NEW CANAAN -- A long list of high school football teams in the state will start their respective seasons this fall with a different quarterback from last season under center, and the group of first-year varsity signal callers don't have too much time to prepare for their new role. That's when an event like the Grip It & Rip It 7 on 7 camp comes in handy.
The past two days served as a learning experience for numerous quarterbacks who visited New Canaan High School to compete in the seventh annual event.
Hosted by the New Canaan High School football team, Grip It & Rip It included 40 teams from Connecticut, New York and even Canada, playing on four fields. Each team competed in four 25-minute games for pool play on Friday, then played in a double-elimination playoff on Saturday. By mid-afternoon, just four teams remained in contention for the championship, and New Canaan was one of them. The Rams wound up placing third in the tournament going 11-2 overall, including an 8-1 mark during what was a marathon-like Saturday for them.
Undefeated Grand Street Campus from Brooklyn, N.Y., won the tournament, defeating Archbishop Stepinac from White Plains, N.Y., 30-12, in the championship game. The Rams, who lost to Stepinac in the semifinals, are one of the squads that will begin the 2014 season with a different look under center. Alex LoPolice, a rising senior and Mike Collins (junior), took the snaps for the Rams at Grip It & Rip It and both looked sharp.
"We play a spread offense, so this event gets us in sync," said LaPolice, who played a key role in New Canaan's Class L final win over Darien as a receiver, kick returner and cornerback. "This will help get us rolling going into training camp."
Graduation claimed quarterback Nick Cascione, a Hearst Super 33 All-Star who helped power New Canaan to the 2013 FCIAC and Class L titles.
"This coming season we have a lot of holes to fill since we graduated 30 seniors," Collins said. "But we have the same goals and the same mentality as last season. This 7 on 7 competition is a great help to me as far as helping me go through my reads."
New Canaan assistant coach John Marinelli, who helped direct Grip It & Rip It, has enjoyed watching the event evolve since its inception in 2008.
"It was a fun two days and we love hosting it," Marinelli said. "Hopefully, we'll have even more teams in the future. Forty teams came here and I think they all left feeling they improved."
Darien, which lost to New Canaan in the 2013 Class L final, also enters the 2014 season with a different quarterback. Blue Wave coach Rob Trifone said rising junior Timmy Graham is slated as the starter, with junior Hudson Hamill vying for time. The Blue Wave had one of the most prolific offenses in the state last season with senior Silas Wyper under center.
"Silas Wyper developed as a quarterback because of events like this 7 on 7 camp," said Trifone, whose squad finished among the top six in the tournament. "This teaches you how to read defenses and helps you learn how to compete. I think the teams that don't do this struggle with the timing early on. A 7 on 7 is all about developing a quarterback's timing with his receivers."
Defending Class M champion St. Joseph is looking to sophomore quarterback Kevin Trefz to fill the void left by the graduation of Jordan Vazzano.
"Kevin is learning our offense, so every game in this tournament is a new experience for him," St. Joseph coach Joe DellaVecchia said. "This camp is big for him and our receivers, because we also have three new receivers. I think overall, it's great for high school football. These guys do a great job of getting the teams together."
Brookfield, which lost to St. Joseph in the state finals last season, is breaking in a first-year varsity quarterback due to the graduation of Brad Westmark. The Bobcats got a look at rising junior John Roscigno at Grip It & Rip It.
"We graduated a very good quarterback, but John has a lot of upside," Brookfield offensive coordinator Brian Muller said. "He just has to settle in and get comfortable and that will come with the more snaps he takes. We came to this 7 on 7 looking to get better each game and that's what did."
Junior Stephen Nagy (Trumbull), Frank Marcucio (Westhill, the coach's son), Jason Hall/Jeff Capone (Brien McMahon), Newtown (Jacob Berden/Matt Maturo), Mike Zanca/Rob Cammarano (New Fairfield) will also look to replace their team's previous starting quarterback.
"We are more of a running team now and I am more of a running quarterback, but this camp definitely helps me develop my skills," Nagy said.
"Our team is a 70/30 run-pass team, we're not a run-and-shoot team," Westhill coach Frank Marcucio said. "But this is good for our defensive backs and great for our quarterbacks and receivers. It's a great evaluation tool for our coaches."
New Fairfield coach Anthony Fata watched intently as his two quarterbacks ran the offense.
"We graduated a great quarterback in Mike McCourt, who did an awesome job for us," Fata said. "Now we have two kids battling for the starting spot. Age doesn't matter to me, it's who can manage the offense."
"I came down here a couple of years ago with Cheshire because it's a very well run event," Ecke said. "The competition is great and it provides our players the opportunity to improve their skill set. We got a good look at some of our guys."
Said Lato: "To me, one of the best parts of it was the down time, because it gave our players a chance to hang out and bond, which is very important. A lot of kids came down here, competed hard and showed the pride of Masuk football."
Fairfield Warde made a fine 7 on 7 showing, finishing among the top six teams with an 8-3 record. The Mustangs were one of several teams that will enter the season with an experienced starter at quarterback in senior Brandon Bisack.
"I'm definitely building a lot of confidence," Bisack said. "Our team is on the same page right now and working well together. I feel really comfortable with our receivers -- the chemistry is definitely there."
Greenwich (Matt Marzulla), Fairfield Prep (Colton Smith), Stamford (Jalen Brown), Trinity Catholic (Johnny Somers), New Milford (Tyler Hansen), Norwalk (Jeremy Linton) each attended Grip It & Rip It with quarterbacks who played in 2013.
"Colton is a terrific athlete, who created a lot of big plays for us," Fairfield Prep assistant coach Keith Hellstern said. "He put up some impressive numbers for us last season and proved that he was a playmaker."
"Jalen is a two-year starter, who is looking really good," Stamford coach Jamar Greene said. "Today was a lot of fun and it was great for our quarterbacks and receivers to get their timing down."