Darien enters the 2019 football season in an unfamiliar place. For the first time in three years, the Blue Wave is not defending a state championship.

Senior Peter Graham, Darien’s starting quarterback, knows exactly where the road back to the top beings.

“The weight room, 7-on-7s, and right here at Grip It and Rip It, that’s where it starts,” Graham said during this weekend’s football tournament in New Canaan. “It’s great for team bonding and chemistry to get ready for the season.”

Darien, which finished 9-2 but lost its final two games last fall, has looked good this summer. The Wave won the Shoreline Tournament at Daniel Hand in Madison two weeks ago, and went 4-3 while missing a few players this weekend in New Canaan.

All of the 7-on-7 work is designed to get the skill position players ready for what lies ahead.

“Offensively, it’s all about timing between the quarterback and the receivers, pattern discipline and athletes continuing to learn their pass patterns,” Darien head coach Rob Trifone said. “Defensively, we get a lot out of it. You’re constantly reading your offensive players, reads that we’ve taught them all year long, and it gives them good practice in the secondary.”

Graham pointed to a long list of receivers who have looked strong for Darien this summer.

“Michael Minicus, Austin Dehmel, Ryan Mulliken, Connor O’Malley, Sean Gifford — they’ve all been playing tremendously,” Graham said. “And we don’t have Jackson Peters with us, but he’ll be back shortly and work his way into the rotation, too.”

Graham is also one of the newly-minted starters for Darien, taking over at QB for Cooper Hancock, who graduated in the spring.

During the Shoreline tournament, Graham was on fire, tossing four touchdown passes in the Blue Wave’s 44-6 win over Notre Dame-West Haven in the championship game. And that’s just one highlight for Graham.

“He had a magnificent spring,” Trifone said. “We had spring practice and you could see that he’s grown quite a bit and his strength is better, and his command of the offense, reading the defense, has improved so much.

“We went up to Hand a couple of weeks ago and Peter performed exceptionally well. We’re very pleased with his progress. This is his team and he knows it.”

It’s not just this summer either. Graham and his teammates have been working hard to get ready for 2019 since the day their season ended last year.

“Right after that game we talked and we were immediately back in the weight room working hard,” Graham said. “Now we have a chip on our shoulder. We want to get back to the state championship again and win a championship for Darien.”

“I hate to say it but sometimes you’ve got to lose just to remember what it feels like,” Trifone said. “Some of our football athletes may have become spoiled by winning and taking those back-to-back losses to New Canaan and Newtown — they weren’t happy. So we could see it, especially in the weight room and during winter workouts.”

As for taking over as the Wave’s starting QB for his senior season, Graham is ready to live the dream.

“This is awesome,” he said. “It’s been my dream since I was little: To be able to play football for Darien High School. It’s finally here and I’m trying to make the most of it.”

david.stewart@hearstmediact.com

Twitter: @dstewartsports