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Drakes Sports

A period of adjustment: For an ex-North Catholic assistant, life is different at Jenkintown's helm.

Posted Monday, September 13, 2010 by Lou Rabito
Football coaches at North Catholic ran this drill.

The kickers, punters, long snappers, and return guys would go on the field and practice snapping, kicking, and catching the ball. It's a common routine, with the groups spreading out to avoid interfering with each other. At North, they took up much of the field.

When C.J. Szydlik, former defensive coordinator at North, called for that drill in his new job as Jenkintown coach, a grand total of five players stepped forward. And the punter couldn't kick to the punt returner, because the punter was the punt returner.

"It was like, oh, all right; well, I guess we've got to change this routine," Szydlik said. "We can't do it that way anymore."

North Catholic and Jenkintown were within about seven miles of each other, as the crow flies.

They are much farther apart as the football flies.

Among PIAA schools, Jenkintown is the smallest in the five-county Philadelphia area with a football team. The Class A school has around 90 boys in grades 9-12, athletic director Mark Citron said.

North Catholic had more than 500 boys when it closed this spring. Szydlik coached at the Class AAA school for six years under his father, Chalie, before becoming Jenkintown's coach in May and naming his dad as offensive coordinator. The head-coaching job is C.J. Szydlik's first.

"It's been awesome, but it's been an experience," said Szydlik, 34. "And it's been a great one. It's just different. It definitely is."

It's not an exact science, but in general, the larger the boys' enrollment at a school, the greater the number of players on a football roster; and the greater the depth of players, the more a coaching staff can do in practice and games.

At North Catholic, about 70 players went out for varsity football.

And that didn't include the 45 or so who tried out for the freshman team.

At Jenkintown, 35 are on the varsity this season.

And that includes 11 freshmen - one of whom starts and one of whom plays regularly. The Drakes don't field a freshman team. On Monday, they will play the first of what Szydlik hopes will be five JV games this season.

At North Catholic, maybe one player started on both offense and defense in each of the last couple of seasons, and only because the player was so good that coaches didn't want to take him off the field.

At Jenkintown, out of necessity, nine players are going both ways.

"Some of the kids are not ready to go out there yet," Szydlik said. "Obviously, I'm thrilled to death that they're here, but I can't put them out there where I'm afraid somebody might get hurt."

At North Catholic, in a post-practice ritual, upward of two dozen underclassmen picked up bags and did general cleanup.

At Jenkintown, even the coaches have to help with the cleaning.

At North Catholic, where he was the offensive coordinator, Joe Lawinski gathered his offensive linemen on the sideline during games and corrected flaws while the defense was on the field.

At Jenkintown, as line coach, he can't do that. The offensive linemen are the defensive linemen.

Bigger, though, doesn't always mean better.

Szydlik, a Philadelphia police officer who works a 6 a.m.-2 p.m. shift, has been amazed at the Drakes' commitment, and how infrequently they miss practice.

Even the injured players, he said, show up and stand on the sidelines. Among those is Ted Hudson, the punter/returner, who suffered a concussion in a season-opening loss to Class AA Springfield (Montco) and sat out Saturday's 40-14 defeat against Pennington Prep (N.J.).

"For as small as it is, they care just as much. The kids really, truly do," Szydlik said. "And it's not just about winning. They care about the looking-good part of it, being dressed nice, the whole thing about basically playing on a Friday night. All those great things about high school football are exactly the same.

"Their commitment to me for basically having 35 guys has been unbelievable. Every once in a while, I'll get a phone call, 'Coach, I can't make it to practice.' I mean, it's something extreme like, 'I have to go on vacation to Ireland. Is that OK?' Like, yeah, I guess you can do that. Where before, it was like, 'Coach, I've got a party.' "


Read more: http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/columnists/102713434.html#ixzz0zQ94iD9w
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