Darien football team feeling good after first practice of fall

Most high school football teams would probably sign up for a 19-4 record over a two-year span. Darien, however, is not "most high school football teams."

A winning season is nothing new for the Blue Wave, and to the surprise of probably no one, they've set the bar quite high for the 2012-13 campaign, a point which was made quite clear at the Darien High School gridiron on Monday morning, the first day of football practice.

"It was great. We worked on a lot of things, but we definitely have to tighten it up. Obviously, we'd love to win the FCIAC," Darien captain and running back/safety Ian Vanderhorn said. "We think about (last year's loss to Staples) every day we're out here. It serves as a reminder that you've got to get better every day. We're just telling them to stay focused and learn the playbook early."

Although 18 seniors were lost to graduation, Darien returns the bulk of its team which finished with an 8-2 mark and fell just shy of the FCIAC title game and the Class L state tournament in 2011-12. According to head coach Rob Trifone, experience is something that the Blue Wave have on their side this season.

"Put it this way: The expectations are high. You don't go 19-4 with a group and then walk into a season and say `OK, let's go 8-2 again,'" Darien coach Rob Trifone said. "If we stay healthy and we stay smart, we're going to be good this year. It's a veteran, very experienced group, but they can't rest on their laurels. We lost some wideouts and you're always going to lose a lineman or two, but we return a lot of experience."

Among some of the key offensive returnees are second-year starting quarterback Henry Baldwin and running backs Peter Gesualdi and Christain Bognar. Baldwin completed 129-of-228 passes for 1,884 yards while tossing 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, good for a QB rating of 98. Gesualdi carried the rock 77 times for 410 yards and nine touchdowns. Gesualdi also hauled in 24 receptions for 455 yards and seven touchdowns, all team-highs. Bognar led the team with 412 yards rushing on 88 carries and three touchdowns.

Naturally, Trifone is excited to have three of his most important offensive players back in the fold for one more run at an FCIAC title.

More Information
Fact box

"It's very nice because as a high school coach you're always linked to who graduates and who doesn't. You go through cycles. We've had groups who don't have the experience, but this is an experienced group," Trifone said. "We've had position battles going on even through the offseason."

One position where Darien appeared to get hit relatively hard by graduation was receiver. After Gesualdi, Darien's top returning pass catchers from last season are Vanderhorn (four receptions for 102 yards) and Bognar (four receptions for 28 yards).

Some of Darien's signature wins from last season included a 24-21 win on the road against Danbury and a thrilling 35-34 double overtime victory at home against Wilton, but for the Blue Wave, it was the 42-23 loss to Staples, as well as a 42-21 loss at the hands of New Canaan which may stick out the most.

The silver lining of those two tough defeats may be that the returning players have continued to use those setbacks as motivation heading into 2012-13.

"It's definitely exciting to be back out here and get everything started again. We've been working hard over the summer," Darien captain and linebacker/guard Andrew Maley said. "I think about (the loss to Staples) a lot, and I know that a lot of other players who played in that game think about it all the time. It's extra motivation and it gets you to do those extra reps and keep working hard when you know you're tired."

As for the defensive side of the ball, Darien returns seven of 11 starters, including defensive tackle Will Lochtefeld, who posted a team-high seven sacks last season. Other key returnees are leading tacklers Maley and defensive tackle Matthew D'Andrea, who racked up 74 and 64 tackles in 2011-12, first and third on the team, respectively.

"We feel good because we return seven starters and we also have some nice depth with the younger guys who will help us as well," Trifone said.

Darien also lost kicker Chris Smith to graduation, and he will be replaced by C.J. Raia.

Darien was admittedly a bit "rusty" on its first day of practice, but according to Maley, there were still a lot of positives to take out of it.

"We started pretty well. It's a typical first day. We're a little rusty, but everyone's getting back in shape and getting the plays down, so it's a good start," Maley said. "Seeing the position battles is definitely a good thing because it gets everyone going. Just having that little extra motivation gets everyone working hard and it basically helps the whole team."

Darien kicks off its regular season on Friday, Sept. 14 when it takes to the road for a clash with Fairfield Ludlowe. Darien scored a 38-13 home victory over Ludlowe when the teams met at Darien High School during Week 1 of last season.

And while Darien has taken the "one game at a time mentality," a few marquee games include a trip to Wilton on Oct. 19 at 6 p.m., a home tilt with Staples on Oct. 27 at 1:30 p.m. and the annual Thanksgiving clash with New Canaan on Nov. 22 at Darien High School at 10:30 a.m.

"You've got to stay disciplined and run every play the way that it's supposed to be done, and we'll be a great team," Vanderhorn said.