Published 11:03 am, Friday, September 10, 2010
Often times in the preseason there are so many of the same approaches coaches can take. They can talk about the bright spots in many locations about their team. Frankly, many don't cling to an identity early, as they shy away from alienating certain players on the team.
But make no mistake: The Blue Wave is about defense in 2010. The players and coaches acknowledge that. Few football teams in the FCIAC will have as much of a reputation around one thing as Darien will with its D. The defensive line is angry, the linebackers brutal and the secondary deceptively acute.
The Blue Wave could be the FCIAC's version of the Jets, only without the television cameras following them around and the arrogant attitude that comes with such attention.
Last year's team set the bar high, but plenty of starters return for the 2010 campaign.
"The defense has no excuse," head coach Rob Trifone said. "We even have depth. We have kids who can give Jake (Weil) or Charlie Kunze a couple plays off, and that's important too. Those players get dog-tired. We got experience back that's bigger and stronger and expectations are high, but some of the preseason hype about the defense I played down with them."
MaxPreps.com had the defense ranked No. 1 in the FCIAC. The hype is something the team may have to embrace, but the work ethic from last year will be what determines how this team is viewed.
"The expectation is high, but they're high school kids," Trifone said. "I told them, `The reason you were good last year was you went home every night, did your homework, watched your video tape and did what you were supposed to. If you think you're so good you don't think you need to go home and do that again, then watch what happens.'"
Returning starters up front for the defense is Tucker Morehouse and James Shanley at defensive end and Kunze at defensive tackle. All three are seniors. The other senior starter, Jack Sherwood, didn't play last year because of a bad hamstring, an injury that didn't relate to football.
"We're excited about that guy," Trifone said of Sherwood.
Moving deeper into the defense, Weil will again lead the team at middle linebacker. Jarrett Gatling and Sam Gesualdi, a senior who's coming back after missing half of last season because of a concussion, will patrol the outside of the midfield.
Trifone said Brandon Coley has been a pleasant, big surprise -- literally. He played a little bit of safety last year, but nobody bulked up like he did. Coley went from 155 to 175 pounds, adding only muscle, and mandating a move from the secondary to linebacker.
"It's a big difference, as he was always athletic," Trifone said. "Being 175 isn't a monster, but when you can run -- he's always been a fast kid -- and now he's playing with some confidence, it's a pleasant surprise."
And as for the secondary, three starters are back: Maybell, who led the FCIAC with seven interceptions in 2009; McDonough, who started every game at corner and Scottie Waters who also started every game, will bait opposing quarterbacks into throwing against them.
Maybell could become the face of the team. He'll get carries in the backfield again, as Trifone identifies him as an "electric runner" whenever he has space. He was the co-MVP of Turkey Bowl last year, too.
Maybell will be receiving the ball from senior Chris Allam, a transfer who attended Berkshire School for his junior year after spending his freshman and sophomore years at Darien High. He doesn't know the system as well -- yet -- as George Benitez did last year. Benitez often could improvise on the run, and getting production from behind center wasn't always a concern.
Allam will have some immediate proving to do. He is similar mold to what Darien had in Benitez, though coaches have said Allam's got a better arm.
"The strength of our offense is our offensive line," TrifonE said. Seniors Kunze, Justin Coley and Mason Barron are returning, while newcomers 230-pound center Jack Newton and 235-pound right tackle Brett O'Donnell are juniors who have mightily impressed the coaching staff.
In the preseason Darien allowed one touchdown. Trifone, in his 32nd year as a high school coach, has learned to take no chances in the preseason when it comes to injuries, so he benched quite a few of his marquee players, making the stymieing all the more impressive.
"If there's even an inkling of an injury I sit him out, because my goal is to go into the first game completely healthy," Trifone said. "I rested some kids with minor bumps and bruises, which is fine, and they'll all be ready for Warde."
Warde is the team that shocked Darien last year in its season-opener. The team's been looking forward to the rematch nearly as much as it anticipates the yearly game against New Canaan.
"We learned quickly last year when Warde knocked us off in the opener how they can beat you," Trifone said. "I think the FCIAC is up this year. Everyone goes through cycles, and like us, there are several teams with a good core of seniors, and teams like Trinity Catholic who, traditionally, suffer in numbers. They're going to be very good. I don't even think they're a dark horse because everyone knows about them."
Darien won't be surprising anyone, either.