NEW CANAAN — The annual Grip It & Rip It Tournament in early July at New Canaan High School serves as a sort of final local appetizer before the official start of football season, a chance to see a number of FCIAC teams in person.
This year’s event last weekend featured nine conference schools, and lands between spring games and a few more camps and passing events before work is relegated to the weight rooms before fall training.
Seven on 7 has become a bit more polarizing as it has soared in popularity. Critics of course decry the absence of linemen. Proponents talk not only about the timing between quarterbacks and receivers, but amongst linebackers and the secondary as well. Then there is team bonding.
While it is a chance to get an early peek at players, I’ve always found the two days as an ideal way to catch up with coaches and do my own version of a preview for previews.
New Canaan went undefeated to win the tournament, and the Rams are an ideal place to start as I share some thoughts that could change or be debunked in six weeks.
• New Canaan is really getting hyped up. A lot of the offseason focus has been on Darien and Greenwich, last year’s Class LL finalists. The Blue Wave are the three-time defending champions, while the Cardinals have a strong returning cast from a game they feel may have turned out differently on a dry day.
But the Rams are getting talked up around the league. Those familiar with the personnel and program history are already making comparisons to the 2008 team that went 13-0 and won league and state titles. That is a little — no, way — premature.
There is a lot to like, and that is not just because of the four major Division I commits: Drew Pyne (Notre Dame), Jack Stewart (Michigan), Jack Conley (Boston College) and Garrett Braden (Rice).
The Rams are going to have perhaps the state’s best offensive line. And they have quality depth at just about every position. There are a number of players who were waiting for their chances last year now ready to break out.
This is a strong senior class that will set a tone for not letting the talk get into any heads. There are signs that the focus will be sharp after missing out on a state final berth after five straight titles.
The schedule, with St. Joseph (on opening weekend), Greenwich and Darien, is challenging.
There is one area where a resemblance to 2008 will be in the Rams’ favor. A decade ago they ran the ball 370 times and passed it 291. The equation does not have to be the same, but with a strong line New Canaan will be better served this fall with greater balance, which would also benefit Pyne and the passing attack.
• New year, same story in Darien. Tell me if you have heard this one before: a defending state champion has some uncertainty regarding the starting quarterback for the next season, a number of starters unfamiliar to those outside their town and skeptics wonder whether it will be able to mount a strong title defense. Then it wins the title.
That was the situation in Darien a year ago. And it is the same this summer. Right now there is a quarterback battle between Cooper Hancock and Peter Graham, whose brother Tim helped lead the Blue Wave to their first championship during this run.
Darien has had even greater turnover this year than last. I probably saw Darien a little bit more than any other team Friday, and one of my biggest takeaways was how polished the receivers seemed, led by Tyler Herget.
• Greenwich’s second team might go .500 in the FCIAC. The Cardinals brought what looked like an army to New Canaan, which is not surprising when you consider there were well over 100 players that took part in spring football.
The Cardinals bring back their quarterback (Gavin Muir), their leading rusher (Tysen Comizio), receiver (Lance Large) and two top tacklers (Jack Feda, Mozi Bici).
Back in December I figured Greenwich was going to be my preseason No. 1. It still may be. Coach John Marinelli has a lot of quality on the roster, and this is a program that has quickly been built for sustained success.
• Does St. Joseph really need 7 on 7? Yes, 1,000-yard receiver Jared Mallozzi graduated, and that is by no means an inconsiderable loss. But with Maryland commit David Summers back at quarterback, throwing to Phil Pasmeg, Will Diamantis and Jesse Bike, and 1,000-yard rusher Jaden Shirden in the backfield, the defending Class S champion Cadets at least appear in possession of the firepower to be the future Class M champions as they move up a division.
• There is optimism in Trumbull. That is really no surprise, but there has been the football version of love at first sight between new coach Marce Petroccio and his players, and the players and Petroccio.
Petroccio starts year one at his alma mater with something he has not had in a while: a strong-armed quarterback. Colton Nicholas was impressive on Friday.
Petroccio also has the most difficult schedule in the league. He makes his Eagles debut in Greenwich, two weeks later hosts New Canaan and later on faces Darien and St. Joseph.
The Eagles may end up being the most improved team this season, even if the level of upswing is not accurately measured by their record.
• Norwalk is young. Really young. So young that coach Sean Ireland’s captains are juniors, including quarterback Kyle Gordon, who flashed a lot of potential a year ago.
The Bears are also extremely upbeat and feel they can be a sleeper this year. We will have a better read in six weeks, but the schedule is not overly demanding to prevent a run at finishing over .500.
• Caveat emptor. There were no linemen on the field over the weekend. They are kind of important.