Graduation claimed almost the entire starting defensive unit from the Greenwich football team’s 2018 championship squad, including hard-hitting linebackers Jack Feda and Larry DeLuca.
With the departure of DeLuca, Feda and numerous other defensive standouts, in came Vincent Ceci and TJ Abbazia to fill the void at the linebacker position.
The junior duo have, so far, successfully filled their expanded roles in their first seasons as starters and along with captain Evan Weigold, they’ve helped anchor the defense at linebacker.
Ceci has registered a team-high 70 tackles (37 solo tackles, 33 assists), while Abbazia has posted 53 tackles (30 solo tackles, 23 assists) for the 6-1 Cardinals, who visit 5-2 Fairfield Ludlowe Friday at 6 p.m.
“They are beasts inside,” said GHS coach Anthony Morello, whose Cardinals rebounded from a 27-21 loss against Darien two weeks ago by downing Trinity Catholic/Wright Tech, 49-8, last week. “Coach (defensive coordinator Bryan) Hocter’s defense is based around freeing up the linebackers and allowing the linebackers to make plays in space. Vinny and TJ have embraced the position and coach Hocter’s teachings and have followed the guidance of Evan Weigold, who has continued to amaze.”
The Ceci name is familiar in Greenwich football history. Most recently, Vincent’s cousins Mike and Ben played for the Cardinals and his father and brothers also put the shoulder pads on for Greenwich.
“It’s a big name to try to live up to,” Ceci said. “It’s a good legacy to carry and I try to live up to their expectations.”
As a sophomore in 2018, Ceci played mostly special teams, before sustaining a broken hand, which sidelined him. This fall, as a junior, the scene has been quite different for Ceci.
“This year I kind of got thrown into a starting role, which was a big role to take up, especially with the defense we had last year,” Ceci said. “It was a big step up and we were excited for that.”
The Cards’ coaching staff wasn’t quite sure what to expect for their defensive unit due to the high turnover from the 2018 squad.
“We had so much team speed last year across the board, coach Hocter and myself were concerned about how our team speed would match up with other teams that we played on our schedule,” Morello said. “But our players conditioned themselves and they did a bunch of things in the offseason to build up their speed and stamina. Vinny is averaging over 10 tackles a game and TJ is right up there too. They are very difficult to block.”
Linebacker is one of the positions Greenwich has traditionally excelled at over the years. Morello remembers competing on the same Cardinals team with star linebacker/running back Jonathan Meyers and watching linebackers Peter Salvatore and Dave Ranta in the 2000’s.
“There is a rich tradition of linebackers in this town,” Morello said. “It’s nice remembering those linebackers of old. Our players understand the expectations and the mindset that comes with the position. They have done a great job of anchoring the defense.”
Weigold, one of the Cards’ five senior captains, is a mainstay at linebacker.
“Evan is a spectacular talent,” Morello said. “He has become more of a vocal leader as the season has progressed. He can tackle in space, he can run, jump, kick (Weigold converted a point-after attempt last week), and he practices hard. If I could have 11 Evan Weigolds out there, he can play every position on defense.”
Being a key contributor on Greenwich’s Class LL championship team provided a significant learning experience to Weigold.
“Last year we had a ton of great leaders on defense,” Weigold said. “There were a lot of seniors who knew all about the defense. To be under them was a lot of help and it taught me how to lead the defense this year.”
The Cardinals quickly formed the teamwork and chemistry needed to evolve into an effective defense this season.
“Everyone does a good job of putting it all out on the field,” Weigold said. “It all started during summer workouts, everyone grinded in the offseason, put in the work and it shows on game day.”
Abbazia learned plenty from watching Greenwich’s 2018 defense.
“We knew we had big shoes to fill from last year,” Abbazia said. “Feda and DeLuca were good athletes and they, along with players like Eddy Iuteri (2019 graduate), helped us. A lot of the time when we came in the game last year in the second half, watching what they did, how they executed and seeing their aggression on the field helped us.”
Greenwich expects to be tested Friday against a Ludlowe team that is averaging 31 points per game. The Falcons, who are coming off a 39-27 win over Trumbull, are led offensively by senior quarterback Quinn Pavoz (1,829 yards passing, 14 touchdown passes).
Senior James Bourque (405 receiving yards), senior Carlos Moreno (376 receiving yards), Drew Fragomeni (senior, 376 yards receiving), junior Collin Fleming (356 yards receiving) and Drew Smith (junior, 323 receiving yards) are among the Falcons’ numerous offensive threats.
“Ludlowe is a couple of plays away from being a 6-1 football team,” Morello said. “They are in a position that if they win out, they are in the playoffs. For us, we’re in the same situation. We can’t afford a loss, so this is like a playoff game on both sides of the field. It is going to be a playoff environment. Our defense is going to be tested this week and we’re looking to answer the call.”
Said Weigold: “They have definitely improved a lot. They can pass the ball and run the ball, so we’ve had to focus on a lot of things in order to prepare for Ludlowe.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Junior quarterback James Rinello has passed for 1,495 yards with 19 touchdowns and just two interceptions for GHS. … Junior Kobe Comizio has a team-high 28 receptions for 432 yards for the Cardinals. He also has five touchdown catches. … AJ Barber, also a junior, has 21 receptions for 427 yards and has caught eight touchdown passes for Greenwich.