High school football: Top 10 storylines
High school football’s less than a week away. Let that sink in for a moment. So, forget about those meaningless summer scrimmages and start focusing on Week 1 of the regular season — you know, the games that actually count. To get you prepared, here are 10 of the area’s top storylines to watch — in no particular order — this fall.
1. FEAST OR FAMINE: Not only did the FCIAC retain its Thanksgiving rivalries, but it also preserved one of its marquee events, a football championship. There was a significant cost involved, however, as teams were forced to trim their regular-season schedule from 10 to nine games to comply with the CIAC’s safety regulations. Will it all be worth it? The conference’s higher-ups and a majority of coaches seem to think so, but time will tell.
2. IT’S GETTING A BIT CROWDED: The SWC has been a two-team race of late, but three-time defending champion Newtown and reigning Class M-Large king Brookfield will soon have some company — even though the league has decided not to hold a league title game this year.. Bethel is a playoff contender with nine starters back, while Bunnell, Masuk and New Fairfield are all on the upswing and could make life difficult for the conference’s perennial powers. An important note: Brookfield returns 17 starters, including star RB/LB Bobby Drysdale.
3. LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON?: He was lauded as an offensive mastermind for producing seven all-state quarterbacks at his alma mater, perennial powerhouse New Canaan, but in the offseason John Marinelli chose to step out of his father’s shadow and create his own legacy. Marinelli is now coaching 13 miles south at rival Greenwich, with an eye on energizing a program that’s missed the state playoffs six of the last seven years. There figures to be plenty of buzz at Cardinal Stadium, especially when Lou Marinelli’s Rams visit Oct. 24.
4. WHAT’S OLD IS NEW: It was the ‘Collapse Heard ‘Round the Valley,’ Ansonia squandering a 13-point lead to Valley Regional/Old Lyme in the final minutes of last season’s Class S-Large championship. The 21-20 loss sure was stunning, but early indications are that the Chargers remain the prohibitive favorite in the NVL despite graduating quarterback Jai’Quan McKnight. Just ask Derby coach George French, who recently said, “Ansonia’s the team to beat. The only way you can win the NVL is beat Ansonia.”
5. MOVING UP THE BOARD: There will still be a Turkey Bowl, and there might even be another Darien-New Canaan FCIAC final, but for the first time since 2012 fans will not be treated to a Class L state final featuring the border rivals. That’s because Darien jumped to LL in all sports, meaning fans can start dreaming about the Blue Wave running into powerhouses like Southington or Xavier in December.
6. CHANGING OF THE GUARD: After transforming Fairfield Prep back into a serious contender, Tom Shea stepped down following five seasons and handed the coaching reins to his understudy, defensive coordinator Keith Hellstern. Shea led the Jesuits to the Class LL finals in 2013, which seems awfully impressive considering how far the program had fallen under the previous regime in 2009 (0-10 record). Can Hellstern keep the momentum rolling?
7. LIFE’S GREENER ON THE OTHER SIDE: Humiliated by the endless cycle of losing that came with life in the mighty FCIAC, Bassick and Harding found a new and hopefully more inviting home for all sports. Welcome to the CSC, where the bus rides will be longer, but the hopes for tasting success will be greater. The Presidents (5-6 record last season) and the Lions (0-11) will have nowhere to go but up when they’re trading games against Staples and New Canaan for the likes of Quinebaug Valley and Thames River.
8. DON’T FORGET ABOUT US: Will two-time defending state champion St. Joseph pack the same punch after graduating nearly its entire starting lineup? We’ll all have to wait a while to find out, as the Cadets don’t open until Sept. 25 — seriously, Week 3 — at McMahon.
9. READY TO WREAK HAVOC: Darien defensive end Mark Evanchick is back, much to the chagrin of a quarterback near you. The 6-foot-1, 238-pound defensive end recorded an astonishing 25 sacks last year, ranking him first in Connecticut and tied for sixth in the country. Evanchick enters his senior year 17 sacks shy of Dwight Freeney’s career state record of 60.
10. MAKING IT COUNT: The one-year experiment is over. The CIAC will revert to crowning just four state champions over three rounds following last year’s watered-down format in which eight teams won titles after two rounds. While a few of the finals were packed with drama — Xavier-Shelton, New Canaan-Darien and the aforementioned Ansonia-Valley/OL clash come to mind — a state this size had no business handing out eight championship trophies.