Above: Highlight reel for senior receiver Chris Longo, who is one of many talented players returning for Ridgefield in 2016. The Tigers have the look of a contender this season.
- Coach: KEVIN CALLAHAN (17th year, 114-60-1)
- Conference: FCIAC West
- Playoff Class: LL (879 boys enrollment)
- Home: Lancaster Field at Tiger Hollow, Ridgefield
- 2015 Record: 7-2 (5-2)
- 2016 Kickoff: Sept. 9 vs. Trumbull, 7 p.m.
- Team website: Ridgefieldfootball.com | MaxPreps | Twitter: @RidgefieldFball
- CHRIS LONGO, Sr. WR (6-2, 185)
- COLLIN LOWE, Sr. WR (6-4, 180)
- DREW FOWLER, Sr. QB (5-9, 170)
- SHANE PALMER, Sr. WR/RB (5-8, 170)
- PETROS PAPADOPOULOS, Sr. RB/K (5-7, 165)
- JENNER HAGELE, Sr. OL (5-10, 195)
- DANE BEHNKE, Sr. OL/DL (6-0, 235)
- MICHAEL TURNER, Jr. OL/DL (6-2, 240)
- MATT TARANTINO, Sr. OL/DL (6-1, 245)
- MITCHELL JACKSON, Soph. WR (6-3, 190)
- CONOR FLANAGAN, Sr. OL/LS (6-0, 190)
- MATT LOMBARDO, Jr. DB (5-8, 165)
- WILLIAM CARPENTER, Sr. DB (6-0, 185)
- THOMAS MacMANNIS, Sr. OLB (5-10, 180)
- AIDEN SPEARMAN, Sr. DB (5-11, 185)
- LUKE GAYDOS, Jr. DB (6-0, 180)
- PATRICK LANG, Sr. LB (5-11, 200)
- ALEX CALI, Jr. LB (5-11, 190)
- TONY MACCHIA, Sr. LB (5-11, 190)
- PETER BEHNKE, Soph. DL (6-1, 240)
- JOHN SCHNIEDER, Jr. DL (6-2, 260)
LB Leo Grizzaffi, DL Richard Donovan, DL Cody Loweth, WR CJ Varian, OLB A.J. Fabbri
While playing against Dave Cadelina’s Bridgeport Central teams a few years back, veteran Ridgefield coach Kevin Callahan was struck by how dedicated Cadelina was to running a two-platoon system. Most programs talk big about using entirely different squads for both offense and defense, but only a few could pull it off like Cadelina.
So when the timing was right — that is, when he felt his team wouldn’t be affected in the win column by splitting the squads — Callahan took the plunge. He split his team permanently for the 2013 season.
“There’s a lot of upside to it,” Callahan said, ticking off a laundry list of benefits: more opportunities for players, fresher legs in games, having two first teams face off against each other in practice rather than JV practice squads, and having players dedicated entirely to one position. “But the downside is, it’s really a lot of work. And it takes time.”
It’s Year 3 of the great experiment and now, as the first senior class hits the field, Callahan is excited and anxious to see how it pays off.
He could see the results begin to come together last season, but only from afar as he served a one-year suspension as head coach after being charged with a DUI and distracted driving in May 2015. He was reinstated as a physical education teacher in June 2015, but ceded control of the program to his top assistant Joe Arcieri. (Callahan declined to speak about the incident and said little about his time away from the program except that he’s happy to be back and that he’s focused on the future.)
Under Arcieri, Ridgefield started 2-2 but then embarked on five-game win streak and finished a playoff-worthy 7-2. But the Tigers fell mere percentage points short of a Class LL playoff berth while Staples, a team they’d defeated in the regular season, got to play in the state quarterfinals with the exact same record.
Now back on the sidelines, Callahan says he can feel sense the team’s collective anger. Couple that with the disappointment of a rare losing season in 2014 and Callahan says the team enters 2016 on a mission. “These kids had just come off a very difficult sophomore season,” Callahan said. “They climbed back to respectability last year, and thought they did everything that they could, but to see teams in the playoffs with worse records than them was tough to swallow and understand.
“So they’re playing with a chip on their shoulders, there’s no doubt about that.”
Fortunately for the team, most of the stars of last year are all back to make amends and return to the state playoffs for the first time since they were freshmen.
The class is led by athletic senior receivers Chris Longo and Collin Lowe, who combined to catch 83 passes for 1,100 yards last season. Longo is a multi-sport athlete who’s getting plenty of looks from college football programs after catching 50 passes for 523 yards and 10 touchdowns. Lowe, meanwhile, is also a baseball talent who recently had a tryout with the Milwaukee Brewers.
“They’re dynamic kids, and we have other talented receivers and we feel it will create a lot of difficulty for teams trying to defend them,” Callahan said.
They’re benefitted by the return of senior quarterback Drew Fowler, who threw for 1,900 yards and 24 touchdowns in nine games. Callahan said Fowler, who also excels in lacrosse, isn’t a your prototypical quarterback. He just works hard and gets the job done.
“He’s a great athlete and a kid with a great demeanor,” Callahan said of his QB. “He can create enough, but he doesn’t over create. He’s just efficient, which he’s worked at. He’s not going to thrill you throwing 60 yards downfield, but he’s going to move the sticks.”
All three players will, of course, be the focus of the offense. “We’re relying on those guys,” Callahan said.
There are plenty of others, of course. Petros Papadopoulous returns at tailback after a junior season rushing for 549 yards and five scores. Good portions of the offensive line also return. The vacant spots will be filled by career linemen growing up in the two platoon system, anxiously awaiting their turn.
The same can be said for the defensive line, which graduated everybody. But those players — Leo Grizzafi, Richard Donovan and Cody Loweth — were, themselves first-year starters last season. Yet they dominated. “That’s another benefit of the two-platoon system,” Callahan said. “It allows you to plan the details of your future. You know your plan and when we need you, you’re ready to go. We’re going through it again on the defensive line, but the expectations remain the same.”
Patrick Lang, Ridgefield’s top-returning tackler with 5.9 per game, returns at linebacker. Aiden Spearman, who had 5 tackles per game, returns at defensive back. Some of the few players who might see time on both sides are lineman Matt Tarantino and receiver Matt Lombardo — Ridgefield’s jack-of-all-trades junior who ran, caught passes and can even play a little defensive back. “He was in a lot of places last year,” Callahan said. “He’s multidimensional. His work ethic is impeccable. He’ll be our Bugs Bunny.”
Put it all together and Ridgefield is deep, talented and ticked off, which is a potentially lethal combination for the rest of the teams on their schedule. The Tigers have a massive game to kick off the season when they face Trumbull, a trendy pick as an FCIAC contender, and the follow that up with a showdown at defending Class L champion New Canaan in Week 2.
Ridgefield also plays Trinity Catholic, Staples and Greenwich. The schedule is rough, but this team seems built to handle it.
But, right now, the focus is Trumbull. Not only is Callahan anxious to see how his two-platoon unit fares on a hot an muggy night in Ridgefield, but he can’t wait to be back on the sidelines with his team.
“It’s exciting, not only for the kids, but I’m excited to be back and looking forward to it after what’s been three years away,” Callahan said. “It’ll be a really special day for me, too.”
|Sept. 9||vs. Trumbull**||7 p.m.|
|Sept. 16||at New Canaan**||6:30 p.m.|
|Sept. 23||vs. Fairfield Ludlowe**||6:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 1||at Norwalk**||1:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 8||BYE||1 p.m.|
|Oct. 14||at Trinity Catholic**||6:30 p.m.|
|Oct. 22||vs. Staples*||1 p.m.|
|Oct. 28||at Bridgeport Central**||6:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 4||vs. Westhill**||6:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 11||vs. Greenwich**||6:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 18||BYE||6:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 24||at Danbury*|