FAIRFIELD - The task facing Fairfield Warde head coach Duncan DellaVolpe heading into the 2018 season, was simple and complex at the same time - develop a new skill set of players on offense, athletes that would take the Mustangs, who finished with a .500 record (5-5) for the second time in the last six seasons, to even higher levels.
Last year’s starting quarterback, Matt Cerminaro, running backs Tyler Llewellyn, Jack Curtis and Kris Gjinaj and receivers Jake Hios and Qasim Danazumi all graduated, leaving the offensive cupboard not exactly bare but not exactly stocked, either.
But … thanks to 10 days of spring football, DellaVolpe started to find, and put together, the new pieces for the latest Warde offensive skill set. And over the beginning of fall practice, so far so good.
“Quarterback wise, Joe … we were prepping Joe last year, we had the opportunity, first time we’ll have a two-year quarterback, so I mean, we had something in place to get him ready and he’s looked good so far through the spring,” DellaVolpe said of junior Joe Gublin, who gets the starting job.
“Gulbin has been looking very good, he’s been practicing all summer, every day, throwing to all the receivers,” senior Joe Gjinaj said, who recorded 17 sacks last season at defensive end. “He’s been training very hard all summer. He understands the game of football more. He put an emphasis on understanding defenses this summer and understanding how to make checks and stuff. He knows the game a lot more and he can throw the ball very well.”
Senior Jayden Sneed, junior Ryan Janz, senior Ahren Ramirez and sophomore Chris Idieu will all get the call to carry the football this season.
“We’ve got four kids right there that are ready to go now. We’ve got a little bit of speed, a little bit of power but they all fit into everything that we’re trying to do,” DellaVolpe said. “Running back, we’re kind of by committee right now, which I like. We have different style runners, but we have three or four guys that are looking pretty good.”
At wideout, Gublin could have as many as a half-dozen targets to throw to, including seniors Will Stearns and Jeff Seganos, junior Brett Lauterback and Griffin Gallati and sophomores Declan O’Hara and Jack McKenna.
“This year, we have Will Stearns, big kid, fast, can catch … Declan O’Hara, sophomore, very good, very fast,” Gjinaj said. “Jeff Seganos, obviously very talented player, last year he led the team in interceptions, had a lot of catches at receiver. Lauterbach, Gallati, McKenna, all very good receivers.”
“We’re going to throw the ball more than we have the last two years,” DellaVolpe said. “We’re going to try and take advantage of the depth at receiver and hopefully surprise people with the running game. One’s going to open up the other, either way.”
Of course, protecting Gublin will be paramount for the Mustangs, if they want to put up the kind of offensive yardage they’re expecting to. DellaVolpe said that he’s extremely confident in his offensive, and defensive lines, calling the defensive line “a big strength.”
Ray Idieu (5-11, 270), Will Henry (5-9, 200) and Kevin Garcia (5-8, 220) will be cornerstones on the offensive line.
“Offensive line, we have a couple of injuries there from over the summer that are kind of hurting us right now but once we’re all together, it might be one of our strengths,” DellaVolpe said. “We have a couple of younger guys that got some experience last year, so we’re going to be OK there.”
On defense, DellaVolpe will look to Stearns (LB), Seganos (DB), Dan Mungle (DL) and of course, Gjinaj to anchor the Mustangs’ 4-3 defense.
“They’re very good at reading run or pass, getting after the quarterback is going to be something that we’re going to rely heavily on other than just the front four,” DellaVolpe said.
“We’re returning our whole defensive line, except for one kid,” Gjinaj said. “I think last year we had the best defensive line in the state … we had 39 sacks last year and we’re looking to get even more this year. We’re returning all our linebackers except for one … DB’s are all returning, except for a corner, so we’re excited.”
As they should be.
“It’s been a good start,” DellaVolpe said. “I think we had a good off-season but this group is different, the chemistry is, from top to bottom, is much better. All these kids show up and want to go to work.”