Offseason training sets the tone for what the Bulldawgs hope is another title run.
By Al Thompson
For the Sun
Haddonfield Memorial High School head football coach Frank DeLano says he still remembers what it was like in 2014 when his Bulldawgs captured the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 2 Championship, blowing through the three-round tournament outscoring opponents 102–7 and finishing with a 12–0 record.
It was DeLano’s third Group title in five years, the school’s only state football titles since the NJSIAA started keeping records in 1974.
Over the past two seasons, Haddonfield has been good but no championships.
DeLano wants his 2017 squad to visualize what it’s like to win a title and transfer those thoughts into results.
“You know what it feels like when you come down the street on that fire truck in the parade, coming down Kings Highway, it’s a special feeling,” DeLano said in a recent one-on-one interview outside his training facility at the school. “It’s a banner in the gym. (The late Flyers championship coach) Fred Shero said it well, ‘Win the title and you walk together forever.’ That class is going to walk together forever.”
DeLano paused for a second.
“We need to get back,” DeLano said. “We need to get back. (Packers QB) Aaron Rogers summed it up the best after they lost to the Giants (the year after winning Super Bowl XLV). ‘When you get to the top of the mountain you feel how bad it is when you don’t get there. You just have that pit in your gut, that emptiness.’ No disrespect for out 2015 team or 2016 teams … they gave us everything they had. We were a couple plays away in 2015. You have to have better fuel, the fuel of winning. You have to hate losing more than you like winning.”
DeLano says he knows it is never easy. He knows he has to take it one game at a time, one practice at a time. He says he wants use the spring and summer training sessions to find and develop leaders each season.
The long-time head coach says there is nothing wrong with enjoying the process, the journey he and his team must undertake. Some coaches and student-athletes will say they like practice as much if not the same as the games themselves … does coach?
“In a different way, there’s no doubt,” said DeLano, who took over the Haddonfield football program in 2002. “There’s nothing like going out there today and practicing, being in the locker room. But there comes a time when you get tired of being in the weight room and you want to start playing. So we look forward to mid-June when you are physically allowed to get on the field again and beat up our guys. But we know how critical and important this (practice) is.”
DeLano is a no-frills basic coach when it comes to training. Haddonfield is a small school so he does not have the numbers of schools such as Williamstown or Cherokee. But the goals are the same.
“We say, you know, get bigger, faster, stronger,” DeLano said. “It isn’t an option. It’s a necessity to win championships and get where we want to be. Now is the time where we sit there and see who are our leaders, who is going to identify the next group, who is going to take the team and be the next guy in charge.”
Unlike many coaches, he likes it when his guys play other sports at school.
“Traditionally, we have athletes here,” DeLano said. “We don’t have a ton of kids out here in the weight room. There are other weight rooms and they have 50, 60, 70 kids in there. Then you’ll see some other schools that only want one-sport athletes.
“We want our kids playing something else,” DeLano continued. “We could go out there and do tug-of-war, flip tires, we could do all kinds of stuff … but it won’t seem like competition.
“Go to the free throw line with three seconds left and hit the front end of a one-and-one for your team. Get on the mat, in your singlet in the middle of a packed gym and you’ve got to stay off your back for your team. That’s real competition. It’s not false, it’s not made up, it’s not like we’re pulling tires and the losers have to do push-ups … that’s not the way it is. So I’d rather have our guys going out and competing, running track, doing something. If you’re not, you’ve got to get in the weight room and make sure this is a priority.”
Like any sport, football is a fraternity. Winning teams usually are the ones that bond during the offseason. It’s hard to point the finger at a teammate during some tough times of the season if you like him or her.
For DeLano, there is nothing cheesy about bonding.
“I will never call team chemistry cheesy,” DeLano said. “I think it’s the most vital part of a football team. The teams that stay together, that hang together, that workout together form unity through hardship. This is not easy. We say it all the time to our guys. Last year we practiced 81 times if you put the summer Monday and Tuesday nights in t-shirts in there … we got together 81 times to play 10 games. That’s just the reality of it. That’s not even putting in your weight room stuff or your agility stuff. We spend more time with our football family than we do sometimes with our own personal families.”
DeLano continued his passionate answer about team chemistry.
“So you have to like each other, you have to believe in each other, you have to sweat with each other, you have to cry together, you have to be able to hug each other, you have to be able to look them in the eye and tell ’em you love them. I don’t know any other way to do it except being together and doing things together … and going through this (training).”
DeLano recently won a lifetime achievement award from the Haddonfield Alumni Society at the age of 40. He was named New Jersey State Coach of the Year in 2010 and was inducted into the South Jersey Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 2015. He continues to preach chemistry as the key to success.
“Team chemistry is so important,” DeLano said. “That’s why everyone is talking about locker room guys in the NFL. Is it important to draft those character guys? Those people with blemishes on their record, do you want them in your room? You don’t know. But you want to give everybody the benefit of the doubt. Everyone has a chance, but these are kids, not matter what … they’re going to mess up. At the end of the day, we have to make sure we are rallying them in, hugging them and loving them, but team chemistry is so very important.”
DeLano may sound like he puts a lot, maybe too much, emphasis on the mental aspect of training, but he does have training philosophies and they are more than current: Core work, stretching, being flexible as well as strong. He likes training disciplines that transfer to football. There was only one flat bench in the weight room, a sign he wants his players to focus on weight training that will make them better football players.
“That is correct,” DeLano said. “You better be strong in your core, you better have some flexibility, you better be dynamic with your squat, you better be able to clean. And there’s that argument that what’s more realistic — flat bench or incline bench? What’s more football specific?
“I’ve never seen a weight block anybody, ever,” he continued. “You want to be a better football player, sure. You better be bigger, faster and stronger.”
DeLano says he has 21 letter winners returning from last season’s team that finished 4–1 in West Jersey-Colonial League play, 6–4 overall.
“We have a bunch of experience coming back,” DeLano said. “You always want to lean on your senior class heavily.”
Seniors he singled out include center/DT Will Murray (6–0, 230), running back Ben Klaus (6–1, 175), fullback Will Ciemny (5–10, 175) plus quarterbacks Jack Flannagan (6–0, 170) and Jack Mooney (5–9, 130).
“We’re going to have a real nice mix of some seniors, some juniors,” DeLano said. “We have guys that have a lot of experience and guys hopefully are going to step on the field expecting to win, not hoping to win.”
Those underclassmen include sophomore quarterback Jack Narducci (5–9, 145) and brothers Johnny Foley WR, SS (6–2, 175) and quarterback/free safety Jay Foley (5–9, 165), both juniors, whose father Glenn Foley played quarterback at Boston College and in the NFL with the New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks.
Coach said he expects the battle for the starting quarterback spot to be spirited.
“It’s going to be a great battle,” said DeLano, who lists his assistants as Mike Miller, Sean Kahoun, Michael McDevitt and Stu Halloway. “There’s nothing better than competition. It either brings out the best in some or brings out the worst in some. But when we start meeting as a quarterback group, they have to be pulling for each other. At the end, we’ve just got to win football games.”
DeLano made it clear he loves having the elder Foley around to share his experiences, but says he puts bloodlines aside when it comes to deciding who plays where.
“Jay is as hungry as they come for that spot,” DeLano said. “He is. He’s motivated. He’s the first guy in the gym, last guy to leave … he’s always walking around with a ball in his hand. Whether it’s pedigree or it’s not, every kid is themselves. Johnny and Jay are individually motivated. I don’t think it makes a difference — with all do respect to what their dad did, we all know how great he was at Boston College and in the NFL, I really don’t think that translates. I just think they have an intense desire to succeed. Every kid is different, every kid’s unique. It doesn’t matter what their father did. At the end of the day, the best kids are going to play, the best kids are going to win the job.”
Delano said if a kid is talented and there is a log jam at his position, he’ll find a way to get him on the field.
“They will almost all end up playing somewhere on the field — wide out, cornerback- we’ll use them wherever we can to help us win football games.”
One thing is clear, the Bulldawgs are eyeing a ride on that fire truck again this fall.