August mornings are usually relatively serene at Darien High School. That being said, the unmistakable sights and sounds of the Blue Wave football team embarking on its preseason conditioning camp are jolting reminders that football season is right around the corner.
“We’re early-morning people,” Darien head coach Rob Trifone said. “They get here at seven and we break off into meetings and we watch film and talk about what we’re going to install on that particular day. Then we’ll go out and go through our regular practice. Then at the end of that session they condition, and they condition hard. I can tell you this, not a single young man has been late for practice.”
It’s this type of dedication and discipline from day one that has become the norm with the Wave, and heading into 2018 you can add resilience to that list. Last season Darien overcame controversy surrounding a potentially devastating Thanksgiving Day loss to New Canaan to claim its third straight Class LL state title with a thrilling 31-22 win over Greenwich.
“I think these young men are in a position where they refuse to lose and they don’t care what odds they’re against,” Trifone said. “They just rise to the occasion. Obviously Greenwich was Greenwich and that was a heck of a game in the state championship, but the two games leading up to that — East Hartford and West Haven — those teams are just as talented as any FCIAC team if not more. And it was a war to go through those three games with the Turkey Bowl letdown … hats off to those young men.”
“In the grand scheme of things it was a good thing for us,” senior co-captain Blake Cellar said. “What happened with the Turkey Bowl a lot of juniors had to step up last year and we proved in the state games that we could do it. So we’re coming in this year confident that we can make it back there.”
The focus early on for Darien is relatively simple. Trifone says the main goal is not so much to continue to establish offensive tempo and rhythm and replace heavy graduation losses — most notably the void left by quarterback Jack Joyce. Instead the staff and players have been starting small, working on fundamentals while building toward something bigger.
“Obviously conditioning is number one because you have to get these guys ready to play a 10-game-plus schedule,” Trifone said. “And it’s technique and we install offense and defense just like everyone else does, but you want to make sure the kids are playing with the right technique and that they’re safe. We talk to them all the time about being well hydrated and getting plenty of rest at night and they’ve been very good.”
“We’ve been getting some good work in,” senior co-captain Connor Fay said. “It’s so important, especially because this is the hardest week that we will have all year physically. This is when the bond is built, because we get through this week together. When we’re all struggling through conditioning and pushing through it together we’re building both mental and physical strength.”
For Darien to win a fourth straight Class LL title, it will need to dig deep each week. Trifone, who starts his 40th season as an FCIAC coach, says the league has an unprecedented amount of talent coming back in 2018. And given the recent success, he knows every team on Darien’s schedule will have the Wave circled on their respective calendars.
“The target is big,” Trifone said. “I don’t think the players feel the pressure, but maybe the coach does. They just want to perform at a high level. The good news is the bar is raised so high that they’re all trying to jump up and reach it. The other interesting thing is that they don’t want to let the alumni down. The alumni come around, they’ve been here in preseason and conditioned with them and they have that feeling of ‘I’m the younger brother and I’m not going to let you down.’ I think it’s a good thing.”