A preseason can be a surprise, a disappointment or in the case of St. Joseph High a mixed message.

“I know we have some good players back, but we lost a lot of good players to graduation,” Cadet head coach Joe Della Vecchia said. “Each scrimmage we are getting better. Not only a little bit better, but playing well. I’m happy with that, but you’re never sure where you stand until the season begins and the games count.”

St. Joseph has the biggest challenge facing any team in the state this Saturday when Darien High, the state’s No. 1 ranked team from a year ago, visits the newly turfed upper field at the Dowling Sports Complex at 1:30 p.m.

“Darien is big and we don’t have its size,” Della Vecchia said. “Put that physical size together with speed and that’s why they are this season’s top team.”

Cory Babineau, Alec Pelletier, Brian Harner and Nick Osborne are team captains.

Babineau is back for St. Joseph after throwing for 1,458 yards and 13 scores with five rushing touchdowns as a junior. The Cadets went 7-3, before losing as the No. 7 seed to No. 2 New Fairfield in the Class M quarterfinals. The Rebels lost to No. 5 Brookfield 21-12 in the finals.

“Cory has gotten better each scrimmage,” Della Vecchia said of his 6-foot, 185-pound signal caller. “He made a lot of the touch throws and is reading his progressions well.”

Christian Trefz graduated, and with him went 1,141 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. Kevin Trefz also graduated after catching 31 passes for four touchdowns.

The Cadets will be young at running back, with freshman Jaden Shirden and sophomore Darren Warren. “Both have run the ball well in the preseason,” Della Vecchia said. “They are learning protection and catching the ball out of the backfield.”

Jared Mallozzi, Ryan Donegan, Phil Pasmeg and Jesse Bike are top receivers.

Luke Kirby, who kicked a game-winning 43-yard field goal as a freshman, will be the varsity placekicker as a sophomore.

The offensive line is a work in progress. Dave Veeley will be at center, Pelletier, Jesse Veilleux and Cody Yarrish at guard, and Nick Crocco and Pete Lovan at tackle.

Defensively, Harner, Pelletier and Jordan Dzurenda will man the front line with Jermaine Williams at nose guard.

Adam Derbyshire, Joe Kucky, Mike DiIorio and Jude Andrzejewski (injured) will be at linebacker.

Osborne, Mallozzi, Robby Miller, Jesse Watson (injured) and Macklin Roman will be in the secondary.

Osborne had five interceptions that he returned for 97 yards as a junior.

Mallozzi intercepted three passes.

Graduated is Cameron Ryan with his 103 tackles, 12 for losses with 2.5 sacks.

Harner is the top returning tackler with 51 stops, including 12 tackles for losses and 7.5 quarterback sacks.

Andrzejewski had 47 tackles. Derbyshire and Osborne made 40 tackles each.

“We’re without Jude and Jesse this week, and we’ll rotate guys in up front and at linebacker,” Della Vecchia said. “This is a quiet group that worked hard lifting and running in the off-season. We’re stronger, but not big at all.”