GREENWICH — Being a first-year starting quarterback is a tough task at any level, especially when a new signal caller replaces a player who set program passing records at the position, while leading the team to a state championship.
Taking over the quarterback reigns from 2019 Greenwich graduate Gavin Muir, James Rinello faced such a scenario.
And the Cardinals junior has, indeed, risen to the occasion in his new role.
At the midway point of the defending Class LL and FCIAC champion Cardinals’ regular season, Rinello has efficiently and effectively guided Greenwich’s offense. Through five games, the 5-foot-10 Rinello has passed for 977 yards, while throwing for 14 touchdowns and just one interception for the 5-0 Cardinals. His lone interception came in the team’s 49-3 Week 1 win against Danbury.
Rinello brings those stellar statistics into Saturday’s 4 p.m. showdown at Cardinal Stadium against Darien, which is also 5-0. Greenwich’s quarterback knows he will face his sternest test yet in the form of Darien’s defense, which has yielded only 41 points over five games.
“They (Darien) have a great defense and they are really well coached,” Rinello said. “We’re approaching this game with the same mindset that we have every week — just prepare for their defense and get ready for what they do and focus on getting better every day.”
After serving as a backup quarterback to Muir his sophomore season, Rinello competed for the starting role during the past preseason and earned the nod to run the offense.
“You always want to go into the offseason thinking you are the guy, even though you were competing for the starting job all year,” Rinello said. “You have to go into it thinking you are the guy, so you have to be ready for everything.”
Rinello, one of numerous first-year starters on the squad, had to make several adjustments this season.
“For a lot of our team, this is our first year starting and the first year we’re getting a lot of meaningful minutes,” Rinello said. “It’s been interesting, because last year we would be in a lot of blowouts, so we would get some time in those games. This year, it’s been different. Every game it’s 0-0 when we are in the game, so we have to do what we can to put ourselves in a winning position.”
During his two seasons as Greenwich’s starting quarterback, Muir, who is playing football at Dartmouth, passed for a program-record 5,767 yards, with 71 touchdown passes and 401 completions in his career — also Cardinals’ passing records. Filling Muir’s shoes was a daunting challenge, but Rinello has successfully made the transition and he gives a lot of credit to Muir.
“Gavin taught me tons about how to prepare for every game,” Rinello said. “He taught me how to handle success and failure and about not being too high or too low mentally during the game. He was great at staying even keeled during each game and he taught me a lot about that.”
Greenwich coach Anthony Morello has seen Rinello help rally the offense each week.
“James has done a great job on and off the field,” Morello said. “Seeing where he has come from 7-on-7 summer tournaments to where he is now is eye-popping. He has developed chemistry with his receivers and is a great kid on and off the field.”
The Cardinals’ quarterback has developed a solid rapport with the receivers. Junior AJ Barber has 14 receptions for 293 yards with a team-best six touchdowns, while junior Kobe Comizio has caught 19 passes for 233 yards with three touchdowns.
“We spent a lot of time at 7-on-7 tournaments and we would also meet up and throw during the offseason,” Rinello said. “The receivers help make my job easier and our offensive line too. It’s really the whole team. They have put in a ton of work in the offseason for our offense to run smoothly.”
Said Comizio: “We are extremely young and James has done an outstanding job of stepping into the quarterback position and being himself, not Gavin Muir. We have had a good amount of success on offense and it’s a credit to him.”
Greenwich heads into Saturday’s much anticipated matchup against the Blue Wave coming off a bye week.
“It was the perfect week for us to have a bye, since Darien is the hardest team we are going to play all season,” Barber said. “We’re very excited for this game. We haven’t played them since that 2017 championship game, which they won, so our team has been looking at trying to beat them. What our offense has done this season has been really good.”
Rinello’s season began with a 14 of 19 passing performance for 201 yards and three touchdowns.
“Everyone was really excited for that game, because we wanted to see what kind of team we were going to be,” Rinello said of the team’s season-opener. “After we got past that game, we settled into the flow of the season.”
Rinello was 13 of 21 passing for 172 yards and two scoring strikes in the team’s victory against Trumbull, then threw for 317 yards and four touchdowns in the Cards’ win over Norwalk. The past two games have seen him complete16 of 19 passes in one-sided victories against Bridgeport Central and Westhill, respectively.
“The offense has progressed a lot since the beginning of the season when James was getting used to his reads,” said Cardinals junior running back Hunter Clark, the team’s leading rusher. “Our wide receiver threats and the line up front have helped him too. After being a backup to Gavin, who was an outstanding quarterback, James has stepped up and is getting used to everything. When the passing game is on, it opens up room for the running game and I love that.”
Morello knows the offense must be in sync against Darien.
“Defensively, Darien is sound,” Morello said. “They are always sound up front, funneling the running game to the outside linebackers and they are very disciplined, they do not make mistakes. They force teams to take what they give and play mistake-free football. They’ll make you try to go on 10-15 play drives, without making a mistake, which is not easy to do at this level.”
Rinello is intent on continuing to evolve as a quarterback and help lead the team to victory.
“The guys before me set the foundation and our offseason and in-season program has helped set the tone for us,” Rinello said. “We do have a really complicated offense, but our coaches have mentally prepared us for how we should be playing. It’s an honor to play for a great program like this.”