NEW CANAAN — When Justin Greco showed up for New Canaan’s team meeting prior to last year’s season opener against Trinity Catholic, the assumption was he would see some playing time.
Greco was caught off guard when the starting lineup was announced and his name was called with the other wide receivers.
“I was like, time to step up,” Greco recalled. “During warmups I focused on everything. I loved it. I didn’t know I was going to start. It popped out of nowhere. I hopped in there first play. I was a little nervous. I fought through that.”
Greco did not have a catch that day as the offense struggled, but he soon made an impact. The junior finished third on the Rams both in receptions (24) and receiving yards (292), making an imprint both with his teammates and, more importantly, the coaching staff.
“He’s a kid who just worked very hard to get where he is, and he was a kid we weren’t sure about going into last year,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. “He’s worked his way up to be one of our primary targets. He’s done a great job.”
When New Canaan hosts its annual Grip It & Rip It 7 on 7 football tournament starting Friday, it is a chance to get a first look at non linemen who are either returning or have a chance to step up into larger roles from the previous season. Greco qualifies in both categories. He is a player the Rams expect will be a greater focal point on offense.
“He had pretty much a breakout year last year and he proved to himself he can do it,” Marinelli said. “Now he wants to do more and be the best.”
Greco has spent the entire offseason in a football player’s version of dress rehearsals. Greco does not compete in a second sport so he has had a singular focus since the Rams defeated Windsor last December for their fourth straight state title.
“We just had to get into the weight room, and at all these 7 on 7 tournaments get better,” Greco said. “We have to step up with all the people that we lost. Just being able to know I am sticking to football makes it so much easier. I can just do what I want with football and get to everything they want me to get to.”
Greco’s best game came against Westhill, when he caught three passes for 122 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown. It was Greco’s lone score of the season, and getting into the end zone is one area where he is looking for improvement.
“Last year I only had one touchdown,” Greco said. “A lot of them got called back so I want to get my touchdowns up. The yards obviously. I don’t want to sound selfish. I want to win. I want to beat Darien, I want to win states again.”
While the Rams graduated another strong class of receivers, there is a lot of returning talent and promising young players in a pass-friendly system. Quintin O’Connell as a sophomore led the team in most receiving categories.
This is also the first full offseason for sophomore quarterback Drew Pyne, who excelled after winning the starting job early last year.
“The chemistry is great,” Greco said. “He knows where we are going to be on our routes, where the ball has to be. He knows our speed. Chemistry between the wide receivers is great. I am on the same side as Quintin so the connection is just unbelievable. I trust him so much and he trusts me.”
Greco has put on five pounds in the weight room and hopes to add another five to get up to 170 as the Rams prepare for their opener at home on Sept. 8 against St. Joseph, which also reached a state final last season.
“He’s at every 7 on 7, every workout,” Marinelli said. “Just a kid who has done it all with hard work and dedication. He really grew up junior year, doing the little things that made the difference for him. And he’s a competitor. He wants the ball to be able to perform. He’s done a great job for us.”