WESTPORT — It was a late January day, and Kevin Rabacs didn’t think much when the members of the Staples football team were called together for a meeting. The Wreckers were two months removed from a year that ended with a 6-4 record, and the players who would be returning were already in the weight room, in the early stages of their preparation.
“We were turning to this season as seniors,” Rabacs said.
That turn became an unexpected detour. Marce Petroccio had gathered his players with stunning news: he was resigning as coach to take the job at Trumbull, his alma mater.
“We all loved Coach P,” Rabacs said. “It was definitely a shock. Nobody saw it coming.”
The program remained in limbo for over four months, before Phil Treglia, the offensive coordinator at Archbishop Stepinac in White Plains, was hired.
As conditioning week reached day four this morning, Treglia and his players are continuing the acclimation process as they get ready for the start of the season three weeks from tomorrow.
“It’s been three years here, it was the entire youth program leading up to it so it’s definitely a lot of change,” said Rabacs, an all-purpose offensive and special teams threat. “The formations are a little different, just the way we run practices is a little different but in the end it is football still. We’re still wearing the same S, the same jerseys, so it’s all good.”
Petroccio’s departure, because of his resume, was the most seismic of the seven coaching changes that took place during the offseason. When Petroccio came to Staples 25 years ago, the program was in a state of disrepair. Staples was known as a “soccer school” due to the extreme success differences in the two fall sports. Petroccio had built the Wreckers into a state power, with five league and three CIAC titles. He averaged 8.5 wins a season.
“It was pretty hard with him telling us he was going to leave and going to Trumbull,” said Blake Runkle, a defensive lineman, tight end and along with Rabacs one of the team’s captains.
The delay before Treglia was hired put the Wreckers in a disadvantageous situation. Led by Jon Zames, the strength and conditioning coach, the players continued their offseason workouts while awaiting word on who would be leading them on the sideline this season.
“It took a while to get a coach but Jon Zames really stepped in and kept us together in the weight room, and a lot of seniors stepped up because we didn’t have captains yet,” Runkle said.
Because Treglia was hired in early June, spring practice was no longer an option. So the team has taken advantage of the extra five days this summer to continue a process that Treglia and his players agreed has been progressing positively.
“It’s been a lot of fun, having the kids on the field, having them together,” Treglia said. “We’re having a lot of fun out here. We’re starting early in the morning and we’re out of here early. They’ve been great. A lot of great senior leadership is pulling our team together. It’s keeping us motivated. So far, so good.”
Archbishop Stepinac won the New York state title last year. In the final, a 49-28 win over Canisius, Treglia’s offense accumulated 520 yards.
“He did a lot of cool things at Stepinac throwing the ball,” Rabacs said. “He’s doing a good job seeing what we have with athletes and getting the ball to certain guys quick and using our strengths. He’s definitely done a good job just assessing us and running the offense and filling our needs, and same with the defense.”
Treglia has been pleased with what he has seen, including off the field, as he continues evaluating players.
“We have some hard-working kids, great senior leadership,” Treglia said. “And they’re bringing the underclassmen together and forming that bond. That’s what this week is all about, conditioning, getting together, getting our system in. Just staying together as a team and as a family.”
The upperclassmen are also making the adjustments as they learn unfamiliar schemes.
“We’ve really seen a difference in the play styles,” Runkle said. “It’s a lot different than Coach P’s style, but we’re super excited for the season.”
The Wreckers will begin formal practices on Saturday. After months of waiting, the players finally have a track.
“There’s always a buzz at this time of the year but there’s a lot of excitement,” Rabacs said. “There are a lot of questions around Staples football this time of year. Everyone wants to see what direction the program is headed. We are taking a lot of pride in being that first group.”