As Fairfield's four high school football teams prepare to kickoff their 2014 seasons, questions involving quarterbacks abound.
At Fairfield Warde, the question is how far can a 6-foot-5 senior with a strong arm -- the program's most heavily recruited player in years -- carry the Mustangs.
At Fairfield Ludlowe, the question is who will line up under center to replace a three year starter who graduated last spring.
The question at Fairfield Prep is whether last year's Class LL finalists can surround its returning signal caller with enough talent for him to lead another playoff run.
And at Notre Dame Fairfield, the question is how many players the Lancers can suit up to support its senior quarterback and put the program on more competitive footing.
Some answers will come over the course of the next week, when all four teams open their seasons. But other answers may not be clear for another three months.
With quarterback Brandon Bisack ready to throw the ball again and a trio of experienced wideouts who can catch it, Warde head coach Duncan DellaVolpe says the Mustangs -- 3-7 last fall -- could have their best team in years.
But with a daunting schedule that includes the iron of the FCIAC this season, he concedes Warde may not post the record to show it.
"Only time will tell," DellaVolpe said.
Bisack's size and arm strength have drawn more attention from college scouts than any other player in DellaVolpe's six years at Warde. And the quarterback has worked hard to improve his athleticism, the coach said.
Bisack's top targets in the Mustang's spread offense are likely to be veteran wide receivers Ryan Brown, Joe Potenza and Aubrey Raha.
Also back in the fold is running back T.J. Gallagher, who last Thanksgiving Day rushed for more than 300 yards and scored five touchdowns in a 44-21 upset of Ludlowe. Gallagher also has the breakaway ability to excite crowds as a kick returner, the coach said.
Veteran center Joe Mazut will anchor an offensive line that was depleted by graduation. New faces will have to fill in. How well they hold up under weekly pounding from the likes of Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan, Trumbull and St. Joe's will be a key factor in Warde's final record DellaVolpe said.
On defense, the Mustangs boast a solid corps of veteran linebackers, including Wade Petro, Max Snapper and Brian Russell. it has more experience in the secondary with returning DBs Jack Whiting and Manny Rivas-Colon.
The Mustangs open at home on Friday night, Sept. 12 against Foran High of Milford. Their first FCIAC test is a week later at Trumbull.
In his first year as the Ludlowe coach last fall, Vince Camera guided to the Falcons to a 6-5 record -- its first winning campaign in three seasons.
And if Ludlowe can win more than it loses this year, it would mark the first back-to-back winning seasons in the school's football history.
The quest begins on Friday night, Sept. 12, when the Falcons host Lyman Hall of Wallingford in the opener for both schools.
The Falcons have a nucleus of returning veterans on both sides of the ball. Camera expects some of them to play both offense and defense.
On offense, competition is being waged to replace three-year starting quarterback Matt White, who graduated in June. Four signal callers have been vying for the job, including senior Bryan Pacewicz, a starter at cornerback last fall.
But there should be few questions about Ludlowe's ground game, which boasts both power and speed.
Christian Ghiorzi, a 6-foot-2, 215 lb. bruiser, is coming back from ACL surgery but has the potential to be the focal point of the Falcons' offense, both running with the ball and catching it. Camera said.
Ghiorzi is complimented in the backfield by Daleek Chambers, a 5-foot-7, 155 pounder with breakaway speed. Chambers "runs harder than his size and can break the big play," the coach said.
If Ludlowe can develop a passer to get them the ball, the Falcons boast three returning wide receivers in Pat O'Leary, Greg Buturla, and Jack Dailey.
Up front, the Falcons return three veteran linemen, including Alex Zeko, who will move from left tackle to center, George Harris and Tanner Hibberd. All three are captains, and Camera has ticketed the trio to start on defense, too.
Harris and Hibberd will anchor the defensive line, with a talented corps of veteran linebackers behind them. That group includes Cole Gottblieb, another captain who led the team in sacks last year and scored two defensive touchdowns; Spencer Foley, who started as a sophomore last year and is expected to be a defensive leader; plus two-way players Zeko and Ghiorzi.
The secondary also has experience with Buturla, the team's best one-on-one cornerback, Camera says, and safety Pacewicz, a solid tackler.
After the Lyman Hall opener, Ludlowe begins its FCIAC campaign against Ridgefield Sept. 19. Te Falcons face always-tough Staples in October but won't have to face powerhouses Greenwich, Darien or New Canaan this fall.
Prep has a lot to live up to in 2014, a season after reaching the state final for the first time in 25 years. If offseason training is any indication, the Jesuits are in good shape moving forward.
"We worked harder and more effectively," coach Tom Shea said, "and got better results this offseason."
Of course, results on the field will be all that matters. Fresh off an 11-3 campaign, which culminated with a 52-34 loss to Southington in the LL final, the Jesuits kick off the season hosting Stamford in the SCC-FCIAC Challenge Sept. 11 at Ludlowe High School.
With its home field at Fairfield university being renovated this year, the Jesuits will split their home games between Ludlowe's and Warde's fields.
Senior Colton Smith is returning at quarterback after establishing himself as one of the state's true dual-threats in a breakout campaign. As a first-year starter, he rushed for 1,899 yards and 29 touchdowns, on top of 1,708 yards and 10 scores through the air. Also back is Smith's favorite target, senior John DelliSanti, who hauled in a team-best 45 catches for 935 yards and nine touchdowns last year.
The biggest question mark comes on the defensive side, as graduation took a chunk out of the Jesuits' linebacking core. Maxwell Trudeau led the team in tackles (126) and sacks (11) and needs to be replaced, as do fellow linebackers Anthony Johnson and Nick Crowle.
Crowle made an impact on offense, too, rushing for 1,056 yards and 17 touchdowns, but Shea likes what he's seen at the position from senior Joe Ganim. They're also expecting contributions from Allen Gibson at running back and from Brendan Beiser and Jake Buckley at receiver.
The Jesuits are strong along the offensive line with 6-foot-6, 305-pound Anthony Palazzolo, who has committed to Boston College-commit, back at tackle.
A lack of stability has been an issue at Notre Dame, with four different head coaches in the previous four seasons. But with Ted Boynton back at the helm for a second season, the Lancers finally have some continuity.
It's been a rough stretch at ND -- a 4-36 record over the last four years, including a 0-10 mark last season. Some recent Lancers squads have struggled to suit up enough players late in the year to even scrimmage at practice.
But Boynton is taking the long view.
"We are trying to build a program here at Notre Dame, and we must continue to look at the big picture," he wrote in prospectus prepared for the Fairfield Citizen. "Success has many meanings, not just the score at the end of the day."
Boynton gives his players high grades for their work ethic on strength and conditioning during the off season. He has a larger roster this year, and ND has re-launched a freshman program.
Still, the coach says inexperience at the varsity level is the team's major weakness, and a tough schedule in the South West Conference will again be a challenge.
The Lancers top returning players include senior quarterback Shea Olayos, the starter last fall, and a half dozen veterans who will play both offense and defense.
They include senior wide receiver/linebacker Kevin Bortnick, senior center/nose guard Noah Cirisoli, senior two-way tackle Adam Dawe, junior fullback/linebacker Hakim Fleming, junior guard/defensive tackle Noel Santaella, and Junior fullback/linebacker Bill Kelly.