It was late August and my tour of football training camps brought me to Greenwich. As I got out of my car the number of players practicing immediately caught my attention.
How could it not? Cardinals coach John Marinelli confirmed there were over 200 kids on two fields. I even sent out a tweet, part sarcastic, about the mini army.
The first game was still a couple of weeks away, yet I unwittingly had discovered the secret to Greenwich’s success this season.
What has been apparent on the field for nearly three months is backed up by those late-summer numbers: the Cardinals are loaded with talent. No team in the state has more quality depth.
Whether than will result in a win over Newtown on Sunday in the Class LL semifinals, or a state championship six days later, remains to be seen. But if you were at the poker table, you would like to be playing Marinelli’s hand.
Gavin Muir is having another outstanding season for the Cardinals. He threw three touchdown passes and ran for another in Tuesday’s 49-13 quarterfinal win over New Britain. (Fittingly, even backup quarterback James Rinello threw for a score).
Muir has had plenty of help. Five different players have rushed for 175 or more yards. Tysen Comizio, who missed three games due to injury, leads the way, but Marinelli is able to rotate players and keep them fresh.
The same is true with the passing game. Five players have 200 or more receiving yards. Lance Large and Stephen Bennett are the go-to players, and they are averaging 17 yards a reception.
With all the skill comes balance. Remember when Marinelli was hired four years ago after serving as the offensive coordinator for his father Lou at New Canaan? Marinelli oversaw a prolific spread offense, and the feeling was that balls would soon be filling the air at Cardinal Stadium. Forty passes a game? Fifty?
Greenwich has so far run the ball 290 times and passed it 272. If defenses are uncertain what is coming next, it is not because of unusual five-receiver sets.
The idea of strength in numbers is even more pronounced on defense. Five players from the unit, including three linemen, were selected to the All-FCIAC team.
The Cardinals have had an absolutely ferocious pass rush, with 44 sacks. Leading the way, with 14.5, is Mozi Bici. He set the state record with eight sacks in a game. Eddy Iuteri is next with seven sacks and 16 hurries. They are followed by Jack Feda and Joe Kraninger (5.5 each) and Emilio Camou (4).
This is a group that brings relentless pressure. It has 70 hurries, and having so much individual power on the line has been to the benefit of the unit.
The linebackers have been equally dominant. Feda is a tackling machine. His total right now stands at 105. It was Feda, in Tuesday’s win over New Britain, who brought down a runner and forced a fumble that was recovered in the end zone by Larry DeLuca, erasing an early 7-0 deficit and starting a run of 49 straight points.
DeLuca is second on the team with 73 tackles. The third linebacker, Evan Weigold, is fourth in tackles.
Ultimately you have to get into the end zone, and the Cardinals have done that 69 times. Twenty-one different players have scored, with six having five or more touchdowns.
Top personnel also means better practices. More often than not, the players the Cardinals line up against midweek are superior to the ones they face on game days. And the guess is Marinelli has a number of scout team players who could start at a number of other schools.
It has all translated to an 11-0 record and the No. 1 ranking in the state polls. In their last 25 games, the Cardinals have two losses — both in the postseason to Darien. The most recent came in last year’s Class LL final.
The run a year ago would have proved satisfactory to most teams, especially since Greenwich’s ascension to title contender came in ahead of schedule. No one predicted the Cardinals would be unbeaten and playing for a championship.
Instead, they surprised many, but not themselves. The motivation from that loss has been a driving force this fall.
And having more good players than the opposition has proved the means toward that end.