Darien linemen win fourth-straight berlin Challenge
DARIEN—Success starts in the summer.
For the Darien football team, there’s been plenty of success—two straight undefeated seasons, both resulting in Class L titles, and four-straight FCIAC titles.
Behind the scenes of that success is the boys in the trenches, and while it’s largely the skill-position players that get all the recognition, there’s little doubt the Darien program wouldn’t be what it is without the line play.
“Our strength coach, John Carlozzi does an incredible job getting our offensive and defensive lineman in great shape,” Darien coach Rob Trifone said of his linemen, who won their fourth-straight at the Berlin Lineman Challenge last Saturday. “Our lineman have certainly been one of the biggest reasons for our success."
For Carlozzi, Christmas comes in mid-July when he has a chance to show off his handiwork as the Blue Wave strength and conditioning coach—but it’s more than just the brute strength of the players that makes them successful.
“It’s a mental toughness in them,” Carlozzi said. “It’s been a good omen, knock on wood, that success at this event translates to success in the season with state championships, and hopefully another one for this year.”
Players participate in groups of six in events such as the bench press and tug-of-war. The Darien players begin training as soon as the season ends, giving them seven months to prepare for the event and impending season.
“I’m humbled by the effort,” Carlozzi said. “Starting right after the playoff run, the work they put in from day one all the way through that event. It’s bigger and bigger in terms of alumni support; if you participate in the event three years ago there’s people that were there from the first one and it continues from two years ago and last year.”
Graduates from this past season like Quinn Fay and Brian Keating were also among Darien alumni supporting their brotherhood of big men.
“It’s the same guys you work out with all high school, they always pushed me to make myself better and it passed down from there,” Reed said. “It’s not even just the lineman, the weight training program at Darien has become such a culture and everyone’s bought into the last couple of years.”
“We know obviously there’s a great lineage of lineman that have come through Darien and have all been dominant and physical,” said 2017 captain Mike Neary. “And our mindset is that the game really starts with the linemen. We feel the game is really won on the offensive and defensive line so it was good that we could hold that lineage up.”
Neary could be the next in that line of Darien products, and he was awarded as the Best Lineman at the event.
“It was an honor for sure,” Neary said. “But I just tried to do what my trainer told me to do and it was really a team effort overall. There’s six guys in every event so there’s no possible way I could have done it on my own.”
Darien has also started bringing a B team to the event, grooming younger players for the challenges that lie ahead. That strategy has proved itself worthy in recent years as the rising upperclassmen know what to expect when it’s their turn to shine.
“It’s player development,” Carlozzi said. “We had a lineman last year in Brian Keeney on the B team and he did six reps on the bench press—fast forward a year later and he did 16 or 17, so that improvement is over 200%.”
Eventually, it comes down to what the players do on the field, and despite being the only returning starter from last season, Neary is confident this group will soon make a name for themselves in that aspect.
“I think we have guys for sure that can step up and fill those shoes,” Neary said. “I may be the only returning offensive line guy, but we have younger guys that can step up on both sides that are an unknown to the FCIAC and the state right now. But if they work hard like they have been, we can really achieve this year.”