When Sean Fallon took over the still-fledgling St. Anthony football program in January of 2009, there was still a cloud hanging over the first-year program.
The former coach had used an ineligible player, which forced the Friars to forfeit the first four wins of the program’s history. That coach was terminated and the team finished out the 2008 season under a cloud of controversy.
It was up to Hoboken native Fallon to change the course of the program – which he did, leading the Friars to the NJSIAA Non-Public state playoffs last year in his first season.
Now, just two years into Fallon’s tenure, there is a championship to celebrate. By virtue of the Friars’ 36-20 victory over Fallon’s alma mater Hoboken, the Friars clinched the HCIAA American Conference championship, the school’s first-ever football title.
It’s a school that is rich in boys’ basketball success, with more state and even national championships to count. Decades ago, when people like former major leaguers John Valentin and Willie Banks played there, there were a handful of county and state baseball titles as well. There were also titles won by the school’s girls’ basketball teams.
But now, there’s a grid crown to show off prominently in the school’s already overflowing trophy cabinet along with the other memories of championships past.
Did Fallon ever think that the Friars would be earning championships in just his second year?
“No, not this fast,” Fallon said. “I thought we had a very talented group of kids, the ones that could make a run at the state playoffs. I figured we might be able to win a game in the playoffs. I knew we could be a pretty good team, but we never beat the good teams before.”
However, the Friars already defeated Lincoln earlier in the season and last week capped it with the win over the place where Fallon learned all about football, first as a player, later as an assistant coach.
“It’s special, no question,” Fallon said. “It feels good. When you can beat your old team, it shows that you’re moving in the right direction. Not only that, but Hoboken beat us last year, so it was good to get this one and put them in the rearview mirror.”
Fallon was asked for the biggest reason why the Friars have been so successful so soon.
“It’s the weight room,” Fallon said. “You can’t be successful in football being able to just lift two times a week. It has to be a full-time commitment to the weight room.”
So when Fallon was hired, one of the first things he did was try to find an adequate spot to put a weight room.
“There was an old storage closet that the janitors used to use,” Fallon said. “There was an old boiler in there and a boiler bed.”
Fallon believed it was good enough to become the Friars’ weight room. So they went to work – coaches and players alike – to turn that storage facility into their weight room.
“We took a jackhammer to the boiler bed,” Fallon said. “We painted and cleaned the room.”
Legendary basketball coach Bob Hurley was able to get someone to donate weights. They also received a donation of rubberized matting to put on the floor and a weight room was born.
“You can definitely see the difference on the field what the weight room has meant,” Fallon said.
It’s definitely meant the world to the Friars’ talented backfield.
“Look at David Coleman,” Fallon said. “He went from 170 pounds to 190. Jidamon Sparkman went from 180 to 200. Daryl Wilson looks like a body builder now. Not only does it make them stronger, but it also helps with endurance.”
The three have formed a three-headed monster in the backfield for the Friars. Sparkman, the fullback, had 100 yards exactly and four touchdowns in the win over Hoboken, while Wilson rushed for 80 yards and Coleman 70. Throw in the work of fellow backs Brian Maldon and Quentin Collins and the Friars had more than 300 yards rushing against the Red Wings.
“We also have a quarterback who can run,” said Fallon of senior Sylvester Wright, who completed 5-of-6 passes in the win over Hoboken. “I think we have experienced kids who are starting to understand how to set up blocks and carrying the play out. They understand how to play off each other. Like when Jidamon is not getting the ball, he is faking and making it look like he has it and gets two tacklers to take him down when Daryl is on the outside, turning the corner. They really understand things better now.”
The undefeated Friars have another distinction right now, other than already clinching a home field in the first round of the state playoffs and quite possibly could be the No. 1 seed throughout the playoffs. They are the last Hudson County team to be without a loss this season.
“I was part of undefeated teams as both a player and a coach,” Fallon said. “It’s not easily done.”
Fallon doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself and won’t let the Friars feel that way either. In fact, they don’t even prepare for the next game by using the team’s name.
“It’s Opponent No. 8,” Fallon said. “And they wear white and maroon. We did look ahead a little bit last year and it came back to hurt us. It’s not happening again.”
By the way, the team wearing maroon and white is Bayonne, the Friars’ opposition this weekend.
So with a conference title under his wing and a state playoff run looming, with the possibility of undefeated immortality still hanging around, maybe now people will believe that the Friar football program is for real.
“It’s pretty hard not to notice us now,” Fallon said. “I’m pretty sure people are aware that we have a football program.”
Make that a good football program. The championship banner that will hang right there with the basketball banners will be forever proof of that.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.