Blogs > The Best of Don Seeley's Columns

Former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley passed away in June 2013 from a heart attack. For more than a decade Seeley wrote about local sports. Featured here are his columns that were previously printed in The Mercury.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Feels like the first time

There's never a more exciting moment in high school sports than the kickoff of a new football season. It's inevitable, year after year after year. It's never gotten old and, in all likelihood, never will.

Maybe it's that one game that got away or that near-miss from the season past that stirs up the old adage of, "Wait 'til next year." Maybe it's the two-a-days and three-a-days during August's oppressive heat, perhaps the one or two scrimmages, that fire up the beliefs that, "This is our year."

Or maybe it's just the game itself that gets everyone - from the players and parents to the cheerleaders and their cheerful fans - so darn gung ho this time of the year.

Opening night of the high school football season is, in a word, exhilarating.

For some, like Chad Brubaker and Paul Lepre - new head coaches, to be specific - it can be a wee bit terrifying.

Mind you, both Brubaker and Lepre have been around football a long, long time. They played, and played well at one time. They've coached, and coached nearly every fall since graduating from college. But neither have ever strolled onto the field and situated themselves on the sidelines to start a new season as a head coach…

Until tonight.

Brubaker, who was named Spring-Ford's new head coach back in February, will lead the Rams at West Chester East this evening. Lepre, who was named Methacton's new head coach back in March, will lead the Warriors at Plymouth-Whitemarsh this evening.

"I don't feel overwhelmed now, but then again it's only Wednesday," Brubaker said earlier this week. "I'm certainly glad opening night is here, though."

"I'm anxious going into the first game," Lepre said. "I'm really excited to get Game

One under my belt."

The 37-year-old Brubaker, the seventh head coach at Spring-Ford since the Rams' first season back in 1955, played at Cocalico High School and Millersville University. He was an assistant coach for three years at Elizabethtown High School, then spent 12 years at Wilson - the first eight under Jim Cantafio and the last four under Doug Dahms.

If there is one thing Brubaker learned at Wilson - beyond all the Xs and Os - it was winning. There were three unbeaten Lancaster-Lebanon division titles and one District 3-AAAA championship.

Many fans throughout the Spring-Ford neighborhood are hoping he can achieve similar success in his new position, and sooner rather than later. Then again, no one wants to reverse the Rams' fortunes of late more than Brubaker himself.

"There's a lot of newness … new head coach, new offense, new defense, new staff," he explained. "Our kids have done a great job up to this point learning and adjusting to what we're trying to do.

"So it's been a big adjustment. The biggest adjustment for me has been people - staff, players and managers - coming to me for things. I used to be able to say, 'Go see the head coach,' and let him deal with it. Now I'm on the other end."

Now he's calling the shots, all of them, and the Rams seem be responding.

"I'm definitely excited for our kids," Brubaker said. "Our staff feels a certain buzz that these kids have, and I sense our players feel the same coming from us."

The 48-year-old Lepre, just the fifth head coach at Methacton since the Warriors' inaugural season back in 1962, played at Methacton before accepting a scholarship to play baseball in college. He not only returned to his alma mater to teach, but spent 15 years as an assistant under his former head coach, George Marinkov. When Marinkov resigned following the 2005 season, Lepre moved over to Lansdale Catholic as an assistant to Jim Algeo.

Much like Brubaker, Lepre has inherited a program that hasn't had much success in recent years. The Warriors fared well in their first season in the Pioneer Athletic Conference in 2008, but slipped to 1-10 overall last year.

And if anyone knows it's been 10 years since Methacton has had a winning season, it would be Lepre.

"The big challenge is to re-energize everybody," Lepre said shortly after being named the Warriors' head coach. "We need to re-energize the kids, the fans, everyone. That's what needs to happen initially. … And continuing that positive outlook is important."

Two weeks ago, during a mid-week practice, Lepre felt those initial goals were met.

"Things are different, and we're happy with the kids' attitude," he said. "Things have gone well. Things have been very positive."

All of which have helped - but not altogether eased - Lepre's nerves as a head coach.

"Just being in charge of everything as opposed to being a position coach certainly has made me a little anxious," he said. "Making sure we have everything with us, making sure we're prepared as well as we can be, and wondering if we tried to put in too much … things like that are what you worry about."

Brubaker and Lepre have learned to delegate a number of duties to their assistants.

Both have drawn up all the Xs and Os for their players.

And now, well, now it's time to play some football.

"I've never really liked first games because there are too many unknowns," Brubaker said. "I'm definitely excited for our kids because they've worked hard for this. We want to find out what we can achieve.

"But our goals are no different than any other team's goals on opening night. We want a 'W' like everyone else does."

Mike Santillo will make his debut with Pope John Paul II tonight against Holy Name up in Reading.

The 44-year-old Santillo actually spent the past four years as the head coach at Kennedy-Kenrick. After the doors closed at both K-K and St. Pius X back in June and before the doors to the brand new Pope John Paul II High School opened this week, Santillo was hired to take over the Golden Panthers' program.

An ironic twist to this evening's game is that Santillo will be going up against veteran Holy Name head coach Rick Keeley, a St. Pius X graduate. Keeley and the Blue Jays compete in Section Two of the Inter-County League, which features the Schuylkill Valley Panthers and head coach Jeff Chillot, also a St. Pius X graduate.

Dave Bodolus, yet another St. Pius X graduate - and former head coach of the Lions' program - will be going for his 100th career win tonight when Daniel Boone travels to Donegal.

Bodolus was 41-39 in seven seasons at Pius, guiding his 2001 team to the PIAA-Class AA Eastern Final. At Daniel Boone, he ended a string of 13 straight losing seasons in his first year (2003), has had a school-record tying seven straight winning seasons, has made seven straight appearances in the postseason playoffs, and is 58-24 overall.

Bodolus' son Tommy, who once lugged those water bottles onto the field at Pius when he was a toddler, is now a junior and will be the Blazers' starting quarterback for tonight's game against the Indians.

Father and son are likely to get a little support from the Daniel Boone softball team tonight. Donegal defeated the Blazers in the District 3-AAA championship last spring.

Unofficially, 82 PIAA-member schools - including 13 in District 1 - underwent coaching changes this year. In addition to Lepre, Santillo and Brubaker, the District 1 newcomers are John Donnelly at Central Bucks East; Dave Rackovan at Central Bucks South; Chuck Crews at Chester; Ryan Smith at Chichester; Adam Collachi at Council Rock North; Mike Choi at Great Valley; C.J. Szydlik at Jenkintown; Scott Green at Kennett; Dan Chang at Plymouth-Whitemarsh; and George Banas at Quakertown.

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