GREENWICH—Rich Albonizio has a confession: there are times when a play is called for Austin Longi, and the coach on the sideline takes a brief respite and adopts a fan’s mindset.
“He’s fun to watch,” said Albonizio, the veteran coach of the Greenwich High School football team. “He just does things that you’ve never seen before.”
While there were several reasons the Cardinals’ 1-2 start a year ago was turned around into an 8-3 overall mark, Longi’s contributions was the biggest. His numbers last year as a junior look like misprints: 2,881 all-purpose yards, including 909 on special teams, where he scored five of his 33 touchdowns.
“I feel like punts are a little easier way to score than the others, but a reception is probably my favorite type,” Longi said. “lt’s really what I’ve always loved to do, catch the ball and run and make space.”
His work with the ball has overshadowed his ability on defense. Last year he finished with four interceptions at cornerback, and Albonizio considers his ability at the position of great importance.
“He’s a ballhawk on defense,” Albonizio said. “He can score on defense and offense. If we need to give him a blow, we will probably give it to him on offense.”
Longi, one of the conference’s top track sprinters, had three interceptions and a team-high six passes defended as a sophomore, when he gave a flash of what was to come.
“I didn’t know he was going to be this good,” Albonizio said. “People in Stamford told me how talented he was as a little kid.”
A little-known fact: Longi lives in Stamford but attends Greenwich as a tuition student because his mother is employed at the high school as a social worker.
Albonizio has the 5-8, 150-pound Longi for one more year before he heads to Fordham, a school that recruited and landed him over the summer.
“I went to a camp at Fordham and they offered me a scholarship, which was hard to turn down because the school is so close,” Longi said. “They have such a great football team and it’s a great school as well. That football program has really been turned around and has a lot of upside.”
The scary thought for Greenwich’s opponents is Longi’s upside for this season. How high is his ceiling? Albonizio expects teams will try their best to kick away from him, one way of trying to limit Longi’s touches.
“He can score from anywhere on the field,” Albonizio said. “He’s just very unique with his speed and cutting ability, and he has instincts that are just natural for him that you just can’t teach. He doesn’t take a lot of shots because he’s hard to touch, let alone get a good tackle on. People have a hard time in 7 on 7 touching him.”
Longi was asked to try to put into words what he sees on the field once getting the ball.
“I just try to look for an open space,” he said. “Follow the holes, follow my blockers and create blocks sometimes by running someone into defenders. I just try to outsmart the opponents. Being athletic definitely helps. You definitely need the linemen to block, but I visualize everything and try to attack the right hole.”
The Cardinals are considered contenders for both league and state titles. They are coming off a strong finish and have a lot of returning players.
But all eyes will be on Longi, who is aware of the hype.
“I try not to get caught up in all that stuff and play my game like I’m supposed to,” Longi said. “If I did let that get to my head it would be a bad thing because then I’d try to do too much, and I don’t want to do that.
As humble as he is skilled, Longi said he realizes he is just one piece to Greenwich’s puzzle.
Even if he is a very large piece.
“I think we have the potential to come together as a team and do something great this year,” Longi said. “I want to win games and a state championship. That’s what it really comes down to.”