There’s many cogs that make the Darien football machine tick.

A year ago they all worked in perfect synchronicity, rendering the Blue Wave undefeated while claiming both the FCIAC and state Class LL titles.

One of the driving forces behind such success was the men in the trenches in Darien. The offensive and defensive linemen rarely get much credit (save for All-World defensive end Mark Evanchick) but without their performances none of what Darien accomplishes year in and year out would be possible.

The process of building the line, both in cohesiveness and strength, starts every January with strength coach John Carlozzi, and culminates in late July at the Connecticut Lineman Challenge in Berlin.

For three years Darien has competed in the event and this year made it a perfect three for three, decimating the competition in its most dominant triumph yet.

“Three years ago when John Carlozzi approached me about taking a group of linemen up to Berlin, I was all for it,” Darien coach Rob Trifone said. “John does a great job training our linemen all year round and the linemen challenge has given them an opportunity to demonstrate their skills that they work so hard at. I truly appreciate all of the hard work and dedication that John puts into developing our lineman.”

That appreciation goes both ways as Carlozzi expressed his gratitude to Trifone and the rest of the Darien parents for instilling their faith in him to safely and successfully train the young athletes, a trust that has paid major dividends.

“I’m honored and humbled to be working with a coach that trusts me to help out his team,” Carlozzi said. “And to have the community trust me with their kids.”

In a system that rewards points based on performance in nine events the team with the lowest score is deemed the champion.

In 2016 Darien won with a score of 19, almost half of the runner-up Southington’s 35 and well below third-place-finishing Berlin at 72.

In fact, even with major turnover from year to year, as is the challenge with high school sports, Darien has been able to improve in each of its appearances at the competition, largely due to the strategy of Carlozzi.

“The first year when we went there I went in blind, I had no idea what to expect, I had a monster line and I said, ‘we’re big, we’re physical, we’re strong, we’re going to do well and we did,’” Carlozzi said. “We lost the tug-of-war but we still had enough points to win the event. Last year I had a little more strategy to go in and know what events to do, but you graduate people, this year we had to replace Spencer Stovall and Mark Evanchick, enough said there.”

It’s not just the strategy in place that makes Darien so successful but the willingness of the boys to put in the work. The football season stretches from September to December but every January the team is back in the weight room, looking to get better for the next year despite school, work and other athletic commitments.

“We’re the hardest working team in the state,” said a confident Carlozzi. “It showed the last couple years, particularly last year, and this year, with that, should be promising. They start working hard from day one in January; all the events that are there are easier because the tasks that they have to go though from January to the event are much worse--if I put them in a tougher situation in the off-season once they’re on the field they’re known to be more mentally tough and I think a lot of the stuff that we do correlates onto the field.”

Besides winning the overall title Darien placed first in the bench press, with Justin Plank claiming top honors, the heavy bag, the truck push and the tug-of-war.

While that’s enough to make any coach smile it wasn’t enough for Carlozzi, who already has his eyes on the future and decided to bring a “B” team up to Berlin to compete.

The goal was to get the younger players accustomed to the competition and working out with the upperclassmen but the B team shattered all expectations, finishing fourth in the competition out of 33 total teams.

“I suggested to Coach (Trifone) and he was in agreement that, let’s bring up a second team so they have an advantage to see what it’s like next year and to start getting hungry,” Carlozzi said. “Quite frankly I knew we would do well with the second team, to say we would be in the top four when it was said and done would be irresponsible—but then again it’s a sign of what’s to come next year.”

As far as next year goes Carlozzi once again likes his chances. While he has another strong class graduating the coach, who equated the competition to his Super Bowl, is confident in the mix of returning players and underclassman.

“I like my chances next year,” Carlozzi said. “Is it going to be hard to replace this core of Andrew Stueber, Justin Plank, Brian Keating and Cord fox? Yes; but there’s still a couple kids form the A team that will be there and be stronger and just like anything in sports the B kids have to step up.” @reportedbytheAP