Photo: Mark Conrad / Mark Conrad
Fairfield Warde running back Bryan Azarian looks for a hole in the Fairfield Ludlowe defense during Thanksgiving day action last season. The Mustangs finished 6-5, their first winning season since the two schools split in 2004. less
Photo: Mark Conrad / Mark Conrad
Fairfield Warde running back Bryan Azarian looks for a hole in the Fairfield Ludlowe defense during Thanksgiving day action last season. The Mustangs finished 6-5, their first winning season since the two ... more
With the excitement of the first winning season in a decade still running like an electric current throughout Fairfield Warde, the question facing head coach Duncan DellaVolpe as he headed into the off-season was: how to build on that success?
The Mustangs were losing their quarterback, Brandon Bisack, who had thrown for over 2,500 yards, along with their top two receivers, Ryan Brown and Nick Nardone. The were also losing their top two running backs, T.J. Gallagher and Jack Whiting, along with several key players on defense.
In all, Warde was graduating 24 seniors and finding players to try and fill the holes heading into 2015 was paramount.
So DellaVolpe asked his departing seniors to hook up with a younger player, a player with potential, and work with him over the off-season. A “Pay it Forward” kind of thing.
“I asked my seniors from last year to grab a couple of the underclassmen and bring them along,” DellaVolpe said as he watched some 70 kids go through conditioning drills at Teterau-Davis Field. “We had just had our first winning season and that group (of seniors), football was really important to. So I asked them if they could give back one more thing before they left and teach the young kids to continue on (the winning culture), so they did.”
Agility and speed workouts. Running sessions. Getting into the weight room. The departing seniors worked with the underclassmen. The result was one happy head coach.
“They did a great job,” DellaVolpe said of his senior mentors. “All these young kids coming in (to fall practice) already in shape gives us an opportunity to start trying more kids at different spots so we have a little better idea of where they may play. They don’t want to have any kind of let down from last year. The kids are looking forward to it. The culture’s finally come around where I want it.”
Winning will do that and Warde’s 6-5 finish - including a 27-12 victory over Ludlowe on Thanksgiving that earned them the Gallagher-Baynas Memorial Trophy, was the program’s first plus-.500 season since Fairfield High split back into two schools in 2004.
And because of that positive vibe, and the departing seniors help, close to 70 kids are taking part in workouts as the Mustangs get ready for its 2015 season opener on September 18 at home against Norwalk.
“We put in a tremendous amount of work this off-season,” said senior quarterback Jack Potenza, who will look to fill Bisack’s shoes. “We have some weapons. We’re stacked with talent and I’m excited to see what they can do this season.”
And DellaVolpe is excited to see what Potenza - one of the team captains along with Connor Gallagher and Clayton Mitchell -- can do under center. In very limited action last season, Potenza completed one of three passes for 34 yards and added 19 yards rushing on six attempts. His time to shine is now.
“Jack Potenza is athletic a quarterback as I’ve ever coached,” DellaVolpe said. “He’s got a good head on his shoulders. He freelances once in a while but you kind of need that. And he’s a playmaker.”
“I’m very excited,” Potenza said. “It’s going to be a great opportunity for me. Last season I was always working because I was backing up Brandon, so I had to be on my game in case he went down.”
Some of that talent that Potenza spoke of is junior running back Bryan Azarian, who rushed 59 times for 185 yards and scored two touchdowns last season, along with catching 20 passes for 180 yards as a sophomore, and Gallagher. Junior Mike Whiting and sophomore Jack Curtis are keys to the receiving core.
“It’s awesome to see all the young competition going out there and competing every single day trying to get better,” Potenza said.
Said DellaVolpe: “I love seeing the effort and attitude. With such a small senior class, every job is open and they’re all going out there trying to earn that job. That excites me.”
Four of Warde’s losses last season came to three ClAC playoff teams (Darien, New Canaan and St. Joseph) along with perennial FCIAC power Greenwich and the Mustangs are hoping that the increased numbers this season will allow DellaVolpe to play more one-way players, which will keep the team fresh and focused.
“We want to stop people from scoring,” DellaVolpe said. “Offensively, we’re not going to be as high tempo as I thought we might but we’re going to push the pace a little bit. We’re in pretty good shape and we have kids that are going to move the football, so we’ll take advantage of that. We’re looking to execute and make you try and stop us.”