Third consecutive state title must come in new division
"Jack Wallace is the guy," St. Joseph head football coach Joe Della Vecchia said when asked to answer the Cadets' biggest question mark entering the season — who will replace Syracuse-bound David Summers at quarterback. "The number one thing is that he wants to be the quarterback. He is a competitor who has proven he can play at the highest level."
St. Joseph, because of its two state titles the past two seasons, has moved up to Class L (where Class M finalist Berlin is the next lowest of 36 teams in enrollment with 490).
Though there's work to be done, St. Joseph heads into the season confident it will continue its run of success. The Hogs have won six of their 14 state championships over the last 10 years.
A 5-10, 165-pound junior, Wallace was a terminator for the Hogs defense last year when he made 47 often crushing tackles and intercepted two passes.
All-State running back Jaden Shirden has added muscle to his 190-pound frame.
"A key for Jaden has been his strength and he is even stronger," Della Vecchia said of Shirden, who ran for 1,377 yards (7.4 per carry) and 26 touchdowns last season. He rushed for 100-plus yards in nine games and caught 23 passes good for 237 yards and four scores.
Wallace can count on a talented corps of receivers.
"Will Diamantis and Brady Hutchinson are back and are both All-State caliber kids," DellaVecchia said. "Will understands our offense and runs great routes. He has strong hands to go with great speed. He is a physical kid and a three-year starter. Brady was going to start, but he missed the first part of the season with an injury. He was dynamic when he returned."
Diamantis had 44 receptions for 1,015 yards and 15 touchdowns. Hutchinson caught 27 balls for 366 yards and six touchdowns.
"Max dasilva and Austin Jose will take over for (the graduated) Jesse Bike (10 TDs) and Phil Pasmeg, and we have a bunch of other guys that are real close," Della Vecchia said.
To be a receiver for St. Joe's, however, takes more than the ability to catch a pass.
"Possibly the toughest thing to teach a receiver is to block," Della Vecchia said. "It isn't always knocking someone down. It's about knowing the play, knowing where the ball is being run and creating space for that runner. If you can't block; you can't play."
Della Vecchia is pleased with the blocking skills of his offensive line.
"Nick DiIorio and Chris Kiley are back," he said. "Ken Martin played a lot last year. Dennis Elrod started some games and Brian Robertson is ready."
Austin Jose will do the placekicking, where he placed 38 of his kickoffs into the end zone as a junior.
St. Joseph's defense allowed only 86 points a year ago.
The Hogs return their front three starters with Mike Morrissey (66 tackles, 9 QB sacks), Jermaine Williams (35 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and Caden Porter (29 tackles, 4 sacks).
"Alex Pagliarini (89 tackles, 8.5 sacks) and Cole daSilva (43 tackles, 6 sacks, 3 INTs) are both terrific," Della Vecchia said of his returning linebackers. "Dennis Rotunno (31 tackles) did a good job for us last year when he got a chance.
"Davee Silas will be at strong safety and Justin Williams at one corner. Tyler Sisko, Noah Gage, Max Warren and Jack Coughlin can play corner or free safety for us. Jack Wallace is too good not to consider playing back there."
"We have a lot of guys returning and we are hoping to pick up right from last season," Della Vecchia said. "We have a good core group, and we'll bring the others along as fast as we can. We have a lot of leaders in our group of seniors and the younger kids are beginning to figure it out.
"We don't have as much depth as we've had the last two years. We've gone with a two-platoon system as much as possible, but in this situation, I think we're going to ask some offensive guys to also play defense.
"We have a really difficult schedule. If all goes well, we hope to be in the mix when the playoffs come around."
Sept. 13 — at Brien McMahon,**7 p.m.
Sept. 21 — NOTRE DAME-WEST HAVEN, 1 p.m.
Sept. 27 — at Wilton,** 7 p.m.
Oct. 4— at New Canaan,** 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 — at Fairfield Prep, 6 p.m.
Oct. 26 — RIDGEFIELD,** 1:30 p.m.
Nov. 2 — FAIRFIELD WARDE,** 1:30 p.m.
Nov. 16 — STAPLES,** 1:30 p.m.
Nov. 22 — at Stamford, ** 7 p.m.
Nov. 28 — TRUMBULL, * 10:30 a.m.
Home games in CAPS