By: Greg Tartaglia – Record Sports
St. Mary’s strategy for rehabbing its football program is “pre-habbing” its athletes.
The Gaels experienced a rarity in 2018 – their first losing season in 25 years (4-5). They finished outside the top three in their division for the first time since the NJIC was formed in 2010.
Now, the good news: The team returns virtually intact.
“Last year, we had a lot of young guys playing at all the key positions,” coach Mike Coyne said. “So now, we’re looking at juniors and seniors at all the key positions.”
On top of inexperience, injuries became an issue last year.
“Our goal going into this summer was still to continue with our strength and agility, and basically, our ‘pre-hab’, meaning, injury prevention,” Coyne said.
“We’re doing [agility] work to strengthen up ligaments and ankles, so we could avoid all those silly injuries, where you’re out for a week here or there. And then, we’re doing a lot of neck [work] to protect us from head injuries.”
Coyne enters his third season at St. Mary with a record of 9-10. In that regard, he is ahead of predecessor Mike Sheridan, who inherited a JV-only program in 1985 and had one win in his first four varsity seasons.
All Sheridan did after that was notch 202 wins, 22 straight playoff appearances and 12 sectional-final bids in a span from 1995 to 2013.
The Gaels won a pair of sectional championships in North Parochial B (1976, 1980) early in the playoff era.
Low turnout contributed to some bleak times in the mid-’80s before Sheridan turned things around, guiding them to the 2006 Non-Public Group 1 crown.
St. Mary has reached the postseason twice in four seasons since the Non-Public Groups 1 and 2 brackets combined. It enjoyed four straight unbeaten divisional records from 2012-15, earning NJIC Patriot titles each time.
Besides being one of the smallest schools in their section, the Gaels always battle depth issues, which is why Coyne has placed such an emphasis on fitness and conditioning.
Line play presented its own challenges a year ago, but 2019 should be a different story.
“We’ve got to improve up front, and we will,” Coyne said. “Those sophomores that we kind of threw out there last year, that weren’t ready, they’re ready now. And they’re hungry.
“You’re not going to see anybody 6-6, 300 pounds,” he added. “They’re workhorses … St. Mary is blue-collar kids that just want to go out there and beat up the person in front of them.”
The older, wiser Gaels have several skill players that have college potential, including Division I prospect Matt Toman at quarterback. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound rising senior played in four games last fall after sitting out the 30-day transfer period.
The ingredients appear to be in place for St. Mary to take a big step forward.
“Our skill set is pretty deep,” Coyne said. “With [receiver] Shamel Mercado and [running back] Dave Tarallo as seniors this summer, they’re really jelling, and everything’s just kind of coming together.
“But really, we’re just focused on ourselves, getting better every day, and that’s all we can control.”