High School Football Preview
FAIRFIELD - There is nowhere to go but up.
For the Ludlowe Falcons football team, last season, simply put, was a nightmare. Not only did they lose all 10 games they played but the team wasn’t truly competitive in any of those games. And that frustration eventually bubbled over late in the season when the several of the players refused to practice after a bad loss to Greenwich.
After the season, coach Vin Camera resigned and Ludlowe athletic director Todd Parness hired Darien assistant Mitch Ross to begin the rebuilding process.
“A new chapter starts today,” Ross wrote in his prospectus to the Citizen. “We need to have everyone buy into creating a completely new football program.”
Ross will rely on his four captains - Josh Evans (QB/S), Wil Parisi (RB/LB), Nizar Sakly OL/DL) and Ethan Beri (WR/S) - as cornerstones to keep the program staying positive and moving forward during the season.
When he was first hired for the job, Ross spent a long time walking the halls of Ludlowe, talking to players that had soured on the experience of playing football.
“Initially, there were between 20 and 25 varsity players, which isn’t sufficient for competition with other programs in the FCIAC,” Ross said. “So, I was able to talk to other players that had previously quit football and was able to get that number up to around 50 players.”
It was a tough sales pitch.
“The kids, as its been documented by the various incidents, had a difficult year last year,” Ross said. “They weren’t competitive in any game, they lost every game by at least 21 points and most of the games were pretty much over by halftime. So, it wasn’t a lot of fun for these kids. I had to explain how and why things were going to be different.”
Heading into the regular season opener against Westhill on September 9, there have been some positive signs. Ludlowe took part in a Grip it & Rip it tournament at New Canaan High School, another forward step in the long journey toward reversing a losing trend at Ludlowe that has been going on for over a decade.
“We did well, we were competitive in the playoff rounds and we’ve been very competitive in the 7-on-7’s over the spring and summer,” Ross said. “We’re definitely getting there.”
Ross had been an assistant coach with Darien since 2003 and was the Blue Wave’s passing coordinator for the last seven seasons. He has spent the last seven months working to implement his system at Ludlowe. But first he had to get players.
“I spent a lot of time basically recruiting players around the school who had previously quit playing football,” he said. “I set up a seven-day a week workout program for the players and we’ve been developing those players, getting them to buy into the program, go to workouts basically every day since February as long as it didn’t conflict with their other sports, so they’ve bought into the weight-lifting and conditioning programs and that’s on-going.
“The kids have come a long, long way and have a good grasp of the offense and defense and that’s where things begin,” Ross said. “We had spring football this year and we were able to coach them up on the fine points of the offense and the defense. We had a very, very good spring.”
After winning four of its last five games and finishing at .500 (5-5) for the first time in a decade, coach Chris Sadler has several pieces in place that could help the Lancers capture a winning season, something not done since 2007.
“We return a core group of kids that have worked hard the last three years, mixed with some younger players that have shown promise in the off-season,” Sadler wrote in his prospectus to the Citizen. “We are looking for them to come together and grow as a team.”
Senior quarterback Micah Brantley (6-foot-1, 195), who passed for over 900 yards, rushed for over 400 yards and scored 13 touchdowns last season, is back to lead the Lancers offense. Wide receivers Tavon Simpson and Kyle Pavone will be Brantley’s principal targets. His protection to be able to throw toward those targets will come from returning offensive linemen Ryan Craft, Wesley DiSilva and Nate Gabriel.
Other potential offensive threats will come from sophomore receivers Jeremy Reid and Josh Tracey and junior running back Ziare Williams.
“We return six senior athletes who have had varsity experience since their freshman year,” Sadler wrote. “If they continue to grow as leaders and football players, we will have a successful season. With hard work, this talented group have an opportunity to keep climbing the ladder in the SWC.”
Last season, sophomore David Summers looked to be the quarterback of the future for coach Duncan DellaVolpe. He battled through a tough season, helped the Mustangs win three games and was set to lead the offense - and Warde’s return to respectability - for the next two years.
But then he transferred to St. Joseph.
Now, facing a big question mark at quarterback (senior Matt Cerminaro is the heir apparent) Warde (3-7 last season) will need to put the puzzle pieces together, and quickly, to be competitive in an FCIAC season that has the Mustangs facing the likes of Darien, Staples, St. Joseph and Ridgefield.
“We can build on last season’s record if we stay healthy,” DellaVolpe wrote in his prospectus to the Citizen. “Our quality of players is more widespread but depth is going to be an issue. There is a good mix of experience and youth on the team. A solid off-season has some high hopes brewing.” DellaVolpe will look to his six captains for leadership. Senior linebacker Tyler Llewellyn, a second team All-FCIAC selection last season (who was second in the FCIAC in tackles), defensive back Kris Gjinaj, an All-East pick, running back Jack Curtis, another All-East pick, are captains along with Tyler Festa (OL), Jake Hios (DE/TE) and Cerminaro.
Other returning players include Joe Gjinaj (DE/TE), Spencer Jones (OL) and Matt Coda (LB/FB).
“If we can stay healthy and get off to a good start to the season, we have the ability to surprise some teams in the second half and finish above .500,” DellaVolpe wrote. “We need to win those close games that we lost last year.”