The CIAC Class LL quarterfinals against Darien on Dec. 5, 2019 marked the last time the Greenwich High School football team played a game, so when the Cardinals gathered as one for the first day of organized team activities today, it was especially significant.
“Everyone was pretty excited to get back out there,” said Greenwich junior Jack Wilson, who is competing for the starting quarterback role. “After so many months, it feels good to come back out and have an opportunity to play every day. We are definitely ready to get back into the swing of things.”
Greenwich’s 2021 roster includes only approximately a dozen players that competed on the Cardinals’ 2019 team that lost to Darien in the Class LL Tournament quarterfinals, so the upcoming season marks the first varsity year for most of the squad’s athletes. Like all high school football teams in the state, Greenwich’s 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s great being out here,” said Greenwich coach Anthony Morello, who is in his third season at the helm. “Today, we were able to issue out every single player here, their helmet and their shoulder pads, so that when we do get to put the equipment back on, we don’t have to spend time doing it. We also spent some time to focus on some teachable moments and really just get back to basics. After a 20-month layoff, the emphasis has got to be on safety and basic fundamentals – even from stances and basic alignments on both sides of the ball.”
Organized team activities (OTA) began today and conclude Saturday. A week of conditioning without pads begins Monday, then on Aug. 21 upper pads can be worn. Practices with full pads will be worn beginning Aug. 25, as teams prepare for their respective season-opening games.
Greenwich’s storied football program boasts 14 FCIAC championships and 11 CIAC state titles, so each season its standards are high – an aspect Morello certainly wants the first-year varsity athletes to realize.
“The expectations of the program and the history of the program is a big point of emphasis for me right now,” Morello said. “We have to make sure they realize what is expected every day with this sport.”
Getting the team accustomed to the daily routine of practice is also significant Morello noted.
“One of my biggest concerns coming off a year of education during the pandemic is they were in school two days a week and getting back into the rhythm of six days a week for a sport is going to be a big challenge for them,” he said. “I think it’s going to be more of a mental battle than a physical battle, because re-wiring yourself is always difficult. Typically, they say it takes three weeks to get your body into routine and fortunately, we do have that amount of time before our first game.”
The Cardinals open their season on the road against Westhill on Sept. 11. They host Ridgefield on Sept. 18, visit Shelton on Sept. 24, then Fairfield Prep comes to town on Oct. 2. Following a bye week, the Cards will play road games against St. Joseph and Trumbull, before hosting New Canaan. After games against Danbury and Stamford, Greenwich closes out its regular season at home against Thanksgiving Day rival Staples.
“This is a great year to incorporate the strength of schedule into the point system, but that is going to make for really quick and competitive weeks,” Morello said. “It’s definitely a loaded schedule.”
Adding to the excitement of the long-awaited 2021 season is Greenwich’s recently renovated Cardinal Stadium. The project still has to be completed, but so far, new bleachers have been installed, along with a spacious press box. A team room and bathrooms are also being added.
“We can’t wait to play in front of our fans at the new stadium,” Morello said. “It gives good energy to our program. The kids and coaches are excited.”
Tyler Cusimano, Zach Mantione, Michael Sinisi and Luke Ware will serve as the Cardinals’ senior captains. One of only a few returning players that started on the team’s 2019 playoff squad, Sinisi will be relied upon to anchor both the offensive and defensive line. He lines up at center and defensive tackle.
“I played center in 2019, so that’s when we last played, but this is my first year I’m playing defensive tackle,” Sinisi said. “This is my first time playing both ways since youth football, so we’ll see how it goes.”
The Cardinals’ quad-captain knows his varsity experience is an asset.
“It’s going to help me a lot, because not a lot of kids have that varsity, in-game experience,” Sinisi said. “We have a lot of young guys on the team. I’m looking forward to leading the young group. I’ve been lifting every day, working out a my gym in my house. We’re glad the season is getting underway. The town is ready for it and we’re ready for it.”
Dominic DeLuca, an incoming junior and Cameron Doyle, also a junior, are also among the defensive linemen the Cardinals are looking forward to seeing in action. Ware will be looked upon for leadership at linebacker.
Wilson and Holden Brown are among the players in competition for the job as starting quarterback. Both played in the Grip It and Rip It 7-on-7 passing camp in New Canaan last month. They are both beginning their first varsity season as juniors.
“Since the 7-on-7 tournament, I’ve pretty much just working out, trying to gain a little bit of weight and I’ve also been working on my speed and agility,” Brown said. “I’m working on all different aspects of the game.”
Indeed, practice couldn’t have come sooner for the Cardinals, who are eager to showcase their talents.
“It’s super great, it’s been a year since we’ve been out there on the field, so it feels good,” Brown said. “There is a lot of pressure and a lot of expectations for us and we’re excited for the season to begin.”
Said Wilson: “It’s been so long, since we’ve had a game, so it will be pretty foreign at first, but we’ll get into it quickly. Our talent across the field is really good at both sides of the ball. At wide receiver, our starters and back-ups are very talented and we’re going to have a lot of options.”
Chason Barber, a rising senior who will continue his football career at Brown University after graduating from GHS, is one of the squad’s main threats at wide receiver. Receivers Cusimano and Mantione will be heavily involved in the passing game, while incoming seniors James Babb and Thomas Foster will be asked to solidify the team’s running attack.
Morello is eager to see the team round into form, led by its captains.
“Our captains have been terrific since the moment they were named,” he said. “They’ve been great vocal leaders. I can’t wait to see what they do with their senior class on the field.”