Super subs: Cellar, Wilson step into starting roles for Darien
Published 6:55 pm, Friday, December 1, 2017
DARIEN — Last Wednesday, on the eve of the annual Turkey Bowl against New Canaan, Darien sophomore Sam Wilson and junior Blake Cellar naturally assumed they’d be standing on the sideline with one of the best seats in the house to watch the two rivals battle it out.
Little did either know, the first extended action of their young careers would come that next day in front of nearly 10,000 fans at Boyle Stadium in Stamford.
“It was the morning before the game and I had an email from the coach telling me they had to teach me the whole scheme in 10 minutes,” Wilson said of the Darien’s desperation audible following the arrests of two players last Wednesday. “…the second drive they told me to go in and I did. I think played pretty well, so they kept me in for the rest of the game and now I’ve just been in since then.”
Darien lost the game 27-0, but it was far from the defense’s fault, as despite plugging in the raw underclassmen, it only gave up 13 points to the high-flying New Canaan attack.
Wilson recorded a sack from his linebacker position and Cellar performed admirably from his spot in the secondary, surprising even himself.
“New Canaan was a huge game and I thought I was going to be a wreck,” Cellar said. “But teammates were there for me and it was totally fine. I know that whatever is happening, I got 10 other guys on the defense and a bunch more on the sideline to help me so I don’t really get that nervous anymore; it’s easy to focus in for 48 minutes and just play ball.”
One of those 10 other guys is senior Connor Tienken. The cornerback is one of the leaders on the team, having played on varsity for three years, starting for two.
Tienken has played just two games with Wilson and Cellar by his side—the second came on Tuesday in a 30-10 Class LL quarterfinal victory over East Hartford — but he already delivered a ringing endorsement of the duo.
“I trust both of them fully, just as much as anyone else,” Tienken said. “Nick (Green, undisclosed absence) and Brian (Minicus, suspension) are great players and make great plays, but I trust these guys with my life.”
The ability of the Blue Wave to plug-and-play athletes is a point of emphasis the coaching staff instills in their players as soon as their cleats hit the turf at Darien High School.
“Part of our defensive plan is we do the same things every day so the younger kids get to learn what we do,” defensive coordinator Mike Forget said. “So, if something arises, an injury or something like that, we have a kid that knows what’s going on. Nothing changes, we try to get everybody reps and get young kids reps and when we put them in I expect them to do their job.”
Even with those expectations, Forget has been impressed with the tenacity both players have displayed through two games.
“You would expect in this situation they would be a little timid or a little afraid,” Forget said. “But they come right at it.”
Physically, it’s obvious both players have what it takes to play at the varsity level. Cellar’s speed doesn’t just blend in with the other players, it stands out. Wilson, despite his youth, is fearless at his linebacker spot.
“I want to bring energy,” Cellar said. “And I like to think I’m a pretty smart player. I know the defense well and I’m always ready to make a play and help out my team.”
When Darien takes on West Haven Sunday in the state semifinals, looking to qualify for and win its third-straight state title, it will do so with Cellar and Wilson much more comfortable in their respective roles.
“Now our jobs are drilled into our minds,” Wilson said. “So, we know if we do our one job, we’re going to be good. We’re both fairly young, so we’re both excited to get our chance and now that we have our chance we want to make the best out of it.”
So far so good, and according to Wilson, there’s not all that much to it.
“It’s just football,” he said. “Just with bigger and faster guys. It’s what I’ve been doing my whole life.”