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Schutt Sports High School Coaches of the Year

by: Matt Dougherty
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Greg Toal
Don Bosco Prep, Ramsey, NJ

Using the run to set up the pass isn’t exactly a breakthrough in game strategy. However, it worked to perfection as Don Bosco Prep put the finishing touches on a 12-0 season and New Jersey Non-Public State title with a 41-0 rout of St. Peter’s Prep in the championship game.

The offense featured diversified looks out of the spread all season with a one-tight end, three-wideout look among the most used formations. The ability to run the ball gave Don Bosco Prep a chance to make big plays, and they did just that as head coach Greg Toal set up a route they hadn’t used all season in a big spot. It worked to perfection as Matt Simms hit Alex DeSanzo on an out and go pattern for the first touchdown of the state title game.

“We knew they would be crowding the box, so we got them to bite on play action and hit a pass into the slot for the first score,” said Toal. The rout was on from there, in part because of the play of defensive end Justin Trattou. The Notre Dame-bound star recorded four sacks and nine tackles, and Toal and his staff did everything they could to put him in position to make plays all season. “He has a great motor and never stops. We made him a field player a lot so teams couldn’t just run away from him and he could make plays all over,” Toal said.

Don Bosco Prep took on a daunting early schedule with a pair of out-of-state games against quality competition. They won their opener against St. Joe’s Prep from Philadelphia, and then won in Cincinnati in the next contest. With a challenging start to the season, the preseason practices were important for a quick start and success throughout the season.

“We put pressure on the players each day in practice,” Toal said. “We were competitive and tough in practice and really practiced the way we played. It’s a benefit for the kids to know what type of intensity it will take to win.”

Phil Strickland
Gaffney High School, SC

The Gaffney program has been among the best in South Carolina and even in the nation for some time, and Phil Strickland’s four seasons at the helm have built that reputation even further. But Strickland wasn’t ready to just rest on his laurels this season, and a change in his defensive scheme helped propel the team to a 15-0 record and a Class 4A Division I Championship.

“We had been a zone defense team that was reluctant to play man in the past, mainly because we didn’t have the people to play man,” Strickland said. “We felt we had the personnel to do it this season with four or five good players there, and it worked for us against teams that throw the ball well.” Strickland felt the shift would work especially well against a nationally ranked Byrnes team that had success throwing the ball, and that belief came true. Gaffney won both meetings, including a 16-13 victory in the postseason.

Offseason work also played a major role in the success of the man-to-man scheme. “We always do a lot of offseason conditioning, but this year we worked on more speed training than we did in the past and I think that really paid off,” Strickland said.

On offense, Strickland designed much of the attack around the strong arm of quarterback Malcolm Long. Long often worked out of the shotgun, and earned Mr. Football honors in South Carolina after throwing for 2,135 yards and 23 touchdowns. While the passing game had explosive potential, Strickland also kept his offense balanced by getting production from the running attack.

“We threw for over 3,000 yards and ran for 2,500, and spread out to make people cover the whole field,” Strickland said. “I think what really made us good was that our offensive line got better and better. Early on the kids didn’t have much playing experience but they really came together by the end of the season.”

Allan Trimble
Jenks High School, OK

Allan Trimble has served on the coaching staff at Jenks since 1990, and held the head coaching position at the school for the past 11 seasons. He’s enjoyed plenty of success in that time, but no season could compare to the emotional rollercoaster that Trimble and his team had to ride in the 2006 campaign.

On July 12, Trimble’s team tragically lost one of its own when offensive lineman Garrett Bennett was killed in an accident. Bennett had played in Jenks since he was in the third grade, and Trimble and his staff had to figure out how to help the team recover while they were dealing with their own grief.

With the season approaching, football helped Trimble and his team deal with the loss. “We decided the day after the accident that somehow, someway we were going to make the most out of the tragedy,” Trimble said. “We wanted to give our best effort to honor him with our performance. Football was our rallying point to leave it on the field.”

A change of playing-time philosophy also helped the team prosper in the regular season and have more in the tank for a playoff run that ended with a 13-1 record and a 6A state title. “We radically changed our philosophy this year. We have traditionally played quite a few guys both ways, but this year we tried as hard as possible to platoon the kids and stick to it,” Trimble said. “It played benefits for our kids’ conditioning and health for the season and in the playoffs, and made us a stronger team in the second half than our opponents.”

Trimble’s offseason work also paid dividends. Jenks had always played man-to-man on defense, but visits to Arkansas and Virginia Tech, among others, helped Trimble expand his defensive package. “We went and visited and scouted the teams that run zone blitz packages, and we were able to incorporate that into our defense,” Trimble said.

Mike Grant
Eden Prairie High School, MN

With five titles in the past 11 years, success is nothing new for Eden Prairie and head coach Mike Grant. It started even earlier for Grant, who acquired knowledge at an early age when his famous father, Bud, coached the Minnesota Vikings and then as a player and assistant coach under the legendary John Gagliardi at St. John’s (MN), college football’s all-time winningest coach.

“My father really gave me a look at how to manage and handle a team, and coach Gagliardi taught me how to play the game and what the focus has to be on to win games,” said Grant. His coaching lessons came into play at the most important time of the season.

With a 14-14 tie at the half in the Class 5A state championship game against Lakeville South, Grant shifted defensive philosophy by going from a Cover-2 to a Cover-5, and his team shut out Lakeville South in the second half of a 21-14 victory for the state title.

“We played a lot of Cover-2 against the spread but they really throw it well. You always need a second plan, and we had to be flexible.”

At the most crucial point of the season, the team’s work in the summer proved integral. Eden Prairie won the Minnesota and Iowa State camp tournaments in seven-on-seven play, and finished with a 37-1 record in the offseason in that format. Because of that experience, the Cover-5 defense was in the team’s comfort zone.

“We just wanted to simplify things and let them play,” Grant said. “They wanted to throw it, and we just wanted to do what we did all summer and shut that offense down.” The team’s year-round work and commitment paid off all season.

“We had a senior group of kids that were still lifting for us even during their other seasons,” Grant said. “Some guys were getting private workout people, and the goal was to win the championship all along.”

Ken Potter
Jesuit high School, Portland, OR

Teams that average 45 points per game in the regular season and score at least 56 points in the final three playoff games often run unpredictable, wide-open attacks to keep defenses on their toes. For Jesuit and head coach Ken Potter, those numbers were posted with a more basic scheme.

Jesuit relied on some explosive running backs and an I-formation, pro-set offense to provide the gaudy production that culminated with a resounding 56-7 victory over Southridge in the Oregon Class 6A State Championship. “What worked so well was our ability to run the ball and set up the pass from there,” Potter said. “We’re a man-blocking team with a consistent quarterback and running backs that we wanted to feature.”

Potter cites offseason work as a major contributor for the success, but the work didn’t all come on the football field. Some players are involved in baseball, golf or tennis in the spring, but all of the others work on speed, quickness and weight training and remain in competition as part of the track team.

“We don’t do spring football, and we don’t have practice in June or July,” Potter said. “We’re fresh at the end of the year because the kids haven’t been practicing for seven or eight months.” The formula paid off in the postseason, when Jesuit punted only once and committed just one turnover in four games. In Potter’s 20 years at Jesuit, he has seen the benefit of having his players involved in other sports outside of the football season.

“We don’t want them to be focused on football all year,” Potter said. “They know they can play other sports and play hard and then come and play hard during the football season. They will become better and more developed as athletes by playing in other sports and being in competition all year, and they’ll have more fun once the football season starts.”


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