DARIEN — A three-time defending state champion, Darien has maintained a relative low profile this offseason. More so than at any other point during this stunning run, the Blue Wave have had to deal with a larger number of starters to replace, and new faces means uncertainty.
If a poll were run today, it is possible Darien would be picked fourth in the league, behind Greenwich, New Canaan and St. Joseph. That is less a show of disrespect and more attributable to fewer familiar names.
But anyone who popped into Vibe Fitness this summer often witnessed dozens of players working with John Carlozzi, the team’s strength and conditioning coach.
“It’s no secret we are undersized, but the key will be overworking that,” said Connor Fay, the All-State linebacker who is the team’s most recognizable player. “Relying on the technique and those kinds of things.”
The biggest lingering mystery, who would succeed Jack Joyce at starting quarterback, was answered last night when Cooper Hancock was named the successor. Darien coach Rob Trifone had hoped to make a decision earlier, but the battle between Hancock, a senior, and junior Peter Graham was too close to call.
Trifone promised the players an answer on Sunday following a scrimmage the day before against Cheshire, but still could not come to a decision. Trifone sat with his quarterback coach, Ryan Fodor, and the offensive coordinator, Joe SantaLucia, breaking down film, looking at everything from footwork to mechanics.
“He’s a year older and he’s a little more mature and poised,” Trifone said of Hancock in explaining his choice. “Not that Peter’s not. Cooper is very patient in the pocket, he’s starting to see the field very well. They both throw a good ball.”
With the season opener against Ridgefield next week, Trifone said he did not feel he could wait any longer in selecting a starter.
“The team needs to turn to someone now with a week and a half to go and say lead us to the promised land,” Trifone said. “It is almost frustrating for me as a coach to wait for one to outdistance the other. If one is not moving the team than the other is going to play. I tell the staff we are blessed we have two potential starting quarterbacks.”
Hancock will have several good targets in Tyler Herget, whose spectacular diving catch accounted for the first points in last year’s Class LL final win over Greenwich, TJ Cornacchia and Will Rolapp.
Andrew Lucas and Will Kirby will combine to try and make up for the loss of top rusher Mitchell Pryor.
Defensively, the Blue Wave have a strong back seven, with Fay leading the linebackers and Bruce Ferguson the secondary.
The play of both lines is the greatest unknown and perhaps biggest key to making a run at a fourth straight title. The Blue Wave defense has tormented opponents, but it remains to be seen if the pass rush can maintain its ferocity.
Will Keating and Ryan Sullivan are the lone starters back on the offense line, which will now feature Fay in double duty.
“We were hit hard by graduation,” Trifone said. “A lot of great kids, some who started for us three or two years. Those are always hard to replace. Combine that with I think the league is on an up cycle. Not everybody but there are somewhere between six or seven teams that have one of their better teams over the last three or four years. It’s an uphill climb in a year like this.”
Darien has flourished with new leaders in the past. Three different quarterbacks started in the state championship wins.
“We know we have the pressure of the past on us and that’s more of an inspiration than anything,” Fay said. “Knowing what the guys before us have done. We want to keep that going but make a name for ourselves at the same time.”
Fay said he and his teammates have heard the chatter that this is the year they finally get knocked off the pedestal.
“We know it but it doesn’t really bother us,” Fay said. “We care what happens, who they talk about after the games. The rest is speculation.”