Exhausted by a beating sun and the accumulated wear of two practices in one day, the Darien football team came to a halt Monday afternoon when head coach Rob Trifone abruptly called for time during post-practice sprints. Carrying a large brass bell, he strode over to his now bent-over bunch and gave each Blue Wave player a choice.
Finish the hundreds of yards left to sprint, or stop at any moment, ring the bell, which was about to be set it in the middle of the field, and you could quit.
No more practice.
No more running.
You would be done for the day.
Trifone's team, resolved to return to its 2013 perch near the top of the Connecticut football mountain, refused. And so it kept running until the very last Wave player restarted his unforgiving half-hour of gassers in 85-degree heat and finished.
That appears to be the most important idea fueling the Blue Wave in every practice, lift, sprint and scrimmage this season. Last year's 12-2 campaign, a remarkable effort put together by a group expected to win only half its games, laid out the championship blueprint. Now, as Trifone and co. will tell you, Darien has to come together and execute it.
Monday was a good step in that direction.
"I learned today that this team's pretty tough," Trifone said. "We practiced this morning, so we'd already had double sessions, and it was the first hot day. Last week we practiced early in the morning, but we haven't practiced once in the heat, and they knew today was a hard conditioning day."
Over Monday's second practice, which preceded the conditioning work, Darien focused on specific position techniques, defensive team drills, 7-on-7s, 11-on-11s, preparing for opponents' tendencies and special teams. As expected, some passes hit the ground, tackles were missed and mistakes were repeated.
But that's camp. And as of right now, there's been much more good than bad before the season opener on Sept. 12 at Hillhouse, where the Blue Wave will begin its march to finish 2014 as state champions.
DEPTH CHART UPDATES
The big question outside the Darien program this off-season has been how effectively junior quarterback Tim Graham will replace the graduated Silas Wyper under center. On the Wave practice fields, that question is quickly dissipating.
Per Trifone, Graham demonstrated good poise and leadership over the weekend while the team scrimmaged with Stamford, attributes the longtime coach wants to see most out of his signal caller. In his brief action during an overall defensive-focused practice, Graham showed excellent touch on intermediate and deep throws. He appeared very relaxed and regularly fired balls where only his receiver could make a play.
Sophomore lineman Andrew Stuber, who stands at 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, has grown the cautious optimism his coaches felt about his ability into real confidence over the first few fall practices. Early on, the staff wondered whether the youngster could maintain his level of play when the pads were put on and two-a-days began. So far, so good. The plan is to keep Stuber solely at offensive tackle this season, a move designed to further hone his skills and provide rest to some of the Wave's two-way linemen.
Last season, senior K/P Daly Hebert played a key role in many of Darien's comeback victories over state powers, efforts that were later recognized by an All-FCIAC honor. Hebert's replacement, young Stephen Walker, may already be onto an all-conference award himself.
The new Wave kicker and punter boomed his first kickoff of the afternoon near the goalline and executed two situational kicks successfully immediately after. When the team switched to punting work, he launched his first boot from midfield down inside the five-yardline, where it promptly took a single bounce out of bounds. Earlier in the week, Wave captains George Reed and Griffin Ross lauded Walker's performances during spring practices, which seem to have translated well to the new school year.
PLAYS OF THE DAY
Wide receiver Todd Herget won a jump ball late in 11-on-11 play against the first-team defense, tumbling backwards with the catch to the praise of nearby teammates and coaches.
Junior defensive back Hudson Hamill managed to knock multiple passes away in the same segment, largely thanks to his fluid hips and excellent change-of-direction ability, both qualities that are criticla for his position.
Hamill's classmate and defensive backfield partner, Bobby Trifone, also took a number of good breaks on the ball in pass defense. Overall, it was a highly instinctive showing by the secondary, which figures to benefit well from a powerful pass rush this season.
- As part of a team-bonding experience, Trifone is taking the team out Friday night to see "When The Game Stands Tall", a film recently released nationwide about a high school football team overcoming adversity. The Darien headman has already seen the flick, as he was invited to see an early screening of the movie back in January.
- Senior defensive lineman Mark Evanchick banged his knee over the weekend and was held out of practice. He is being eased back into action, though there is no worry long-term.
- The Oklahoma drill, a staple for most high school camps designed to simulate full-contact situations in confined spaces featuring one offensive lineman, a defender and a ball carrier, was put to good use with both varsity and junior varsity lineman.
- While they were hardly utilized, wristbands used to help make playcalls were worn throughout practice by most varsity players.
- Trifone said Stamford took it to Darien early in their weekend scrimmage, though the offense improved as it went along and the defense remained steady.
- The Wave defense spent nearly a half-hour preparing for Hillhouse's option offense and will continue to do so throughout camp to best prepare for the opener.
- This Saturday, Darien will travel to Branford for a scrimmage at 9 a.m. Six days later, the Blue Wave will visit McMahon on next Friday night for another exhibition. Kickoff time is TBD.
- Starting running back Peter Archey carried a football during sprints and after practice, continuing to work at his craft well after the skills portion of the day had ended.