At the end of his first season, Greenwich football coach John Marinelli did the usual end-of-year assessment with his team. There were several quarterbacks in the freshmen class and Marinelli was contemplating shifting one of them, Gavin Muir, to a different position.
“I didn’t think he had a good throwing motion,” Marinelli recalled. “He was a good athlete so I thought we could move him to receiver.”
Then the 7 on 7 season began, and Muir suddenly proved he was much more valuable delivering footballs than catching them. By the following preseason Muir had improved enough that it took until the week before the opening game against Westhill for Marinelli to finally make a decision and start Connor Langan, a senior. It wasn’t long before Muir was sharing reps and, after Langan got injured, leading the Cardinals in a state playoff game against Darien.
“That’s how fast he improved,” Marinelli said. “We worked on his motion and reads and he’s a really smart kid. He just got better and better and better. He’s one of those kids who takes his work home. He tries to master his craft. It shows in academics. It shows in athletics. It shows in how great of a person he is.”
Now, two years later, Muir is the leader for the No. 2 team in the state, one hoping to take the final step after losing in last year’s state championship. With five games left in the regular season, Greenwich is 5-0 and Muir arguably is the FCIAC’s most valuable player. He is focused on his own goals while Ivy League schools are giving him looks, no doubt seeing many of the qualities for the next level that eventually caught Marinelli’s eyes.
“Each year I just get more comfortable,” Muir said. “I am definitely getting bigger in the weight room. But it’s really just a mental position. If you can slow the game down in your mind it definitely becomes a lot easier.”
If Muir’s words tend to echo Marinelli’s, that is because of the bond that has developed. Last Sunday, Muir was getting ready to meet with the coaching staff as the gameplan was being prepared for tomorrow’s contest against Fairfield Ludlowe.
“Usually I don’t do that but I trust his opinions and want to make sure he’s going to be comfortable,” Marinelli said. “It is almost like we are finishing each other’s sentences.”
Marinelli is something of a Quarterback Whisperer. His previous job was as the offensive coordinator at New Canaan, where he helped develop a number of All-State quarterbacks who went on to have success in college. His last was Michael Collins, who this week earned the starting position at TCU.
“I never had a quarterback until Mike Collins throw to his fifth progression,” Marinelli said. “Mike did it in big games. Gavin also does it. Not just in games where we are up by a lot. Third down against New Canaan, not trying to force it but let the play develop.”
That game against the Rams, before the bye, resulted in a 42-14 Greenwich win. The Cardinals had a 21-0 lead just five minutes in. Muir finished 12 of 19 for 262 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for two scores.
“Each year I just get more comfortable. I am definitely getting bigger in the weight room. But it’s really just a mental position. If you can slow the game down in your mind it definitely becomes a lot easier.”
— Gavin Muir
“Going into that game we had a great week of practice and in the game when we went into motion we knew what they were going to do,” Muir said. “So Coach called a really good play and our receivers were wide open going down the field, so I just had to get it down to them. It was really good to get off to that start because being up 21-0 gave us confidence going into the second quarter and second half.”
Similarly, the conviction Muir gained a year ago, when the Cardinals were 12-0 before losing to Darien in the Class LL final, has carried into this season.
“Last year was a really good year for me gaining confidence,” Muir said. “I felt really comfortable out there. I go in feeling complete confidence and with the offense I don’t have to worry about anything because the other guys have my back, and the receivers I can trust them to catch the ball no matter where I put it, so I am really in a good situation. And having (running back) Tysen (Comizio) next to me makes my job a lot easier.”
Marinelli said he can trace Muir’s development to another postseason game against the Blue Wave, two years ago in the quarterfinals. The Blue Wave were the No. 1 team in the state and dominated with a 29-3 win. Langan got hurt and Muir came in. Constantly pressured and taken down by Darien’s pass rush, he completed just 6 of 26 passes for 56 yards.
“Statistically you would say it was terrible, but that was the platform to his success,” Marinelli said. “He learned he could take a hit, he learned he could run an offense, he learned he was a player. I learned he was a warrior because he got killed that game.”
Marinelli said Muir’s maturity has expanded his strategic options.
“When you work with a kid that has an understanding of it and has the respect for you, I think that relationship takes off,” Marinelli said. “We are doing things offensively now that we wouldn’t be able to do without his brain.”
While most would consider the Cardinals’ unexpected run to the championship game a huge success, Muir said his view as well as his teammates’ was different.
“Making it to the state final was a great experience, but that wasn’t the goal,” he said. “The goal was to win it. This year it’s definitely in the back of our mind that after our last game we don’t want to have sad faces. We want to end the year happy. Right now we’re taking it one game at a time.”
After the New Canaan game, Marinelli said that while some of the league quarterbacks like Drew Pyne and David Summers had already made verbal commitments, he was surprised Muir was not in the same position.
Asked if he agreed, Muir dodged the question with the ease he uses to find time until receivers get open.
“I feel like I just need to keep playing the way I am and hopefully good things will keep happening,” Muir said. “I’m not really focused on that right now. When I go out to play I am playing to win. If we win at the end of the day that’s all I care about.”
1. Greenwich (5-0). The Cardinals had little trouble against Westhill. Like most of the other state playoff contenders, the key for Greenwich is going to be staying sharp and doing some fine-tuning before Thanksgiving and the postseason.
2. Darien (6-0). The Blue Wave defense continues to dominate. Next up, Trumbull.
3. St. Joseph (5-1). After some early-season interceptions, quarterback David Summers has regained his groove from a year ago.
4. New Canaan (4-2). The Rams take the league’s longest road trip of the season when they travel tomorrow to face Pascack Valley, NJ.
5. Staples (5-1). All eyes will be on the Wreckers’ game in two weeks against the Cadets to see if we get any shakeup up top. The offense continued to impress against Norwalk.