This Saturday, Aug. 20 will be the first opportunity for the public to get its first look at the Wilton High School‘s 2022 Warrior football team at the annual inter-squad “Blue/White Scrimmage” (3 p.m. at Fujitani Field). The event will showcase the offensive players facing off against their defensive teammates and is meant to be a feel-good, family event with food, giveaways, new merchandise, etc. There’s also collaboration between the high school program and the Wilton Youth Football program with the introduction of a new “Junior Tribe” bleacher section that will emulate the WHS student fan on the home side.
GOOD Morning Wilton got the opportunity to spend some time at practice with the team and talk with Coach E.J. DiNunzio, who is in his fifth season leading the Warriors. It’s a joy watching DiNunzio on the turf with his team — he is positive as he teaches and encourages his players and it often seems like he’s the one having the most fun out on the field. We talked with him about this year’s team — the largest ever in the program — and how he approaches coaching the Warriors. (The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.)
Coach DiNunzio: When I first got here, we averaged about 85 total kids, and last year we got to 97. Myself and the former athletic director were like, ‘We gotta get to 100.’ That was our goal. Right? So this year we broke the hundred — now we’re at 114, which is fantastic. But we’re young. We graduated some super football players last year so, I don’t ever like to say it’s a rebuilding year, but it’s a year where we have a lot of opportunities for our younger kids to step up and play, which is fun. It’s good for them, and I’m excited for them, they have a great opportunity.
GMW: You’re known to have an open, all-embracing program. You have a girl playing on the team this year. We’ve written about Patch Angerame and his involvement in the youth football program before, now he’s a freshman on the team.
DiNunzio: Patch is part of our family. I’ve known Patch for a while and he is a kid that personifies Wilton. Everything’s inclusive, everybody’s included, Patch is the kid that, if he didn’t have any differences, he would be out here running hard, trying hard, giving his very best. You can see that he wants to, and my players see it, my coaches see it and we root for him. My players root for him more than anybody else. We know how tough it is for him to run and he’s running 100 yards with his buddies and that’s what a football family is all about. We’ve embraced him, we love him and he’s part of the team and he’s gonna do everything that we do every single week.
To have a girl on the team? She wants nothing different from me. She expects to be coached like everyone else does. And she’s a really good football player. She’s one of the tougher players on the team and no different than the other guys on the team.
We don’t look at it as challenges, we look at it as opportunities. I would love for the football program to be known for a really strong football team all the way across the board from varsity, JV and the freshmen. If, you know, I would love to have us mentioned like the Dariens and the New Canaans of the world where they’re like, ‘Wow, we play New Canaan this week. They’re a tough team.’ I want Wilton to be that tough team. We are on the right track for that.
But more importantly, I would love for the Wilton football program to be looked at as not just a good football program, but a program that does other things throughout the community, who reaches out and looks for things that we can do to better our community, help people that need help. That’s really the goal.
I mean, we’re privileged. We play a game. It’s fun. Our coaches get to coach these wonderful kids, but it’s a game and life is a lot more difficult than football. And the more things that we can do to make people smile. First of all, I want my football players to be proud because they represent our program. But I also want the individuals who see that we’re football players to say, ‘Hey, that’s a pretty good kid. That’s a pretty good bunch of kids. I want the football program to have a good, positive name. And I want people to say, ‘Wilton football — that’s a good program. It’s headed in the right direction. And it’s a bunch of good guys who try real hard and who put forth the effort, and they may not always be the biggest team and it may not be the fastest team, but they’re always gonna play hard and they’re always gonna compete and respect players that they play against, the officials, coaches and so on.’
GMW: What you do for this program is amazing, it’s really appreciated.
DiNunzio: But as you said, I’m having fun, you know? [Laughs]
GMW: I saw you dodging and throwing out there at practice, and you’re the loudest one celebrating when your players get it right.
DiNunzio: I’ve been with these guys, I’ve seen them since they were freshmen. Now I’m [on staff] in this school, I work with them. They’re in school for six, seven hours a day. When they come out here, why can’t they have fun? Why can’t they enjoy themselves? That’s what we try to push here. Football’s tough enough. You come out, work hard for two hours. You can’t tell me you can’t learn football and still have fun while doing it. Sure you can. That’s what we try to do here.
Seeing those guys graduate last year, my seniors, they all said to me, ‘Coach, I love the guys I played with, I love this program.’ And that’s what it’s all about, you know? I think we’re doing the right thing. And with the numbers going up, it’s proving that. I just hope it keeps going in the right direction.
One of the things that has been great is the youth program. This year, we had three camps and a Monday Night Lights for all the youth, which my coaches ran with my players. It was a blast, it was a lot of fun. And these younger kids who, some of them just played flag football have now started to come out for tackle.
During the season, we’re gonna have a mentoring program where my players are going to mentor the Youth Football kids. So there’s stuff going on and that’s, that’s really a great sign for the program. It’s not stagnant. We keep moving forward and we’re always looking to try to do things to better our youth, and our community. My kids are good kids.