DARIEN — During a football practice at Darien High School last fall, coach Rob Trifone was speaking with one of his assistants about J.H. Slonieski and Sam Wilson, two outside linebackers who were making their mark with the Blue Wave.
“I’ve never seen two young men smile from the start of practice to the end of practice the way they do,” the coach remarked.
“That’s who they are,” Trifone said. “They just love the game and they love being around their teammates.”
In turn, Slonieski and Wilson have given Darien plenty to smile about.
Now seniors, the two co-captains are key cogs in a Wave defense which has allowed just 41 points in five games, helping to lead Darien to a 5-0 start and the No. 4 ranking in the GameTimeCT Top 10 poll.
Slonieski and Wilson have also developed a personal competition, consistently racking up stats in a bid to outdo each other and help the Wave.
“It’s been nice with both of us also starting last year, we’ve kind of had that connection for two years, competing for tackles, interceptions, sacks,” Wilson said. “Especially with the games that aren’t against teams like Greenwich or New Canaan, it’s some extra motivation. We’re always trying to play our best because we want to beat the other guy.”
“Coaches have always been comparing us to each other,” Slonieski said. “One of the coaches called us ‘The Wonder Twins,’ so we’re always competing against each other and trying to prove that we’re the better one.”
Having that competition has been a boon, as the two players aren’t afraid to speak up when the other has a misstep.
“It’s really good to have someone there like that,” Slonieski said. “If I’m not doing something well, I know Sammy’s going to call me out on it. Sometimes, other guys may be hesitant to call each other out on something, but for me, Sammy’s always there in my ear.”
This week, Darien is getting ready for its biggest game of the season to date, as the Wave plays at No. 3 Greenwich (5-0) at 4 p.m., Saturday. The two teams have similar numbers offensively and defensively, and the Cards will pose a major test for the Wave defense.
“We know that we have to stop the pass and the run,” Wilson said. “Coach (Mike) Forget always says to do your job and you’ll be fine, and we’ve taken that to heart. I know if I do my job, I trust JH to do his job, and I trust all the D-linemen and the whole secondary, We have confidence in every single one of the 11 guys out there.”
The connection between the Wave linebackers is a somewhat recent development. They played on seperate teams in the Darien Junior Football League and when they arrived as freshmen at DHS, Wilson was playing cornerback on Slonieski’s side of the field.
“Even then, we prided ourselves with being that lock-down side,” Slonieski said.
“When we drafted teams (in the youth league), we tried to split the talent right down the middle,” Trifone, who’s son, Mark, is a lineman in the same grade, said. “We always had to separate the two because they’re so dynamic, we knew they could play offense and defense, and they’re both great leaders.”
Although they weren’t truly friends until the eighth grade, they did have some meetings in the DJFL.
“I gave him a concussion in the fourth grade,” Wilson said.
“And he hurt my knee,” Slonieski added.
“So he didn’t really like me,” Wilson said with a smile.
During their sophomore season, Wilson was moved to linebacker and the Wave has been benefiting ever since.
Defensively, the Wave has allowed 145 points during the past season and a half — a span of 16 games in which Darien is 14-2.
Wilson and Slonieski gave credit to Forget, the defensive coordinator, and the coaching staff for the consistent performance.
“The coaches have put the defense in a pretty tremendous spot, scouting and stuff like that,” Slonieski said. “We pretty much know every play that other teams are going to run before they run it because they break down so much film. Our mindset is, if we don’t play to our potential on defense, that’s on us, not the coaches. They’re putting us in a good spot to succeed, so it’s all on us.”
“Last year, I thought we played well, but we wanted to play a little better, and this year, we’ve come out and done that,” Wilson said. “We’ve really done what we’ve wanted so far. We think we’re the best defense in the state and we’re going to try and show that on Saturday.”
With Wilson and Slonieski leading the way, Trifone and the coaches don’t have to do much to get the team revved up for any game, let alone for an opponent of Greenwich’s caliber.
“With guys like JH and Sam, I don’t have to say one thing,” Trifone said. “They will handle it themselves, and with their teammates, they’ll let them know and have them ready.”