John Conroy now knows what it’s like to be a head football coach, after enduring his first year at Ferris High School a year ago.
“It was definitely a learning experience,” said Conroy, the former St. Peter’s Prep standout lineman who guided the Bulldogs through a tough 2-8 campaign last season. “It was a change of mindset, going from an assistant coach to a head coach. Every detail has to be covered as a head coach. I knew what to expect, because I worked with some great head coaches. I learned that I had to put the welfare of the team above everything else.”
Conroy said that there was one positive that he took out of the trying campaign.
“The one thing I took out of last year was that none of the kids quit,” Conroy said. “Not a single kid. They bought into what we were trying to sell them and they stayed. They realized that if they worked hard enough, good things would happen.”
If there was one negative, it was the way the Bulldogs simply could not put away opponents.
“We were a team who didn’t know how to finish games,” Conroy said. “If games were only one or two quarters long, we would have won a lot of games. I think now we have a little more game experience.”
Conroy has also done a fine job encouraging more kids to play football.
“We now have 34 varsity kids and 20 freshmen,” Conroy said. “So we’re moving in the right direction. I’m a lot more encouraged. The kids have a better grasp and they’re more confident in themselves.”
So Conroy isn’t discouraged by a tough 48-12 loss his Bulldogs suffered at the hands of perennial state power Cedar Grove last weekend.
“Even with the loss, there were a lot of good things,” Conroy said. “I am a fan of [former San Francisco 49er coach] Bill Walsh and he had a team that went 2-14 one year. He said that he had a lot of good things come out of that team because they practiced hard every day. I saw a lot of good things come from our team. We just keep looking for improvement. I think we’re going to finish a lot better than what we started.”
Leading the way is senior quarterback Carell Dawson (6-2, 180), who started only two games last year before being lost for the season with an injury. In one of those games, Dawson rushed for 208 yards and two touchdowns.
“I’m supremely confident in the kid,” Conroy said. “He fully grasps the triple option [the offense that Conroy uses] and he runs real well. He’s a kid with 4.5 speed [in the 40-yard dash] and he reads the defenses excellently. Since he has more experience, he’s more dangerous. He manages the huddle well. He’s in the right situation.”
The tailback is senior Travis Laurie (5-8, 185), who is a bundle of energy.
“He keeps getting better and better as he gets more carries,” Conroy said.
The fullback slot is held by Jiovanni Leroux (5-9, 200), a senior who transferred to Ferris from Hoboken.
Conroy likes the play of his wide receivers, namely junior Jaleel James (6-3, 185) and sophomore Kenny Bernavil (6-0, 165). Both have a lot of promise.
Junior Demsie Dawes (5-9, 210) is a jack-of-all-trades, lining up either in the backfield or with the receivers.
“He does a little bit of everything,” Conroy said of Dawes. “He doesn’t have one position.”
Senior Raquan Monroe (5-11, 220) is the tight end. He led the Bulldogs with 15 receptions last season.
The offensive line has some decent size. Senior Todd Foster (5-11, 210) and junior Schqueil Snell (5-9, 225) are the tackles, with huge senior Stephon Ayers (6-5, 275) and returning starter and senior captain Pedro Sanchez (5-9, 235) at guard. Junior Justice Torres (6-3, 260) lays down the law at center.
The Bulldogs play a 4-3 defensive set, with James and Snell at defensive end and Sanchez at defensive tackle with senior Carlos Gomez (6-0, 260).
Leroux is the middle linebacker, flanked by Monroe and junior Camilo Lenis (5-9, 170).
The cornerbacks are seniors Diante Ingram (5-7, 160) and Derrell Spring (5-10, 190), with junior Leo Rodriguez (5-9, 180) and Dawson at the safeties.
The Bulldogs have a special weapon in senior punter/kicker Yves Charlot, who has made some field goals from 50 yards and nailed a 45-yarder in a preseason scrimmage.
“He has a chance to be a very good one,” Conroy said.
The Bulldogs may struggle at times, but the coach has a stiff upper lip and the right mental approach. First, improve, then think about winning.
“We’re definitely getting there,” said Conroy, whose team faces Snyder this weekend. – Jim Hague.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.