By Dave Ruden
NEW CANAAN — He is the quietest member of arguably the state’s most dominant defense, and many insiders will tell you he is also the best.
Just don’t try to get New Canaan linebacker Michael Root to talk too much about himself. While wearing the uniform No. 1 is fitting, Root prefers to rely on his body of work rather than his own words to draw attention.
“It has been a good year but I don’t try to make this an individual thing, it’s really a group effort,” Root said. “ I like to lead more by example. As long as we’re doing well, that’s fine by me.”
Root has been overshadowed by teammates like Zach Allen and Connor Buck, who have 10 and 7.5 sacks, respectively. Root’s partner at linebacker, Cole Harris, has a team-leading 143 tackles, with 3 interceptions, 3 fumble recoveries, 5 touchdowns and a safety.
Root has 141 tackles, but like his personality, his success is more subtle.
“He is a guy who is always around the ball,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. “Football is a team game and Michael couldn’t do it all by himself, but having said that, it sure is comforting as a coach to have Michael and Cole back there. They are one of the best combos I’ve ever had.”
Marinelli said Root right now is the most heavily recruited of his senior players. Root has a number of offers, and said right now he is considering schools like Old Dominion, Colgate, Lehigh, Lafayette and Maine. It is a decision that won’t be made until after the season is over.
While Harris is the more demonstrative player, he said Root is the glue of the Rams’ defense.
“He’s one of the more quiet kids, but he’s definitely the steady rock, someone you can lean on, someone you know is going to give you those plays when you really need it,” Harris said.
The Rams (12-1), the No. 3 seeds, are going to need those plays on Saturday, when they go up against North Haven and its single-wing offense.
Harris said the differences in the playing styles between himself and Root are a reflection of their dispositions.
“He’s a little more patient player,” Harris said. “You have him sitting back there, waiting on the cutbacks. I’m a little more see it and go. He’s always there to clean things up, the cutback sweeps. We definitely complement each other on the field. Ying and Yang. It works well.”
“It’s true, Michael is the steady and dependable kind of guy, where you really don’t notice him, but he’s always around the ball,” Marinelli said. “Cole is the guy who is more flamboyant and always comes up with the big play. I can’t remember having two linebackers who are as different and good, and I’ve had a lot of good linebackers.”
Marinelli said he expected Root would draw a lot of interest from colleges and is confident he will continue to flourish at the next level.
“He has a lot of scholarship offers,” Marinelli said. “If I’m a college coach I want to have him on my team for sure. He’s a good player, a good student, a good kid.”
Root said his attention right now is elsewhere. The Rams won the FCIAC championship two weeks ago, but had their hopes of a perfect season dashed with a loss to Darien on Thanksgiving.
Now they are two wins away from a state title, which would be the program’s first since 2009.
“I think the state championship has been our motivation since the Turkey Bowl,” Root said.
Harris said the average fan may not realize Root’s contributions, but they are appreciated inside the New Canaan locker room.
“If it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in right now,” Harris said.