Don Richardson doesn’t back down from challenges. Never has. Never will.
After a commendable run as an 18-year assistant football coach at The Haverford School, Richardson accepted the job as head coach at West Catholic Preparatory High School in early March. In less than four months, the accomplished 46-year-old will lead his troops onto the football field, fulfilling a desire for which he has yearned most of the past decade.
To say Richardson is excited is obvious. The opportunity to run a program with full support from the West Catholic administration represents a dream come true.
“I wanted a defensive coordinator or head coach position, and I felt at my previous school I should have been promoted to the defensive coordinator three years ago,” said Richardson. “Since that conversation was never revisited, I felt that it was time to go.”
“I am blessed, honored, and thankful to the hiring committee for their trust in me. I am humbled to become a part of the tradition.”
When the Philadelphia Catholic League (PCL) was created more than a century ago, it only took West Catholic six years to win its first PCL championship (1925). Way back then, the league consisted of only five teams, so the challenge of capturing a title wasn’t particularly taxing.
From then through now, the Burrs have snared 20 crowns, though nine of them came with the asterisk of a “small-enrollment” distinction, whether that was “Blue Division” – as compared to the large-school’s “Red” – or a class separation, in West Catholic’s case, Class 2A.
Currently, the Burrs are the only Class 2A team in the PCL – allowing them an automatic bid to compete in a PIAA Class 2A District 12 championship in hopes of reaching the PIAA state tournament.
In the PCL, West Catholic inhabits the Blue Division along with seven neighbors. Their last winning record in the division occurred in 2018, which ended a three-year stretch of finishing in second place. Since then, the Burrs have gone 7-14 against PCL competition.
This past season, the Burrs finished 2-5 in the Blue. Their last PCL effort, however, a 13-12 loss to Bonner-Prendergast, almost sent shockwaves throughout the local landscape since the Friars ultimately finished undefeated in the league and advanced deep into the PIAA state tourney. The Burrs also came close to upsetting second-place Conwell-Egan, losing 14-7.
After easily disposing of Bristol 54-7 in the District final, West Catholic’s season ended with a 24-0 PIAA quarterfinal loss to District 3’s Trinity High.
With several starters returning from last year, the graduate of Mastbaum Area Vocational Technical School and Bloomsburg University will receive some talent to build around. But the football skills part of the equation remains secondary until Richardson establishes his handprint on West Catholic’s program.
“The biggest challenge would be gaining the trust of the player[s],” said Richardson, “and removing any negative carryover from the previous year.”
Compared to The Haverford School, Richardson inherits an entirely different landscape. The Inter-Academic schools consist of extremely expensive tuitions, eye-popping facilities, almost unlimited endowments, and a wide allowance to recruit students from areas north, south, east, and west.
Conversely, West Catholic is an inner-city school that competes with numerous other institutions trying to entice the same students with almost all of them hailing from blue-collar families in urban areas of Philadelphia.
Thriving on his mission to make a difference, Richardson welcomes the challenge.
“As a coach you have to be at your best so that the kids are at theirs,” he said. “But the biggest thing that I want to carry over is the brotherhood between the players past and present. If we can bring the alumni back and gain that tradition of family that was always so strong at West Catholic Prep, then the winning will follow.”
Richardson fully embraces West Catholic Prep’s Catholic identity.
“God,” said Richardson, “is first in everything we do.”
The breadth of influences in Richardson’s life expand far and wide.
“My family has given me their love, support, and unspoken expectations to be great and give back to the world,” he said. “The pride and history in the Frankford neighborhood where I grew up is unmatched.”
Richardson lauded his high school football coach at Mastbaum, John Murphy; his college coach at Bloomsburg, Danny Hale; and the head coach at Haverford School, Mike Murphy.
From John Murphy, Richardson learned about “hard work, tradition and leadership,” and when he returned as a coach to join Murphy at Mastbaum from 2001 to 2004, he acquired “the mental aspects of how to relate to kids.”
From Hale, he “learned about the relationships within a program that are needed to win.”
Under Haverford School head coach Mike Murphy, Richardson “was trusted to be creative” and “learned how to build a program.”
When describing his background, current philosophy, and future endeavors, Richardson often uses the word “family.” West Catholic Prep football players will undoubtedly become entrenched in Richardson’s vision of focusing on “we” instead of “I.”
Embracing that communal philosophy helped inspired West Catholic to hire Richardson.
“After a thorough process with a lot of qualified applicants, Coach Richardson’s wealth of experience and passion for the game, as well as his knowledge about the tradition and legacy of West Catholic Prep, made him stand out,” said West Catholic president Andrew Brady.
“We look forward to Coach Richardson’s leadership of the program and invite all members of our community to join us in supporting our Burrs and our new head coach.”
The new-look West Catholic Preparatory School Burrs will commence their season on September 9 against non-league foe Steelton-Highspire at an undetermined site.
As he jogs onto the field before kickoff along with his staff and players, Richardson’s countenance figures to appear serious. But inwardly? No one will possess a wider smile.
Contact John Knebels at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @johnknebels
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