Football preview: Large senior class leads Wilton

New faces. Plenty of them.

For the 2018 Wilton High football team, they start at the top with first-year head coach EJ DiNunzio. DiNunzio, previously an assistant varsity coach and head JV coach at three  New York high schools, came to Wilton a few years ago as an assistant coach for the freshman team.

But this is his initial foray into the world of varsity football head coaching. And he is faced with some daunting challenges.

DiNunzio replaces Bruce Cunningham, who resigned after eight seasons in charge. The Warriors went 6-4 last year, with Cunningham using his best players on both sides of the ball. That practice — common in high school football — drew the disapproval of some people in the Wilton football community and influenced Cunningham’s decision to leave. Time will tell whether or not the forces that ushered DiNunzio in will be those that jettison him out.

In the meantime, DiNunzio has no time to dwell on whether or not the head-coaching climate for all sports — let alone football — at Wilton High School has become overbearingly toxic. His immediate concern is a lack of returning starters in every phase of the game — offense, defense, and special teams — ahead of tonight’s season opener (7 p.m.) at Brien McMahon in Norwalk.

Both the offensive and defensive lines have taken a hit. The offensive line lost Jack DiNanno (All-FCIAC first team), AJ Pykosz, John Amato and Trey Snyder are gone. Only Jack Ferguson returns, and his experience was limited as a replacement for an injured Mike Wehrli.

On the defensive front the damage is equally acute, as DiNanno, Pykosz (second-team All-FCIAC), Amato and Snyder have graduated. Also gone are All-FCIAC linebacker Kyle Shifrin, fellow linebacker Harvey Alexander, and cornerbacks Robbie Hermann and Joe Murtha.

Flipping back to offense, Alexander was an All-FCIAC second-team running back who rushed for more than 1,000 yards — the first Wilton running back to do so in a decade. Hermann was an All-East selection at wide receiver, and Schifrin was a hard-blocking, pass-catching tight end who bolstered the receiving corps along with Joe Scarfi and James Sweeney.

Then there is the hole at quarterback left by the graduation of Brian Calabrese. He didn’t just hand the ball off to Alexander; he engineered the offense. Though Calabrese didn’t throw a lot, he threw effectively and used his mobility well.

To top it off, this year’s team will miss four-year kicking specialist Will Sullivan, one of the best placekickers in school history and an All-FCIAC second-team punter.

To say DiNunzio has his work cut out for him is an understatement. He is upbeat, however, and it is not a shallow cheeriness. He does have building blocks, starting with a large senior class that includes captains Dean DiNanno, Drew Herlyn and Kyle Phillips. Phillips and Herlyn earned All-FCIAC recognition as defensive backs last fall and started on offense as running backs. DiNanno saw extensive time at wide receiver, running back and defensive back.

Phillips was penciled in to start at quarterback this year but an injury in the spring has delayed his varsity debut at the position. He will, however, play running back while his younger brother Drew, a junior, assumes the quarterback role until Kyle is ready. Drew Phillips started at running back last season and also logged considerable time at defensive back.

The strengths of this year’s squad appear to be the offensive and defensive backfields. Both Kyle and Drew Phillips, Herlyn, DiNanno, and hard-charging fullback Tyler Previte should provide fire power running the ball. Tight ends Mike Angerame, Mike Coffey and Kyle Hyzy are talented but not fully tested, while Hyzy moves to wide receiver and will rotate in with Connor Wyman and Reilly Bingaman.

Drew Phillips and Herlyn will occupy the important linebacker/defensive back hybrid positions so important to Nunzio’s Stack-3 defense. DiNanno will hold down one cornerback spot, with newcomer Wyman at the other.

Starting at linebacker for the first time will be Matt Graham and Dylan Kennedy on the outside and Previte in the middle. Andrew Luciano, who started at linebacker last year as a sophomore, takes over at one defensive slot with Mike DiCostanzo at the other and Will Holmquist at nose guard.

“A running team losing (offensive) linemen is not good,” says DiNunzio. For that reason he plans to open things up with a passing attack hoping that can “set up the run.”

But he still needs blocking up front to protect and attack. Ferguson is the only known quantity, and DiNunzio has him at center flanked by guards Dylan Kennedy and Matt Gulbin. The offensive tackles are a work in progress with Steve Kendra, DiCostanzo, Jake Stein, and Graham vying for two spots.

The kicking game will have a hard time filling Sullivan’s shoes – literally. Max Colburn is the heir apparent as placekicker and has shown a strong leg as a punter. Senior Chris Tienken will challenge on both fronts, as he along with Holmquist will be making their first appearances in varsity football jerseys.

“These new faces on the team, they’re not new to us. The seniors have been playing football together since the fourth grade,” says Kyle Phillips.

“This offense isn’t really new to us either,” adds Herlyn. “We used something like it when we were playing youth football. I think it’s good because we can change up what we do on offense.”

“As we get ready to play McMahon, it’s not just the three of us leading the team., “ says DiNanno. “We have our (senior) class. We have 26 leaders to help get us a win.”

Kyle Phillips (left) is one of the key returnees for the Wilton High football team. —

Kyle Phillips (left) is one of the key returnees for the Wilton High football team. —


By participating in the comments section of this site you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and User Agreement

Submit your comment

Please enter your name

Your name is required

Please enter a valid email address

An email address is required

Please enter your message

© Hearst Connecticut Media Group. All rights reserved. The Wilton Bulletin, 16 Bailey Avenue, Ridgefield, CT 06877

Designed by WPSHOWER

Powered by WordPress