Greenwich’s football season starts Saturday, almost nine months to the day it dueled Darien in the snow for the Class LL championship before a huge crowd that braved the inclement weather at Stamford’s historic Boyle Stadium.
The snowy December Saturday that saw the Cardinals drop a 31-22 decision to the Blue Wave, marked Greenwich’s first appearance in the state title game since 2007 and served as inspiration for the team during the offseason.
“Making it to the championship game last year and not finishing it strong gives us motivation to make it back this year and play even better,” said Mozi Bici, a senior captain, who is one of Greenwich’s top defensive players. “But we are just thinking about Trumbull right now.”
Indeed, well before the Cardinals can entertain any thoughts about appearing in the state final, or the postseason for that matter, they must navigate their way through a challenging regular-season schedule packed with opponents seeking payback.
Defending FCIAC champion Greenwich faces its first test in the form of Trumbull on Saturday, with sort of a new-look, since graduation claimed a slew of players from last season’s FCIAC championship team — eight of whom proceeded to play at the collegiate level.
“We’re trying to fill some voids that some seniors, who graduated and are now playing college football, have left,” said GHS coach John Marinelli, who is beginning his third season at the helm. “But it’s always fun when you develop a new personality with a new group.”
From 4-5 in their first season under Marinelli’s watch, to 7-4 in 2016, to 12-1 last fall, the Cards have trended upward each year. Though the roster has, of course, changed since last season, the Cardinals, who boast more than 100 players are one of the squad’s in the state that seem to reload every year.
Senior quarterback and captain Gavin Muir is one of the team’s numerous returning players. As for program passing records, name it and Muir owns it.
During the 2017 season, Muir attained team records in yards passed in one season (2,902 yards), touchdowns in a season (33), passing yards in a game (387) and touchdown passes in one game (seven). Overall, he already holds seven Greenwich passing records, including career touchdown passes (40). The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Muir threw for more than 300 yards in three games in 2017.
“His expectations are to take the pressure off his own shoulders and have fun,” Marinelli said of Muir. “He’s got all the talent, tools, mental capacity to handle any situation you throw at him. He just has to let it fly, trust his players and get everybody on the same page. Gavin is a year older, he’s faster and stronger than last year. His IQ is so high, we’re going to lean on him the entire year.”
With Muir leading the Cardinals’ aerial attack, senior running back Tysen Comizio is coming off a season where he amassed 1,379 yards on the ground with a team-high 20 touchdowns. Running back is, indeed, a position of strength.
“We do have a lot of depth,” said Comizio, also one of the Cards’ captains. “We have a couple of underclassmen coming up and that’s a good thing because we play multiple backs. A lot of guys have been stepping up.”
Not much was known about Comizio this time last year, but once the season commenced he quickly made his mark. He also finished with 34 receptions for 382 yards and four touchdowns.
“I’m definitely going into this year with a different mindset than last year,” Comizio said. “I’m bringing more confidence into this year and I want to set better standards.”
Marinelli expects plenty of production from the team’s running game.
“Running back might be the position we have the most depth in,” Marinelli said. “That group is led by Tysen Comizio — they follow his lead.”
Junior Jack Warren, sophomore Hunter Clark, Spencer Hartley (junior) and Jonathan Alexandre (junior) provide depth at running back.
“They have worked hard to put themselves in a great situation,” Marinelli said of the running backs.”
Greenwich received a wealth of big plays from its wide receivers last season and the position should be solid this fall. Returning are seniors Lance Large (42 receptions, 411 yards, five touchdowns in 2017) and Stephen Bennett (25 catches, 326 yards, two touchdowns).
Offensive linemen Nolan Connerty (senior), Callum Abernathy (junior, 6-5, 256), Tyler Dietrich (senior, 6-2, 190), Jack McBrearity (senior, 6-3, 235), Eddy Iuteri (junior 6-0, 264) and Joe Kraninger (senior, 6-0, 263) will be relied upon to help protect Muir and the running backs.
“I’m excited about that position,” Marinelli said. “We have some youth and experience.”
The defensive unit is an area of a lot of experience. Bici and fellow captains Charlie Ducret (senior, defensive back) and Jack Feda (senior, linebacker) anchor the group.
“I feel great about our defense and having three captains on that side of the ball,” Marinelli said. “We have a defensive lineman who is a captain, a linebacker who is a captain and a defensive back who is a captain. With our athleticism and speed, we can do different things.”
Feda registered a team-leading 130 tackles during his junior season at linebacker.
“Coach Bryan Hocter is one of the best defensive coordinators in the state and as a defense, we play with a lot of intensity,” said Feda, a captain. “We want to rise to the occasion, but not let our emotions get the best of us.”
Bici, a force at defensive end, recorded 14 sacks and made 120 tackles last fall.
“As a defense, we want to start strong and take it to people — we seem to be athletic on the line.” Bici said. “We definitely want to play with more disclipline than last season, we don’t want to commit any big penalties. But we also have to keep up our physicality.”
Ducret (67 tackles, three interceptions last season), senior cornerback Hunter Cusimano (50 tackles, two interceptions last year), senior cornerback Ryan Raybuck (64 tackles in 2017) and senior defensive back Nick Veronis give the Cards a formidable secondary.
“We have a bunch of returning seniors who all worked super hard in the offseason,” said Ducret, also a captain. “We’re starting to jell and we have picked up where we left off last season. Our team has the potential to get to the state championship, but we just want to take it week-by-week and we are hoping to get off to a good start each week.”
Greenwich’s 2017 started with a resounding 70-16 road win over Trumbull. Marinelli knows the Eagles will rebound in a big way this season.
“They have a very proud tradition,” Marinelli said. “Coach (Marce) Petroccio will have them ready to go. Will the talent behind him and all the support he has it is going to take all of our energy and focus to come away with a win.”
The experience the Cardinals gained from playing in postseason matchups could benefit this season’s squad.
“It was good to bring that championship culture back to Greenwich,” Marinelli said. “As the season went on, the confidence grew. To get back to the championship was huge for the program.”