DARIEN — Looking at the pack of players on the practice field, Mark Evanchick easily stands out as a relentless force. Mark Schmidt is not overly imposing, but has a toughness that causes others to take notice. And Hudson Hamill, when he isn’t darting in and out of open space, is doing the most talking.
As Darien coach Rob Trifone rehashed the memories on Wednesday, he could have been talking about any day since the season started in late August. But Trifone’s mental DVR was backed up much farther, 10 years to be exact.
When the Blue Wave face Shelton for the Class LL title on Saturday afternoon, they will arrive with a number of compelling storylines. The most obvious: they can complete an undefeated season with a 12-0 mark, win the school’s first state championship in the sport since 1996 and would almost certainly be a unanimous selection as the No. 1 team in Connecticut.
But for Trifone and 14 of his 15 seniors, there will be a melting pot of emotions. What they hope will be the end of a storybook season will also mark the final chapter on a decade spent together, with Trifone as an assistant coach of a 3rd grade team that included his twin sons Bobby and Christian, as well as the nucleus of this year’s squad.
“I remember a lot of things,” Trifone said. “I remember seeing the talent in so many of them. They really haven’t changed much. It has been interesting watching these kids grow up from basically 8 to 18. The boys on the team who were a little more quiet are still quiet. Those that were a little more outgoing are still so. Hudson hasn’t shut up since the 3rd grade.”
Trifone won a state title at Brien McMahon in 1994, two years before Darien defeated Bloomfield in the Class S final, 21-16. Darien would lose in the final round each of the following three years, and three times since, all with Trifone and all to New Canaan, including the last two seasons.
With a win against Shelton, which is 12-0 and the top seed in the class, Darien’s seniors will have a 36-3 record going back to when they were sophomores, the year several started making contributions to the varsity team.
Trifone was emotional on the middle of the field at Boyle Stadium early Thanksgiving afternoon, standing with his twins and recounting the accomplishment of a four-year Turkey Bowl sweep of rival New Canaan. One would guess the coach will be overwhelmed by sentiment Saturday with a similar outcome.
“It would be a memory that every high school football player, every high school coach, could wish for,” Trifone said. “How many teams could ever accomplish that? Very few.”
Trifone said he can remember the first few seasons coaching the players as kids, rushing out of the high school at 6:45 after watching film to make most of the entire practices on the field with portable lights.
“I think the trust that we built in each other helped to solidify this team,” Trifone said. “I think my involvement with them at such an early age, I would hope, helped keep them involved in the sport. They knew, here is the head high school coach and he is paying attention to me and talking to me about playing in high school, and it was all sincere since they were such good kids.”
Trifone said the vision of the potential at hand with this year’s seniors took a short time to take shape.
“When we hit the 6th grade, you could really begin to tell, and there’s a couple of reasons for that,” Trifone said. “Now you’ve been together for three years. The first three years are a lot of fundamentals of how to block and tackle. In the 6th grade, in the (Darien Junior Football League) you’re allowed to use motion. At the older level we use a lot of motion and are able to over leverage teams in motion. Once I put a Hudson Hamill in rocket motion and tossed him the ball, people were like ‘Oh, my god.’ You could see it in the 6th grade. There was a quantum leap.”
The results this year speak volumes. Evanchick has 21.5 sacks and now holds the state career mark in the category. Shelby Grant and Hamill are both over 1,000 all-purpose yards and lead the team with 19 and 12 touchdowns, respectively. Minicus has the most receptions and has scored 11 touchdowns, while Graham has been outstanding, completing 71 percent of his passes, with a 39-4 touchdown-to-interception percentage. Then there are the players who don’t get their names often in print, like Schmidt, who is third in tackles, or lineman Spencer Stovall.
Trifone said he has spent a year preparing for the final day, whenever it would come, hopefully — and fittingly — on the very last day of the season.
“I started thinking about it at the end of last season, through the offseason and the weightlifting and 7 on 7 leagues and tournaments,” Trifone said. “I savored every moment of it. It has been in the works for a while. Time must pass. I made it a point starting last Dec. 12 to make every day count. It has been a tremendous ride with a wonderful group of guys and a talented group of guys. I feel blessed to have the opportunity coaching all these young men, including my sons. You have reached the pinnacle of what would be a perfect high school season. It really has been a tremendous ride.”