DARIEN — Darien’s football program came into the 2017 season with an active resume unmatched in all of Connecticut. They had won 25 consecutive regular-season games, including back-to-back Class LL championships, and earned the New Haven Register’s No. 1 ranking twice.
Then the 2017 preseason Top 10 was released, the current Blue Wave players couldn’t believe their eyes.
They were ranked No. 2. Behind New Canaan.
Huh? You mean the New Canaan team they’ve beaten in five-consecutive Thanksgiving Day games? That New Canaan? Was there something these Blue Wave players missed?
“We absolutely felt slighted,” senior defensive lineman Mike Neary admitted Saturday after the Blue Wave won their 28th-consecutive game by crushing No. 3 St. Joseph, 42-10. That’s the same St. Joseph team which stunned New Canaan, 38-35, on the road in Week 1.
“You win five straight Turkey Bowls and New Canaaan gets ranked ahead of us?” Neary said. “It put a fire under us. We feel that we’re the better team. We feel that we’re the best team in the state.”
There really can’t be any argument now. Darien’s quite pleased the prodigal voters have come around again. They’ve only defeated Ridgefield, McMahon and now St. Joseph by an average score of 41-7.
Now that the Blue Wave are No. 1 again, still they find ways to motivate themselves anew.
“(St. Joseph) wanted to come in here and take it away from us,” Darien coach Rob Trifone said. “So that was our motivation this week.”
What’s been amazing about Darien’s run is that it’s done it after suffering crippling graduation losses that would have killed most programs.
After winning its first Class LL title in 2015 with all-staters Hudson Hamill, Bobby and Christian Trifone, quarterback Timmy Graham, receiver Colin Minicus and, of course the state player of the year in defensive end Mark Evanchick, the Blue Wave merely retooled with all-staters Andrew Stueber, Finlay Collins, Quinn Fay and won it all again without breaking much of a sweat.
That’s because Darien’s sweating is done the offseason.
Sure, most successful programs point to their offseason work. But, with Darien, it’s almost become religion.
“We won the (2016) state championship against Ridgefield on a Saturday and I told them take the week off,” Trifone recalls. “And they come to me and said, ‘Coach, we want to be in the weight room on Monday.
“It’s the weight room. The commitment in the offseason training. John Carlozzi’s our strength and fitness guy. He works with them year-round and they see the product. They see it year round.”
In July, it was paying dividends again. Darien won Berlin’s annual Lineman Challenge for a fourth-consecutive year. When the 2017 season arrived, Darien’s new linemen — among them Neary, Will Keating, Christian Evans, Charlie Zuro, Drew Evanchick and John Lochtefeld — were dominating just as much as the previous year’s unit did.
Against St. Joseph, Darien’s defensive line had 11 tackles for a loss and had 6 1/2 sacks, led by Neary’s three.
“The names change, but the results don’t,” Neary said. “We really want to keep that win streak going for us. Not just for the future, but for the past, as well.”
Indeed, it’s not just the weight training. Darien also has a bond with its recent alumni, who often challenge their former classmates to uphold the program’s honor.
Take, for example, Darien’s secondary — led this year by seniors Brian Minicus and Nick Green. All week, Trifone said, last year’s alumni taunted them via text message: “Are you gonna get it done? We got it done. Now it’s your turn.”
The result: The secondary held St. Joseph quarterback David Summers to a mere 140 yards passing. All-State receiver Jared Mallozzi, who came in with 22 catches for 285 yards and six touchdowns, had but one catch for two yards vs. the Blue Wave.
“There’s a lot of good alumni and stuff that goes on here and they rose to the occasion,” Trifone said.
Same goes for the offensive side. The Blue Wave are on their third quarterback in three seasons. Despite not taking a single varsity or junior varsity snap last year, senior Jack Joyce has been nearly flawless. Senior Mitchell Pryor, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound monster back, scored three touchdowns vs. St. Joseph.
Trifone acknowledges his players are good, but says it’s their dedication that brings in the titles.
“I’m blessed with a lot of good talent,” he said. “It’s not that we’re taking nothing and making something out of it. But, I think the answer to the question, these kids have bought in year round and it shows.”