New Canaan football coaches Chris, John Silvestri make Turkey Bowl a family affair

The Silvestris, from left, John, Charlie and Chris, during New Canaan football practice at Dunning Field on Monday, Nov. 21, 2022.

The Silvestris, from left, John, Charlie and Chris, during New Canaan football practice at Dunning Field on Monday, Nov. 21, 2022.

Dave Stewart

It was a day about nine years ago when New Canaan football coach Lou Marinelli spotted the recently-retired John Silvestri walking near Dunning Field.

“I said jokingly, if you keep walking every day, I’m going to put you to work,” Marinelli said. “Then the next day, I saw him again, and the next day I saw him again.”

At that point, Marinelli made good on his statement and offered Silvestri a spot on the Rams’ football staff, which already included his son, Chris.

“I wasn’t sure because I hadn’t coached since Pop Warner, when (sons) Steve and Chris were playing,” John Silvestri said. “Then I was working all those other years and never had the opportunity to coach. So I said ok, I’ll come out and there were some great coaches here who taught me how to coach the defensive line and I’ve been there ever since.”

The father-and-son pairing, with Chris as the defensive coordinator and John working with the D-line, has seen the Rams through some fantastic seasons.

“The last seven or eight years, our defense has been among the best in the state,” Marinelli said. “We’ve become known for our defense.”

Working alongside his father has been a unique experience for Chris Silvestri, who said his dad fit right in.

“It’s really cool,” said Chris, who is a PE teacher at New Canaan. “The kids have a great relationship with him, I trust him to do what we’re looking to do and he always follows through with what we’re doing.”

Family and football are front and center for Thanksgiving, when New Canaan (8-1) and Darien (6-3) square off in the annual Turkey Bowl. The Blue Wave is hosting this year, with kickoff set for 10 a.m.

After the game, the Silvestris will head to the home of Steve Silvestri, Chris’ younger brother, for their annual holiday celebration.

“We go over to my brother’s house and win or lose, it’s about family, and about being together,” Chris said, “We’re always back to work the next day, so it’s time to put everything behind us for at least eight hours.”

In addition to coaching the high school team, Chris is also a coach with his son Charlie’s fifth-grade team.

So how does he find time for everything?

“I don’t,” he said with a smile. “I sometimes feel I’m short-changing someone.”

Marinelli said he’s known the Silvestris since Chris was in the seventh grade. The family had moved to New Canaan from Illinois.

“John and his wife have two of the nicest kids,” Marinelli said. “Just great, great people. I look forward to being with them every day.”

Chris had a remarkable football career as a safety and running back at New Canaan.

The Connecticut Gatorade and New Haven Register Player of the Year in 1993, Silvestri owns several Ram records, including most career rushing yards with 2,767 from 1991-93, and most rushing yards in a season with 1,891 in 1993.

He also owns the three top spots in most rushing yards in a game with 314, 304, 279, all in 1993 when New Canaan won a state championship.

During that time, Silvestri would develop a strong bond with Lou’s son, John, who went on to coach for New Canaan, Greenwich and now UConn.

“Chris was really a role model for Johnny,” Marinelli said. “Johnny wore No. 11 in college because that was Chris’s number and he was his idol. He wanted to be just like Chris. What a great role model for my son.”

Chris played college football at Lafayette and Fairfield University, and eventually came back to New Canaan as a coach. That’s when he took the next step.

“He wanted to do this full time,” Marinelli said. “He wanted to be in this school, he wanted to be able to know the kids and be part of the whole school community. He went to school and got certified to be a teacher. I’ve watched him as a player develop and as a coach develop. The way he handles kids and the way he coaches, he’s a Godsend for me. “

Marinelli said he has similar respect for John and his approach to coaching.

“He’s at every meeting, he knows all the kids, the kids know him, and he has a great way with them,” Marinelli said. “You can see where Chris gets it, when you look at John and how he handles the kids. They have a tremendous amount of respect for him.”

“We have a close relationship,” John said of Marinelli. “He’s been a mentor to me in helping me coach. Watching him coach both my sons was terrific.”

When the Turkey Bowl gets underway on Thursday, Chris has some advice for the players.

“It’s really about going out and playing and not holding anything back,” Silvestri said. “Our job is to keep them as confident and prepared as possible. There are always going to be bumps in the road, but you always have to keep playing for the next play.”; @dstewartsports