WILTON — You have to go back six years to the last time the St. Joseph football team failed to qualify for the state playoffs, a losing season that was proved an aberration.
There have been two CIAC titles in that span and, last year, a trip to the final.
The Cadets don’t rebuild, they reload.
That appears to again be the situation again this fall, or so coach Joe Della Vecchia hopes. The Cadets have a strong nucleus back, especially at the skill positions, but must bolster the offensive line and fill some spots on defense.
“We’re where we want to be,” Della Vecchia said during last week’s Wilton Jamboree. “We’re getting better every day. The kids are picking up everything.”
Scoring points, assuming no letdown on a line that has just two starters back, should not be a problem. St. Joseph has two of the state’s most dangerous players. Wide receiver Jared Mallozzi is coming off a splendid season in which he had 100 receptions for 1,514 yards and 20 touchdowns. He was complemented by running back Jaden Shirden, who as a freshman rushed for 1,011 yards and 15 scores.
“We’re looking pretty good,” said Jude Andrzewski, a senior linebacker and running back. “Previously we’ve had bigger linemen, now it is about speed and smaller linemen.”
The feeling is Mallozzi initially will have an envoy of defenders following him on the field, but Della Vecchia said he expects receiver to be a position of strength, with Jesse Bike, Phil Pesmeg and Will Diamantis.
The biggest change will be at quarterback, where David Summers, a transfer from Fairfield Warde, takes over for the graduated Cory Babineau. Summers threw for 1,709 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago, and had his highest yardage total in a loss to the Cadets.
“I just knew he had a very good game against us when we played Warde and that’s all we knew about him,” Andrzewski said.
Summers has made a strong impression during the offseason.
“He looks good,” Della Vecchia said. “A whole new system he’s learning, but he’s getting more comfortable each day. He’s still learning. Our kids accepted him right away. They became friends with him fast over the summer. They are accepting of everybody, they are really good that way with everyone. He does a lot of things we have been doing in the past and he does them well. We are always looking for something new, a few wrinkles but we are what we are.”
Andrzewski also gave a positive review, from a player’s perspective.
“We started working with Summers really early,” he said. “Doing 7 on 7s and practicing routes and our plays, and during our liftings our coaches would always go over the plays with him. We bonded very well with him.”
St. Joseph has more openings on defense, but many of its leaders return. The team gave up 242 points, but more than one-third came in a season-opening loss to Darien and a Thanksgiving game against Trumbull.
The Cadets, who drop down to Class S this season, will find out right away where they stand. They open the season against defending Class L champion New Canaan. Two weeks later they are back on the road to face Darien, riding a 25-game winning streak and last year’s No. 1 team in the state.
“We have a heck of a ride in front of us,” Della Vecchia said. “We’re going to clean up our mistakes. We have to be mistake-free if we are going to play with them. They’re so polished. We have to make sure we are on the same level as them.”