COACH — LOU MARINELLI (39th year, 331-99-6)
CONFERENCE — FCIAC East
PLAYOFF CLASS — Class L (646 boys enrolled)
HOME — Dunning Stadium, New Canaan
2018 RECORD — 10-3, lost to Greenwich in Class LL final
2019 OPENER — Sept. 13 at New London, 6:30 p.m.
TEAM WEBSITE — ramfootball.com; TWITTER: @NewCanaanFB
OL Jack Conley (All-State), DL Jack Stewart (All-State), DE Garrett Braden (All-State), WR Quintin O’Connell (All-State), RB JR Moore, WR Wyatt Wilson, LB Ben Schneider, DB Charlie Cunney, C Connor Volpe
In each of the past two seasons, New Canaan has been voted as the No. 1 football team in the state in the GameTimeCT preseason poll. Both times, New Canaan didn’t win a state championship.
As far as head coach Lou Marinelli is concerned, it’s a distinction which this season can go to someone — anyone — else.
“The last two years we’ve been picked as preseason No. 1 in the state and then we lost our first game and people were ready to jump off the bridge here in New Canaan,” Marinelli said. “I hope we’re not picked preseason No. 1 this year.”
As Marinelli enters his 39th year as the Rams’ head coach, New Canaan once again has the look of a contender, with senior quarterback Drew Pyne, a four-year starter and Notre Dame-commit, leading the offense.
New Canaan has some huge cleats to fill following the graduations of three NCAA FBS college players in linemen Jack Stewart (Michigan) and Jack Conley (Boston College) and DE Garrett Braden (Rice), along with WR Quintin O’Connell (North Carolina lacrosse), the school record-holder in career receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns.
The Rams, who went 10-3 last year and finished as the Class LL runner-up, are also moving to a loaded Class L field which includes defending state champions Daniel Hand and St. Joseph, which is moving up from Class M, and perennial powers Windsor and Berlin.
Pyne, RB/DB Drew Guida, WR/CB Zach LaPolice and DL Matt Rigione are the senior co-captains.
Pyne, of course, is the headliner of the offense. He’s already the program’s all-time leader in passing yards (7,304) and is just eight touchdown passes behind the school record of 89, set by his predecessor, 2015 graduate Michael Collins, now a junior at TCU.
“He’s gotten a lot bigger and a lot stronger,” Marinelli said of Pyne. “His arm strength has really improved from back then. He’s able to hit those longer out patterns from one hash-mark to the other. He’s a lot more accurate, he’s got good speed and we could run him a little bit more, too. It’s fun to watch him play.”
A big question is who will be on the receiving end of Pyne’s passes following the graduations of O’Connell and Wyatt Wilson. LaPolice is the top returning receiver, and senior Luke Morton is also back, with seniors Walker Swindell and Kyle Russell in that mix.
“The receivers are a work in progress,” Marinelli said. “LaPolice and Morton are the two guys who saw action last year, so we’ll obviously depend on them a lot this season. They’re both good and they both have experience.”
The Rams’ rushing game will be a strength with Guida and junior Christian Sweeney getting the bulk of the carries. Juniors John Wise and Robert Evans will also see some time.
The offensive line, which had already lost Conley, Stewart and center Connor Volpe to graduation, took another hit during the preseason when junior David Siegel (6-5, 255) was knocked out for the season with a torn labrum. The depth of the line will thus be tested.
“There’s definitely potential there,” Marinelli said. “Teddy DeClue (5-11, 265) got reps as a sophomore, and Ben Clay (6-3, 251) and Ned Brady (6-3, 220) have really looked good. (Senior) Will Pirrone (6-1, 316) also saw action for us last year, he’s had a great preseason so far and he’s a big kid.”
Senior Jaden Konspore (5-8, 200) is a possible replacement for Volpe at center, and Marinelli said junior tackle Alex Tchir (5-11, 226) has been impressive.
New Canaan has an accurate and steady weapon in kicker Nick Radman, a junior, who was 54-of-55 on PATs and 5-of-8 on field goals last fall.
New Canaan’s defense returns seven starters, including lineman Rigione, who led the Rams with nine sacks despite missing four games last year.
Senior LBs Jack Finnigan and Andrew Morse return, along with senior DE Chris Carratu. Junior Braden Sweeney will also start at defensive end.
Guida, Canet, and Swindell return as safeties, and seniors Dean Ciancio and Nick Gilio and junior Bates Grigsby are corners.
The Rams will take their show on the road for the first three weeks of the season, opening at New London in an Alliance game on Friday, Sept. 13, and then playing at Ridgefield (Sept. 20) and Stamford (Sept. 28).
“To go away and play a really good program in New London is a challenge,” Marinelli said. “They’re always very athletic and they’re always very tough kids. Then from there, we have a tough road trip when we go up to Ridgefield. It’ll be an interesting two weeks.”
Sept. 13 — at New London, 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 20 — at Ridgefield**, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 — at Stamford**, 1 p.m.
Oct. 4 — ST. JOSEPH**, 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 — WARDE**, 2 p.m.
Oct. 25 — at Staples**, 7 p.m.
Nov. 1 —BRIEN MCMAHON**, 7 p.m.
Nov. 8 — TRUMBULL*, 7 p.m.
Nov. 15 — WILTON**, 7 p.m.
Nov. 28 — at Darien*, 10 a.m.