The Ruden Report Players Of The Year & All-FCIAC Football Teams

Nick Cascione passed New Canaan to FCIAC and state titles. (Photo: Mark Conrad)
Nick Cascione passed New Canaan to FCIAC and state titles. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

By Dave Ruden

The season started in early September with opening games postponed — many split over two days — because of thunderstorms.

The year has not ended — Fairfield Prep and Southington must, hopefully, play for the Class LL title Thursday night.

In between weather events was a memorable FCIAC season, one of the best that I can recall. The league hit the lotto with the schedule: there seemed to be a big game between contenders every week.

At various points during the season, eight teams were considered in the hunt for the league title. New Canaan, which was a play away from a perfect season and won the league championship, and St. Joseph took home state titles, which was predicted by many back in August. Darien made it to the championship game, which was not. And Ridgefield came on strong and pulled off a first-round upset over Newtown to reach the Class LL semifinals.

What follows is The Ruden Report year-end awards and All-FCIAC team. We all kill the conference for putting too many players on the first team. It may seem like a copout, but this year the choices were particularly difficult.

The TRR team is 22 starters — we are going to our strength and playing a 3-4 defense — plus a punter, kicker and return specialist.

Offensive Player of the Year

Mufasha Abdul-Basir, St. Joseph. The Cadets morphed from a team known more for its passing into one that dominated on the ground over the final month. Quarterback Jordan Vazzano — memo to colleges: you are missing out on a top prospect and winner — had a great year, but in the end Abdul-Basir was the most dominant offensive player in the conference. He set school records for rushing yards (2,481) and touchdowns (33, 30 coming on the ground).

Defensive Players of the Year

Cole Harris and Michael Root, New Canaan. Confession: when I first set up the vote for my Player of the Year award, I had Root down as the finalist. Then I switched to Harris. Then back to Root. Then to Harris. Root was the Rams’ best player throughout the state playoffs, but Harris turned being around the ball into an art form. Root finished with 176 tackles and allowed others to come in and make plays. Harris had 170 tackles, 5 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries, 3 interceptions, a blocked punt, a safety and scored 2 touchdowns on defense and 3 on offense. They are so good that in a draft, I would gladly be happy with the second pick. And we haven’t even mentioned the third linebacker on the unit, Zach Allen, a candidate any other year.

Coach of the Year

Rob Trifone, Darien. The Blue Wave were considered by most to be a 6-8 win team. Instead they finished 12-2 and reached the Class L final. In consecutive games they came from behind to beat North Haven, New Canaan — the only team to do so — Daniel Hand and Middletown. There was an earlier win over Ridgefield. The only losses were to the two state champions. A sensational job by Trifone.

Most Unsung Player

Brett Phillips, Wilton. How can a player voted to the All-FCIAC team be unsung? Phillips did more to carry his team than any other player in the league, starring at quarterback, defensive back and on special teams. Yet he was always mentioned in the second sentence, not the first, when the subject of best players was discussed.

All-FCIAC Team


QB Nick Cascione, New Canaan

RB Mufasha Abdul-Basir, St. Joseph

RB Will Bonaparte, Ridgefield

WR Lars Pedersen, St. Joseph

WR TJ Hayduk, Trumbull

WR Nick Lombardo, Darien

OL Joao Rocha, New Canaan

OL Nick Ward, Staples

OL Pete Mestre, St. Joseph

OL Steve Hashemi, St. Joseph

OL Michael Donnelly, New Canaan

KR Austin Longi, Greenwich

PK Peter Swindell, New Canaan


DL Connor Buck, New Canaan

DL Mark Evanchick, Darien

DL Jack Wynne, Greenwich

LB Michael Root, New Canaan

LB Cole Harris, New Canaan

LB Zach Allen, New Canaan

LB Kenny Keen, Brien McMahon

DB Brett Phillips, Wilton

DB Will Johnson, Staples

DB Griffin Ross, Darien

DB Michael DiCosmo, New Canaan

P Daly Hebert, Darien

A dozen reasons why the FCIAC doesn’t pick just a 25-player first team: QB Jordan Vazzano, St. Joseph; QB Silas Wyper, Darien; QB Nick Roberts, Trumbull; OL Joe Fraccaroli, Wilton; WR Shane Miller, St. Joseph; LB Myles Ridder, Darien; LB Andrew Chuma, Ridgefield; LB Timmy Hinton, Brien McMahon; DL Ahmed Hourani, Fairfield Warde; OL Andrew Starr, Brien McMahon; DL Corey Barrett, Norwalk; QB Vochan Fowler, Bassick


  1. You missed one Dave. Beau Santero was NC’s best offensive linemen. You might have noticed that when NC needed yards they ran to the right. There was a reason for that.
    Also in big games Santero was the only Ram to play on both sides of ball and not come out.
    Might be more unsung than even Phillips at this point.

    Glad you are making amends on leaving Root off player of year list. In State Championship
    He had 7 primaries / 3 assists/ 2 Sacks/ 1 interception. That’s a game.

    • Beau deserves to be here too. I put him on, looked at others and took him off, then put him on again, off again. Honestly as much as we kill the league to have just one first team, there were a lot of good players this year.

  2. Who’ s snapping the ball? I nominate Ryan Mckenna. The kid must have made
    over 1200 snaps if you figure 15 games x an average of 80 off plays per game.

    I can recall only 1 bad snap out of those 1200. Bad snaps and the offense
    goes nowhere.

  3. My mistake in counting. The FCIAC lists 40. These lists are a reflection on talent as well as surrounding talent and coaching. Unfortunately many talented players on weak teams are overlooked.

    It is a shame that many of these young men don’t have the benefit of quality coaching that could give them opportunities beyond high school.

  4. Where is TJ Savvaides from Wilton or Dennis Hart-Lima from Westhill? Both of them were in the top of the stat standings throughout the entire season. Even with 4 or 5 less total games played, both of them have more solo tackles then the people you mention. Please recognize the players who may not have been on FCIAC champ teams, but still had OUTSTANDING seasons & stats. (FYI- Savvaides is only a Junior!)

    • If you are using MaxPreps for stats, keep in mind that MaxPreps is not always complete/accurate. Also consider playing time & impact, not just games played.

      As imperfect as it is, the All FCIAC vote is the best measure. The coaches base their votes on game film and player impact, not stats.

      Recognizing player accomplishments falls on the coaches and the end of year banquets. From my experience, most players don’t read these articles. I know of one event where the coaches and committee did an outstanding job in recognizing their players. (TJ was there)

      • to B Grant – so why keep stats if their measurement doesn’t really matter? Seems to me that they matter when certain teams are being promoted! Then why do they list the stats in the bio’s of some of the post season awards or mention them in EVERY newspaper article? Obviously if a player has over 60 solo tackles in a season, their “game film and player impact” is evident. Solo tackles are by far a bigger accomplishment then total tackles. Especially when the teams lower in the standings are making these “solo tackles” vs the TOP FCIAC teams! I thought these awards are based on individual accomplishments, not what your team record is. There are OUTSTANDING players on teams that don’t even make playoffs. Does that mean they are not worthy of recognition? You mention “coaches and committee doing an outstanding job recognizing -TJ was there”. What are you referring to?

  5. Thanks for leaving me out of the all fciac football team which I made. Maybe it’s because I’m from bridgeport but it’s cool

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