Football preview: Younger players key for Wilton

“It will be four weeks to the day from when we started [practice] until our first game. That's a long time,” said Wilton High football head coach Bruce Cunningham, whose team begins the 2015 season Friday night (7 p.m.) at home against Brien McMahon. “It's the longest I've ever gone, and with the new FCIAC practice rules it's been challenging at times to navigate them. It will be interesting to see what will become of it all.”

Coming off a 3-8 mark last fall, one thing is certain: With the loss of 12 seniors, 10 of them starters, the elongated pre-season can only help a team suffused with youth. Fifteen juniors and 16 sophomores tilt the scales to inexperience at the varsity level. But there is talent, and combined with attitude and work ethic, it could flower quickly.

Co-captains RJ Romeo and Brennen Ryan, along with fellow seniors Nick Pica and Nik Petrov, fill important leadership roles. Cunningham refers to them as his “Core Four” given their extensive varsity playing time last season and the years they've spent together, starting with youth football. They will get support from classmates Jack Ciaccio, James Arbisi (both back after a season's absence), Tanner Cho and Dylan Anderson, a transfer from Pomperaug.

At the outset of fall practice, Cunningham said he had to look at a lot of people. He has. And despite the squad's youth, he will have the capability to platoon. The number of full-time, two-way players will be kept to a minimum, and even then the packages and sub-packages he has on both sides of the ball will contribute to greater depth. This is good news, as for years the Warriors have suffered late-game attrition due to two-way starters wearing down.

It all starts at quarterback, where Romeo will repeat as the starter after winning the job in training camp.  Junior Matt D'Elisa and sophomore Brian Calabrese will back him up.

Romeo will hand off to a completely new backfield, however. Junior fullback Joe McFadden replaces All-FCIAC East selection TJ Savvaides, while sophomore Will Litton takes over at halfback for Patrick Ryan.

As it stands now, two sophomores, tackle AJ Pykosz and guard Jack Dinanno will join Brennen Ryan (center), Petrov (guard) and Pica (tackle) on the offensive line. Key back-ups include Arbisi, junior Anthony Sanzaro, and sophomores Johnny Amato and Tre Snyder. Junior Colin Carroll, healed from a spring practice injury, could well capture a starting berth along the offensive line; he is only days away from fulfilling the conference requirement for practice days.

Tight ends Jack Dooley (junior) and Kyle Shifrin (sophomore) will step into the vacant shoes of Jack Dexter and Carter Vail. The wide receivers will come from an extensive committee that includes Cho, juniors Joe Pozzi, Chris Hyzy, Tim Rizzo, Justin Sorbo, and Mason Peraino, and sophomores Robbie Hermann, Joe Scarfi, James Sweeney, and Justin Quinn, among others.

Marty Zoruba will anchor the defensive line at nose guard, while fellow junior Harrison Brandt will back him up. Ryan and Pica will play the defensive ends in Cunningham's 3-4 alignment.

Junior Stefan Nobles, a quiet but effective starter a year ago, will resume his post at one inside linebacker spot, while McFadden — with potential help from Anderson — will man the other. The two outside backer positions will come from some combination of Dooley, Ciaccio, Petrov and Shifrin. Other linebacker candidates are junior TJ Kedzierski and sophomores Ryan McDermott and Eric Chubinsky.

Hyzy and junior Jake Savvaides will cover at cornerback, and D'Elisa and Romeo will be the safeties. Other defensive backs who will likely see action are sophomores Harvey Alexander and Sam Wright.

One major constant from last season will be the kicking game. Sophomore Will Sullivan has place-kicking and field-goal kicking duties sewn up with a full year's experience under his belt. The same can be said of punter Romeo, whose leg looks stronger from a year ago.

As for the prolonged pre-season, both Romeo and Ryan are upbeat. “We've come a long way,” says Romeo. “You can see it because the new guys especially are making a lot less mistakes.”

“The younger guys have really stepped it up,” added Ryan. “They are seeing the field real well and they have learned their keys.”

“I think the extra time helped us,” Romeo continued. “Otherwise, we wouldn't have had an extra week or so to correct certain things in our game. More conditioning will help us, too.”

Still, it has been a long, long practice period. Ryan may have summed it up best for everybody involved with the team when he said, “I am excited. I'm really ready to play.”