FAIRFIELD -- The freshman team, some 35 players strong, had just had their team picture taken and were warming up at the far end of Taft Field. The junior varsity, another 30-plus, along with the varsity, close to 40 and counting, were coming onto the field, to get their photo shoot done before getting down to the business of the day - a full contact scrimmage with Notre Dame-Fairfield.
“I’m excited,” understated senior receiver Jake Northrup. “I’ve been waiting a long time to hit somebody.”
Starting his second season in control of the Falcons, head coach Mitch Ross had to first, relieve parents’ woes regarding injuries - hence, there is no contact at any Ludlowe practice - and second, convince potential players that football can be fun, if you just come out and give it a chance.
So far, so good.
Year 2 of the Mitch Ross era is well underway and jumping from a varsity total of around 25 players his first season to have a combined JV and varsity roster of close to 70, is a good start toward bringing the Falcons back to football respectability.
“Year two is nice because now, they’re all used to the system and they’ve all bought in,” Ross said. “So, we’re not teaching from square one, the basic of the basics, so they have a big head start on what we did last year. It’s made a big difference.”
In 2016, Ludlowe hit rock bottom, going 0-10, losing by an average of 28.3 point a game. The team’s frustration reached a boiling point after a 61-27 loss to Greenwich on October 28, where the Falcon players boycotted practice on Monday.
That led to the resignation of Vin Camera and the hiring of Ross, who had been an assistant coach at Darien.
“It’s a different philosophy now,” Ross said. “It’s a very positive atmosphere. I have a great coaching staff. We have four guys from Trumbull, including Bob Maffei, he was the head coach at Trumbull, we have coach Jeff Cavagnaro coming back with the defense, a great teacher and a tremendous coach … Rocco Colandro is back, so I mean, we have a great staff and they really care about the kids and the kids know it.”
“You see it and you feel it every day,” said Northrup. “I’ve been talking with other guys that have been playing with me for four years and we’re saying that it’s never felt like this before. In practices, the energy is just crazy, everyone is just so much more excited to be out there every day, not just game days. You’re excited going through your drills, the energy is just so much better with coach Ross.”
Added senior quarterback Colin Wilson: “We have such a better energy out here now. All the seniors and all the kids on the varsity are such good friends. There’s such a good vibe that we have and we’re all just working for each other.”
Wilson saw some playing time last season as Josh Evans’ backup, throwing for 578 yards with 50 completions, and worked over the offseason in spring practice and summer ‘grip-it-and-rip-it’ camps to get into a comfort zone with his other offensive skill players.
“Playing quarterback for varsity, you have to know all your reads,” Wilson said. “We did 7 on 7’s and that helped me get through a lot of the reads.”
“He understands the offense now, and that’s the most critical thing,” Ross said of Wilson. “It’s not just people running patters and you throw the ball downfield, there’s a specific way to do everything, a specific way to see the field and now, as a player that’s been in the system twice, he knows how to read the field and he knows what order he’s supposed to read his receivers.”
Kevin Quinn will get the start at tailback and Wilson will enjoy throwing to targets Northrup and Aidan Wykoff - who caught 68 passes last season to set a new Falcons single season record.
“We have very good receivers, we have Aidan and Jake and we have a sophomore, Colin Fleming, who’s very good,” said Ross. “We have Brian Howell, Jake Simonelli, Dylan Fragomeni, so we have quite a nice lineup of receivers.”
“All the receivers are just so good all I have to do is put it anywhere near them and they’re going to get it,” Wilson said. “They’re all getting a lot better at route running.”
One area that could present a challenge, however, is the offensive line. Ross does have three returning starters in Thomas Stasko, Neftali Gomez and Thomas Murray (Joe Falletta could also get a starting nod) but Ross admits that the Falcons are “a little bit thin up front, we don’t have too much depth on the line. Unfortunately, some will likely have to play both ways, which isn’t ideal, but we don’t have lot of big guys.”
What he does have are a lot of guys having fun.
“It’s great to see kids that haven’t played for three years coming out and playing and having fun, you have to love it,” Northrup said.
“They are having fun, they tell their friends … now we have kids from the baseball team, we have kids from the lacrosse team, that didn’t happen before,” Ross said. “I go to the cafeteria and hold court there and I talk to the kids and get them at least thinking about playing. Out of these 100-plus kids, we have 35 or so that never played football before, and that’s a challenge to teach them, and not just about football but about life., becoming better people both on and off the field. But it’s fun.”