Only losing about eight players to graduation, and all of two football games last year, the Wave returns a mercurial contender in campaign 2012.
“Obviously we’ve got a lot of experience,” said Darien coach Rob Trifone. “Having been there before, often it’s those teams, that in tight or close situations are able to come through. The mental part of the game changes.”
Likely candidates for coming through, if the Wave is to break through for a title shot in November: seniors, gazelle-like leading rusher Peter Gesualdi, and a steady-as-a-tightrope-walker quarterback in Henry Baldwin.
Gesualdi, leading DHS with 96 points last season, scored nine touchdowns on 410 yards running and seven TDs in the air, receiving for 455 yards.
Baldwin threw 129 completes in 228 attempts for 1,884 yards, averaging 188.4 per game and firing a Wave record 27 touchdowns as Darien went 8-2, losing to Staples in a snow storm and New Canaan in the holiday finale, in 2011.
But the Wave will need to crush those creeping mercurial inclinations, should they appear, to go long this fall.
And it’s happened already.
“Hillhouse High school from New Haven came down here on Tuesday,” said Trifone. “Now, they are supposed to be very good again — just about every year they are in the state final.
“And I told my kids: here comes a perennial power, let’s see how you do.”
They did not do so well, not at first.
“First half of the scrimmage it was 14-0 Hillhouse,” said Trifone. “And we were slopping around, not being real physical.”
Then Darien went from slop around to turnaround.
“I had a few choice words — OK, words of encouragement — during half-time of the scrimmage” he said. “And we finished out 14-14 and (Hillhouse) gained seven yards in the second half, totally.”
The combustibles are there. This season will be about setting them alight.
“There’s so much that goes into team chemistry,” said Trifone. “And attitude and experience. And in a physical sport, there’s a little more emphasis on that chemistry and attitude and stuff like that.”
The sooner that chemistry produces a consistent spark, the better Trifone will like it, and the better the chances for something explosive happening for the Wave.
“I said, I don’t mind motivating young men, I’ve been doing it my whole career,” said Trifone. “But, this is a veteran group. Do you need me, to step in, and get you motivated to play a perennial state power? Or, can you motivate yourself for the challenge?”
The answer was in the asking.
“It was a very good lesson. They were two totally different teams from the first half to the second half. You wouldn’t know either of them.
“You play like the second half, I think we can play with anyone.”
Darien has eight back from last year on defense and the same number on offense.
Junior Alex Gunn is at center, while at guard there’ll be experienced senior Ben Sickinger.
At tackle is an experienced dynamo in Matt D’Andrea, junior Tommy Gasparino is at guard and Nick Kunze up from JV at tackle as well.
“People are going to know who Matt D’Andrea (6-1, 278) is, and Nick (Kunze), for what it’s worth, is 6-2, 270,” said Trifone.
The entire backfield returns with QB Baldwin, Gesualdi and another ace in Ian Vanderhorn — 208 yards on 31 tries rushing in ’11 — as halfbacks.
Christian Bogner, who rushed for 412 yards on 88 carries last season, is at fullback. Bet on it being a big year for Bogner.
“Where we start to lack experience, but have some talented kids, is out at wide receiver,” Trifone said. “We graduated a lot of our tall trees, so at wide out right now we have senior Jackson Whiting, who has done very well.”
On the other side there is Kyle Gifford, a junior, and Graham Lesko, a senior, both battling for the job.
At tight end is a 6-3, 210-pound senior in Jack Bennett, who played as an underclassman, left the game, bulked up, and is a welcome addition this year.
Senior C.J. Rai is back as kicker, and expected to be equal to the task of taking over from high scoring Chris Smith (Class of 2012). Daly Hebert will be called on as well.
Will Lochtefeld (6-1, 240), second in sacks for DHS last season, returns.
“And they can move too,” Trifone said of Lochtefeld and D’Andrea.
Nose guard, up from JV, and joining them is Chris Hammernick.
Behind them, linebacker Andrew Malley, who started every game last year and Matt Brown (6-2, 205) who is looking to do that this season.
The entire secondary returns.
Brian Weigand is at one corner, Whiting at another. Gesualdi and Vanderhorn, last year at safety, are there again.
“Once more, four guys that have been there, done that,” said Trifone. “That gives you the experience.”
Wave captains are Baldwin, Gesualdi, Vanderhorn, D’Andrea and Malley.
New to the lineup junior Myles Ridder at outside linebacker, corner John Reed, who did play some last year and had a couple of interceptions as a sophomore on varsity, and senior Theo Frelinghuysen, who played when he was younger, left the game, and like Bennett, came back bigger and stronger.
“And he is doing a nice job,” said Trifone. “He helped our depth and is definitely going to get varsity snaps.”
Back-up quarterback is Silas Wyper.
“Every returning starter has the capability of making a big play,” said Trifone, not relying totally on Gesualdi, Baldwin and change. “That’s what a veteran team gives you too.”
A pretty accurate survey of the league
Darien’s schedule is promising. Promising just what, though, is not an easy guess.
“Here’s the reality,” said Trifone, with, apparently, one and only one gigantic iceberg in the offing in top-rated Staples before Turkey Bowl. “Here’s a pretty accurate survey of the league.
“Staples probably returns the best team that Marce Petroccio has every had.”
Are all the Wreckers back from the All Hallows Eve-eve whiteout wipe out game at Westport, where Darien lost 42-23, ruining its postseason shot last year?
“Every one of them,” said Trifone. “Marce and I kind of kid one another. Because he knew that I had a lot coming back. But ironically, he’s got more.
“And everyone knows that, it’s not a secret. Marce has the best team, or equal to the best team, he’s ever had.”
Staples visits the Wave in week seven, Oct. 27.
Darien opens up at Ludlowe 7 p.m. on Sept. 14, then has it’s home opener vs. Warde 1:30 p.m. Sept. 22, followed by games vs. St. Joseph, Danbury, Trumbull, Wilton.
“And New Canaan’s New Canaan — I don’t care what they say,” said Trifone. “We just did a (five year) study to determine who has the highest winning percentage (in the FCIAC) and guess who was No. 1?”
Rams, is the correct answer.
Staples was two, and three?
“The good old Blue Wave,” said Trifone.
He won’t call them sleepers, because, basically, if you snooze against them, you lose.
“They’re far from being sleepers — these are teams that are going to surprise people,” said Trifone. “Surprise people, either, upsetting major teams, potentially including ourselves, and or just (have) great records that you don’t normally see.”
One is St. Joe’s.
“Last year they were a year away,” he added. “That’s why they are kind of under the radar. So that’s game three for us. They’ve got speed, they’re big, they’re going to be very good.”
Darien’s felled foe from its FCIAC title year of 2010 is back up off the mat.
“You are going to hear Trumbull roaring again,” he said. “Trumbull had a rough year last year, and people are kind of counting them out. And I’m telling you right now, don’t. They’re very motivated by their down season last year.”
Trifone adds that none of the not-sleepers are in Staples’ category.
“But, Trumbull is good — Wilton is good,” he said. “Wilton will cause problems for everyone. They return a good wide out and an enormous line. They have three kids over 300 pounds.
“And again, maybe (it’s) one of those teams that a year ago was 5-5, are 6-4 — or what ever the heck they were — it gets deceiving.”
And it gets strange.
“The last one, and most people aren’t going to believe this, yet, is Trinity,” said Trifone of the team that tends to be quickly checked in the win column for DHS every year. “Trinity’s running back (Shaquan Howsie) last year hurt his ACL and didn’t play. He started for them as a sophomore, in the backfield. And as a sophomore was one of the best running backs in the league.
“He’s legit — he’s 215 pounds and you can’t tackle him.”
You can make out a faint echo of Darien’s last championship year, but the sound won’t rebound in the same way.
“If you compare the 2010 team to the 2012 team I think there are a lot of similarities,” Trifone said. “I think the difference is, in 2010, the league was a little down, and we were up.”
“The league’s not down this year.”
Darien Times Sports Cracked Crystal Ball Prediction
The power that is there, will and otherwise, is tapped, and the talents gel like gelignite for a 9-1 2012.
*Chance of that in fact happening: 60 percent (remember, the crystal ball is cracked).