Darien football sets sights on return to the top
For the past few seasons, Darien has been blessed with a seemingly endless supply of top quarterbacks.
Current signal-caller Peter Graham was a backup behind Jack Joyce on the 2017 Class LL championship team, and again last year when Cooper Hancock guided the Wave to a state tournament berth for the sixth-straight season.
Now it’s Graham’s turn and he’s raring to go.
“This is awesome,” Graham, a senior, said during the Grip It and Rip It 7-on-7 tournament at New Canaan’s Dunning Field in July. “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.”
Graham and the Blue Wave are in an unfamiliar spot this preseason as they enter the 2019 campaign without a state championship to defend for the first time in three years.
Darien won its first nine games last fall before finishing with losses to rival New Canaan in the Turkey Bowl on Thanksgiving and then to Newtown in the Class LL quarterfinals. That ended two Wave streaks: Three straight state titles and five consecutive appearances in the finals. They also hadn’t lost back-to-back games since 2007.
With that finish and the graduation of several key players, including two-time All-State linebacker Connor Fay, Darien enters the new season with less hype, but more hunger.
“I hate to say it but sometimes you’ve got to lose just to remember what it feels like,” 13-year coach Rob 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 (the hunger), especially in the weight room and winter workouts.”
Darien has had one of the better defenses in the state during the past few seasons, and even with the graduation of Fay, that trend should continue.
Sam Wilson and John Henry Slonieski return as outside linebackers after combining for 150 tackles last fall, with Will Bothwell, who led the team in sacks, back as a defensive end. All three are co-captains.
The Wave also has more size on both sides of the ball.
“We return with more experience and size than last year,” Trifone said. “Last year, most of our bigger players were sophomores who saw some time, but now they have spent a year in the weight room.”
Those rising, and growing, stars include OT Sydney Wiebel (6-foot-6, 263 pounds), OG Alec Washecka (6-1, 245), and DTs Jackson Walsh (6-1, 308) and Jake Wade (6-0, 244), all juniors, and DT Beau Hancock (6-2, 238), a sophomore.
Senior running back Will Kirby, also a Wave co-captain, gives Darien a veteran presence on offense after sharing the position with Andrew Lucas last fall. Lucas’s graduation gives Kirby the spotlight full time. He will be backed up in the running game by Wilson
The receiving corps took a big hit with the graduation of stars TJ Cornacchia, Tyler Herget, Will Rolapp and Peter Bredahl, who combined for more than 1,700 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns last fall.
Trifone is confident that those spots can be filled by the current receiving crew, a group led by Jackson Peters, Austin Dehmel and Michael Minicus, all returning seniors.
Graham and his receivers developed some chemistry during the summer, when they won the Shoreline 7-on-7 Tournament at Daniel Hand in Madison and then went 4-3 during the Grip It and Rip It tournament.
Now, Graham is ready to go, after ending 2018 on a losing note in Newtown.
“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.”
Of note: Darien picked up playoff rival Southington in the scheduling alliance, and will play the Blue Knights in Week 2. The schools met twice in the playoffs during Darien's run of three-straight titles, with Darien winning by an average score of 44-7. ...The Blue Wave also swapped FCIAC divisions with New Canaan and will now compete alongside Greenwich in the West Division.