NEW CANAAN — Zach LaPolice was a Turkey Bowl fan from an early age. He went to his first game and rooted for New Canaan when he was in the third grade, and growing up, it reminded him of a familiar football movie
“If you’ve ever seen the movie ‘The Little Giants,’ it’s just like that,” LaPolice said. “You’re looking up to kids who want to be great and think very highly of their town. Those guys were a huge motivation for the kids in the youth program, so when me and my buddies were going, we’d be looking out for our favorite players.”
Now a Ram senior co-captain, LaPolice is the one the youth league players are looking up to, and he’s ready to make a mark on this year’s rivalry game.
New Canaan will hit the field for the annual Turkey Bowl at 10 a.m., Thanksgiving day, in front of what is sure to be a loud crowd at Darien High School.
The Rams (7-2) are squaring off against the unbeaten Blue Wave (9-0), but it’s New Canaan which owns the Turkey Bowl win streak, having won the past two seasons.
For LaPolice, the atmosphere will be great, but it’s the game that will be the focus.
“For me, the big crowds are great when you see them pregame, but when you’re getting down into the game, you’re just worried about playing the game and playing your rival,” LaPolice said. “Playing with your brothers, there’s nothing better than that. Playing in that atmosphere in a high stakes game is a great opportunity. We love it.”
As the season has progressed, LaPolice has developed into one of New Canaan’s most electric players as a receiver, kick returner, and cornerback.
He’s been quarterback Drew Pyne’s top target and leads the Rams with 46 catches, 785 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s also had a knack for huge plays, the result of his speed, shifty moves, and ability to read the field. LaPolice has five touchdown receptions of more than 50 yards.
“Not only is he fast, but he’s quick,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. “He possesses tremendous skills with his quickness and his speed. It’s been great to see.”
“Being a receiver, you’ve got to know your correct routes, where you should be and where you want to be to catch the ball,” LaPolice said. “Running the ball, I feel like I can just follow my blockers, look at the field and see where I need to go. Everything just works out where I’m looking at a place on the field, I hit that hole and there’s no going back.”
Many of those big plays have come at key moments.
Against Staples, New Canaan had fallen behind 14-10 late in the first half when LaPolice took a punt 73 yards to the house to put the Rams back in front. He later added a 28-yard touchdown reception to help ice the 41-21 win.
Two weeks ago, New Canaan had seen a 24-0 halftime lead shrink to 10 points against Wilton, when LaPolice caught a quick pass from Pyne, and bolted past two defenders for a 59-yard score which changed the momentum. The Rams went on to win 38-20.
“There have been key moments when he’s come up big for us and he’s been able to get us over the hump with a big play,’ Marinelli said. “Guys like him and his brother (Alex) come through with key plays at critical times.”
The sight of an athlete in a No. 7 jersey making plays is familiar for the Rams, as LaPolice’s older brother, Alex, wore that number while playing for New Canaan football until graduating in 2015.
“Me and Alex have talked about it,” LaPolice said. “It’s not necessarily us wearing the same number, but the fact that we’re making our own names and we happen to be wearing the same jersey. Obviously, there’s a competitive factor between us, but I wanted to keep it in the family, it’s something I wanted to do it for him and also to make a name for myself.”
Beyond the numbers, Marinelli said LaPolice has developed as a leader and a teammate on the field.
“Now, I think he feels more comfortable in his own skin and he really doesn’t have anything to prove,” Marinelli said. “You want all your kids to learn from the experience and get tools that will help them better handle life’s curve balls. He wants to play, he wants the ball, and he’s become a true captain.”
When he runs onto the field for his final Turkey Bowl game on Thanksgiving morning, LaPolice will have one thing in mind.
“Put it all out on the field,” LaPolice said. “It’s the last Turkey Bowl that this senior class is ever going to play in, so every play has got to be 110%. I’m definitely going to be out there playing as hard as I can to help my teammates, and it’ll be a great game.”