Over the past few years, Father Judge athletics has designated a “Homecoming Game” for the football program. This year that game was against Archbishop Carroll. Since being offered the freshman football head coaching job over this past off season, I thought of ways to inject back into the program a sense of pride, tradition and reverence toward those who came before.
As the freshman head coach and the first face the new Crusaders see as they walk through those doors, I felt that the burden of cultivating such an environment starts with me.
Since graduating in 2007 and being on the outside, it seemed to me like the history started to become lost among the new Crusaders. Under coach Tom Coyle, those aforementioned points of tradition and reverence were continually stressed. The same can be said for Coach McKay. But still, it felt like something was missing.
That’s when I, along with my coaching staff, decided to withhold the numbers 12 and 37 from our freshman. Those numbers belonged to Greg Hennigar and Ricky Lannetti, respectfully, two individuals the community had tragically lost years before. The families have contended that they did not want their numbers retired, and we honored that request by allowing them to be worn by two select freshman Crusaders at our homecoming game.
Normally we would have four to five captains per week; but in the spirit of homecoming we only allowed those two captains, wearing 12 and 37, to have the spotlight as they walked out for the coin toss. It was meant to show that the history and respect was never truly lost. It was just waiting for the right moment to shine through, and shine through it did.
We fought hard but came up short in a 7-0 loss to Carroll. As the young men returned to the locker room, hanging their heads in disappointment as this became our third loss in a row following a 3-0 start, I began to contemplate whether or not I was making the difference I intended to make upon accepting the job.
I addressed the team, and the players eventually began putting their jerseys into the hamper to be washed. The coaches met behind closed doors to discuss what improvements could be made as we prepared for our final game against Roman Catholic. As we coaches were exiting the locker room we noticed that the 37 jersey had been draped neatly over the locker room bench with a rosary hung over it.
We have a rule in the locker room, “nothing is to be left on the floor.” So we all figured that the jersey and rosary coincidentally wound up draped together in that manner over the bench. As the coaches finally exited the facility I received a text from the player wearing number 37, Dennis Cranston. It said, “Since I couldn’t honor Ricky on the field, I wanted to do it on the bench.”
As I read that to my assistant coaches you could see the emotion flood over everyone, including myself. We are a young staff. Most of us went through the program learning about both Greg and Ricky, with one of our staff members being a teammate of theirs. Win or lose, the difference I wanted to make was a change in the culture of our program; a change that made young men proud to play for Judge and what they represent, as opposed to guys just playing football as a recreational get away from the stresses of life.
It was never about just football for me, or any of the other coaches I hired. It was about building young men of character, who understood their responsibility in the grand scheme of representing something many men, both young and old, take great pride in: being Judge guys.
After what transpired Thursday night, I consider myself the luckiest coach in the Catholic League to have experienced something like that.
So many people get wrapped up in wins, losses and the scoreboard. They fail to see the impact they have had past the field of play. I can honestly say I have been a victim of that as well. It happened to me that evening as I contemplated what I could be doing wrong to have lost three in a row. However, in our brand of football, victory can never truly be represented on any scoreboard.
“Victory,” the way we see it, transcends the physical element of the sport. “Victory” is something unique to each individual and institution. After that night, Father Judge had their “win” and I consider us undefeated.
Dennis showed that the program achieved its most important victory to date: the seeds of pride, tradition and reverence have been sown back into the fabric of the football program.
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