NEW CANAAN -- There is uncertainty at quarterback, uncertainty about the overall talent level, uncertainty whether a program that has been so consistently excellent that it seems to run on autopilot is about to start flying low.
"I've got news for you, they are a mystery to me too," said Lou Marinelli, who begins his 32nd season as New Canaan High School's football coach who, for the time being, has more questions than answers. "Each team has its own personality. We are still trying to find out who we are."
The returns will start coming in tonight, when the Rams open with a home game against Bassick.
Perhaps no FCIAC team begins the season under a larger cloud of mystery than New Canaan, significant for a program that has been to six straight state championship games. Almost every key starter from a year ago has graduated. At least for the first week or two, fans will have to keep their programs nearby for player recognition.
Those being asked to step up and assume bigger roles are both not bothered by the perception that the Rams are due to take a step back and confident that there again will be significant games to play in December.
"I've been on the team two years and gone to two state championships," Teddy Bossidy said. "I think we are going to go all the way, but you have to take it one game at a time."
Bossidy and Nick Cascione are the faces of the new-look Rams, locked in an even battle to take over at quarterback for Matt Milano, who set almost every major team passing record in his two seasons as starter.
Bossidy and Cascione are both juniors whose athletic abilities assure that whichever player is not under center will be somewhere else on the field; Bossidy is also a receiver and Cascione a running back. The New Canaan staff has not ruled out rotating the quarterbacks in games.
While Bossidy and Cascione acknowledge there is a competition, they are also quick to stress that there is no animosity involved, no seeds that could grow into a divisive element.
Quite the opposite.
"It has been fine," Bossidy said. "We warm up together every day. Nick is there for me. He tries to help me get better. It is nice to know if one of us falters, the other is there and there is another spot for us."
Added Cascione: "The goal is to help the team any way we can. Quarterback has probably been a dream of mine ever since I touched a football. We both know we can also play another position and have the skill to be successful, which will benefit the team."
There are sufficient pieces on offense to believe the Rams have the capability to remain explosive. Louis Hagopian is back to lead the running game, Grady Lynch is a sure-handed receiver and center Dylan Karnedy is back at center to anchor the offensive line.
The defense could be improved over a year ago, especially if linebacker Michael Root, who has a sprained MCL, as expected misses just a game or two.
"I think we can possibly be a little better there," Marinelli said. "And offensively if we find the right combinations we could surprise some people. We are just inexperienced. You see things we've taken for granted for years. I think the offensive line has a lot of potential. They have good size and they are young."
So is this the year the Rams come back to the pack -- their favorable schedule would assure just a minor drop -- or is New Canaan, as the pundits have been saying, still New Canaan, meaning the faces may change but the results will remain the same?
"It doesn't matter how we are Sept. 14, it's how good we are Dec. 10, and God-willing we are still playing," Marinelli said. "And make no mistake, that's where we want to be."
firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @DaveRuden
NEW CANAAN RAMS
COACH: Lou Marinelli (32nd year)
2011 RECORD: 11-2 (Class L runner-up)
TOP RETURNEES: Jr. QB/WR Teddy Bossidy (5-10, 175); Jr. QB/RB Nick Cascione (5-11, 183); Sr. RB Louis Hagopian (6-0, 172); Sr. CB Casey Ouellette (6-0, 175); Sr. WR Andrew Read (5-10, 186); Sr. C Dylan Karnedy (6-1, 211); Sr. WR Grady Lynch (6-1, 175)
REASON TO SMILE: There is a lot of promising talent on the roster and, after all, this is New Canaan.
REASON TO WORRY: There is a lot of inexperienced talent on the roster, and the team does not play like what you expect from New Canaan.
OUTLOOK: Despite six straight trips to state final games, the Rams are the unknown team in the FCIAC. Very few players got considerable playing time a year ago. Bossidy and Cascione are extremely athletic; look for more roll-outs and less of a vertical passing game now that Matt Milano has graduated. A sprained MCL will sideline star linebacker Michael Root for a few weeks. The temptation is to say this is the year the Rams come down a few pegs. But the schedule is very favorable. How fast a number of players mature will determine if this proves to be a rebuilding year or New Canaan maintains its level of excellence.