Football preview: Wilton has new look on offense

Senior Drew Phillips will start for Wilton as a running back and linebacker.

Senior Drew Phillips will start for Wilton as a running back and linebacker.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

Even though the Wilton High football team lost nearly 30 players to graduation, the biggest change this fall will be aesthetic.

After years of operating out of the run-focused, triple-option offense, the Warriors have switched to more of a contemporary spread formation.

“We are still going to run, but you’ll see the ball more in the air than ever for Wilton,” said EJ DiNunzio, the team’s second-year head coach. “Our offense will be much more balanced.”

The Warriors went 6-4 last season, finishing above .500 for the third consecutive year. But seismic graduation losses have left Wilton with numerous openings in the starting lineup.

“From my first game last season, there is one returning starter on defense and three returning starters on offense,” DiNunzio said. “We’re young, but I also have a lot of confidence in our guys. They did a good job in the off-season, and now it’s their turn to shine.”

Senior Jimmy O’Brien entered camp as the front-runner to start at quarterback for the Warriors. Following injuries to Kyle Phillips and Drew Phillips, O’Brien took over the position last fall and completed 50 of 95 passes for 722 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“He was probably fourth on the depth chart going into the season, but once he got in there he did some things that opened our eyes,” DiNunzio said about O’Brien. “He has a nice arm and he reads defenses really well.”

In senior Reilly Sullivan and sophomore Grant Masterson, Wilton has two backups who could push for starting time. “Reilly is a tremendous athlete who missed last season due to an injury, and Grant has shown a lot of promise,” DiNunzio said. “We definitely have good depth at quarterback.”

Drew Phillips, a senior captain, is Wilton’s featured running back. A broken collarbone limited Phillips to four games last year, but he still ran for 200 yards on 37 carries (5.4 yards per carry).

“Drew can be one of the best backs in the conference,” DiNunzio said. “He is capable of breaking loose whenever he gets the ball.”

Senior Jack DiRocco and sophomore Jake Sommer should also feature in the backfield, which graduated four players (Kyle Phillips, Tyler Previte, Dean DiNanno, and Drew Herlyn) who combined for more than 1,00 yards.

Senior captain Kyle Hyzy gives Wilton a skilled and proven receiver. He caught a team-high 18 passes for 284 yards and four touchdowns in 2018.

“Kyle is a big target at six-foot three, and he has great athletic ability,” DiNunzio said. “We think he’s going to have a really good year.”

Juniors Mike Coffey (nine catches, 130 yards), Wooder Thoby and Trevor Martines offer a mix of size and speed, while senior Artie DiRocco and junior Dom Caratozzolo could also contribute as receivers.

Anchoring the offensive line is junior left tackle Matt Gulbin, a 6’4, 290-pound behemoth who earned All-FCIAC first-team honors as a sophomore last season.

“He’s a smart kid and a very talented player,” DiNunzio said about Gulbin, who has generated interest from more than a dozen Division I college programs. “I’m going to have to pay to see him play on Saturdays in a few years.”

Joining Gulbin up front are senior center Griffin Morris (5’10, 200), junior guard Brian Cipri (6’2, 230), senior tackle Stephen Kendra (6’2, 230), and senior guard Jack Savarese (6’2, 195). Sophomore Kieran O’Neill is also in the mix for playing time.

Gulbin should be a force on defense as well, teaming with senior Dom Polito at the defensive tackle positions. “Dom is one of the strongest players on the team, and he’s so quick and aggressive,” DiNunzio said. “He should have a strong season.”

Coffey and fellow junior Kyle Jordan (6’4, 220) are the defensive ends, with sophomore Eddie Keller and junior Howie Long looking to contribute.

Jack DiRocco leads an inside linebacking crew that also includes Sommer and juniors Kiel Polito and Christian Theoharides. “All four of them are fighting for two starting spots,” DiNunzio said.

Hyzy and Drew Phillips are the outside linebackers/safeties, with Martines, Thoby, Caratozzolo, Artie DiRocco, and senior Tucker Walden vying to start at the three defensive back spots.

“Wilton always prides itself on having aggressive defenses, and this year won’t be an exception,” DiNunzio said. “We have some playmakers at all positions.”

Jack DiRocco is the team’s punter and is also a candidate to handle the place-kicking duties along with sophomores Parker Woodring and Dylan Smith.

Wilton’s 10-game regular-season schedule includes meetings with defending Class M state champion St. Joseph and Class LL runner-up New Canaan in addition to non-conference games against Fitch and Bunnell.

“We’re a young team that is going to make mistakes,” DiNunzio said. “We just need to keep those mistakes to a minimum, especially against the tougher opponents.”

Notes: Wilton opens the season at home against Fitch on Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. The Warriors play their next two games at home before hitting the road to face Fairfield Warde on Oct. 4.

The Warriors will play the new Trinity Catholic/Wright Tech combined team in the FCIAC Thanksgiving Day rivalry game Nov. 28 in Stamford.