FCIAC Football Preview: Conference looks to maintain its state supremacy
Updated 9:54 am, Friday, September 8, 2017
The FCIAC was the best football conference in the state last fall.
The league produced four state finalists and two champions in Darien (LL) and New Canaan (L), with Ridgefield (LL) and St. Joseph (M) finishing as runners-up.
That type of success is hard to sustain, with teams all over the state licking their chops to take down the FCIAC powerhouses.
Still, New Canaan has won four straight L titles and Darien two straight LL crowns, and St. Joe’s has played in championship games three of the last four years.
Despite graduation losses, the teams at the top of the league never seem to take much of a step back toward the pack.
Is this the year Darien or New Canaan finally goes down to someone other than each other? The last time that happened was in 2013, when St. Joseph knocked off the Blue Wave.
There certainly are contenders coming for them, with the usual suspects Ridgefield, St. Joe’s, Greenwich, Trumbull and Staples, and last season’s darling, Wilton, as well as some teams looking to make the leap like Norwalk and Westhill.
PLAYERS TO WATCH BY TEAM
BRIDGEPORT CENTRAL: Dimitrie Ivey, Jorel Johnson, Austin Arounsack
DANBURY: Diante Vines, Solomon James, Fabio DeOliveira
DARIEN: Michael Neary, Mitchell Pryor, Brian Minicus, Nick Green
GREENWICH: Jeremiah Harris, Jack Feda, Kyle Woodring, Henry Saleeby, Nick McIntosh, Gavin Muir
LUDLOWE: Ethan Beri, Josh Evans, Wil Parisi, Nizar Sakly
McMAHON: Chris Druin, Pete Ripperger, Nick Marsan, Cameron Kelly
NEW CANAAN: Grant Morse, Jake Ciancio, Sean Knight, Seamus O’Hora, Drew Pyne
NORWALK: James Roberts, AJ Hall, Jalen Elliott, Marlon Brown, Niar Brown
RIDGEFIELD: Matt Lombardo, Greg Gatto, Jackson Mitchell, Luke Gaydos, Noah Isaacson, John Schneider
ST. JOSEPH: Jared Mallozzi, Jaden Shirden, David Summers
STAMFORD: Jaylen Walker, Brendan Fahey, Jake Heerman, Matthew Doyle, Cam Freckelton
STAPLES: Harris Levi, Max Lonergan, Kevin Rabacs, Ben Pearl, Danny Thompson
TRINITY CATHOLIC: Nick Melia, John Petrizzi, Chris Cicciarella
TRUMBULL: Colton Nicholas, Markeese Woods, Odai Dayoub, Joe Turner
WARDE: Tyler Festa, Tyler Llewellyn, Jack Curtis
WESTHILL: Jemesen Charlestin, Noldylens Metayer, Wyklend Turenne, SaQuan Kelly
WILTON: Robbie Hermann, Brian Calabrese, Kyle Phillips, Harvey Alexander
5 TEAMS TO WATCH
DARIEN: The Blue Wave are the two-time defending FCIAC and Class LL champions. They are riding a 25-game winning streak and are the state’s top-ranked team two years running. If you think graduation losses of key players will slow them down, you have not been paying close enough attention. Yes, Darien will have a new quarterback in Jack Joyce and a litany of fresh faces on both sides of the ball, but look for the Blue Wave to be right back playing in December and defending their LL title.
NEW CANAAN: If not for losses to Darien on Thanksgiving, the Rams would be riding the longest winning streak in the state. They have not lost to a school other than Darien since falling to Windsor in the 2012 Class L semifinals. The last FCIAC team other than the Wave to beat them was Trinity Catholic in 2012. The Rams lost all-state players to graduation too, but are also bringing back a lot of talent and are again clearly one of the two teams to beat and strong candidates to play in their fifth straight state final.
RIDGEFIELD: Last season the Tigers could win a shootout with anyone in the state, advancing all the way to the Class LL title game. This season, Ridgefield will be relying on its defense to carry it, with nine returning starters on that side of the ball. The offense will not be too shabby either, with Greg Gatto taking over at QB, along with some new faces at RB and WR.
TRUMBULL: The Eagles will have a new QB this fall, but he is highly touted, 6-foot-5 junior Colton Nicholas. If he can mesh with the returning wideouts, Trumbull could be tough to deal with. The schedule does not offer many favors to Trumbull with two state champions, New Canaan and Darien, and a state finalist in St. Joe’s, as well as games against Greenwich, Norwalk and Westhill on the slate.
WESTHILL: The Vikings have been building the program the last five years and this could be the year it comes together. Westhill returns its entire offensive line and will be looking to play a more up-tempo offense in hopes of better utilizing its team speed. The Vikings lost heartbreakers to Greenwich and St. Joseph last year. New Canaan, Trumbull and Greenwich loom on the schedule this year, but the Vikings believe they can be playing in December when the dust clears.
5 PLAYERS TO WATCH
JARED MALLOZZI, ST. JOSEPH, WR: First-team CHCSA Class M, All-State first-team and first-team All-FCIAC last year, Mallozzi is coming off a junior season in which he had 100 receptions for 1,514 yards and 20 touchdowns. He is an elusive target with great hands in addition to being a spot-on route runner. At 5-9 and 145 pounds, Mallozi has enough speed to beat anyone in the league.
AJ HALL, NORWALK, WR/S: Hall was an All-FCIAC first-team offense selection last season and is among the best players in the state this fall. He registered 1,042 yards on 67 receptions with 7 TDs a year ago. On defense, he had two interceptions. Lining up as a slotback, Hall has breakaway speed, is a precise route runner and has some of the best hands in the state.
NICK GREEN, DARIEN, WR/DB: Green played on a team loaded with senior talent last season, but was still able to shine. He amassed 1,013 all-purpose yards, including 556 receiving yards and 6 TDs via the air and 5 on the ground. As a defensive back, he was in on 80 tackles, 51 solo, while snagging four interceptions, three of which he returned for touchdowns. Green has deceptive speed and soft hands as a receiver and a nose for the ball on defense.
NOAH ISAACSON, RIDGEFIELD, OLB: Ridgefield is going to hang its hat on its defense this year, and at the heart of that unit is the 5-11, 195-pound outside linebacker Isaacson. The Tigers run a hard-nosed 3-3 defense and the linebackers are throwbacks in their style of play. Isaacson is a physical run stopper who registered 85 tackles last season, 46 solo.
DREW PYNE, NEW CANAAN, QB: Few players were as hyped up last year as freshman QB Pyne. It was all justified. As a freshman, Pyne played 13 games, throwing for 2,347 yards and 26 TDs while rushing for 430 yards and 3 more TDs and leading the Rams to the Class L state title. He has a strong, accurate arm; quick feet; elusive speed and amazing instincts on the field, which is why he is already receiving offers from several Top 25 college programs.
5 GAMES TO WATCH
Sept. 8, Darien at Ridgefield: The season kicks off with a bang as the Blue Wave will be riding their 25-game winning streak into Tiger Hollow, perhaps the league’s toughest road venue, in a rematch of last season’s Class LL title game.
Sept. 15, Westhill at Norwalk: Both teams feel they are good enough to be playing postseason football. First, they will have to contend with each other in what is traditionally an all-out battle.
Sept. 22, Trumbull at New Canaan: If the Eagles are for real, this is the night to prove it. A win could shake up the FCIAC and state football balance. The Rams do not lose at home to teams not named Darien.
Oct. 21, Wilton at Ridgefield: The two biggest rivals in the FCIAC that do not play on Thanksgiving get after each other late in the year in a game that could be dripping with state playoff implications. Ridgefield has owned this rivalry the last 20 years.
Nov. 4, Staples at St. Joseph: Late-season showdown between two traditionally elite programs that enter the season with some questions. If they have figured it out by November, this one could carry added significance.