’s most accurate passers a year ago, with a 69 percent completion rate. He threw for 1,917 yards, with 24 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
“He had such a solid year as a junior,” Callahan said. “His touchdowns to interceptions was phenomenal. He has such a great demeanor. He’s very smart, he takes things as he sees them, he’s very cool under pressure and he’s a good athlete. He can make some plays with his legs when he has to but the nice thing about it is he doesn’t look to do that first, he looks to throw the ball first. I’m really excited to watch him this year. He’s such a good kid and so low key I don’t worry about him getting nervous. I think he’s going to calm me down. He’s that kind of a kid.”
Longo and Lowe figure to be one of the state’s top pair of receivers. Longo, who is already getting looks from Division I schools like Boston College and Temple, led the Tigers a year ago with 50 receptions and 10 touchdowns.
Lowe, a pitcher who has given a verbal commitment to play baseball at Richmond, averaged a team-high 17.1 yards on 34 catches and added five touchdowns.
“Chris is a really talented kid, he’s made a commitment to football, and Colin is just a tremendous athlete,” Callahan said. “His future’s in baseball but he’s such a tremendous athlete and these kids come from great families, they are totally grounded and they can’t wait to get coached up and be successful.”
The two receivers admit their drive to be the best extends to going against each other in practice drills.
“We compete on the field and we’re brothers on the field but once the straps are on, the pads are on, we’re all fighting,” Longo said. “We’re trying to compete. Once we get off the field we’re all buddies again.”
Added Lowe, “Not just helping the defense out but helping each other out. We battle to make each other better. We kind of get into competitions. When you’re on the field you don’t have any friends.”
Lowe said the benefits of having a strong group back have already been evident.
“It’s really nice not having to learn all the little things and you can just jump into practice without having coaches jumping on you about the little stuff,” Lowe said. “You know what you are doing and helping the younger kids. It’s nice going against the first defense every day.”
For the Tigers to reach their goals, they will have to avoid their penchant for slow starts. They have lost their season opener every year but once since 2010 — that was in 2013, when they earned a state playoff berth. Two of the team’s toughest games open the schedule: at home against Trumbull and then a road trip to New Canaan.
All opponents will have to contend with the Tigers’ passing game. Fowler said having two go-to receivers will continue to make his job easier.
“Whoever has the better matchup, I’m keying on,” Fowler said. “It really doesn’t matter, they’re both great players. It’s a big relief for me.”