Rookie head coach Mario Alejandro, who takes over a depleted Cardinal McCarrick High School football program, faces more challenges than most first-year mentors.
The Eagles, who ended last season with just 18 healthy players, posted a 2-16 record (both wins were out of conference) over the past two years while being outscored 580-86 (41.2 point average margin of defeat) in 12 consecutive losses to Greater Middlesex Conference Blue Division foes.
Cardinal McCarrick has petitioned the GMC to play an independent schedule during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The league could determine the Eagles’ future as early as next month.
Until the program receives some competitive relief, however, Alejandro must make do with limited resources.
He replaces Rich Hilliard, who left Cardinal McCarrick to become an assistant at St. Joseph under Casey Ransone, one of seven new head coaches in the GMC this year.
Hilliard, who creatively used garbage cans as linemen to compensate for his limited roster during practices last fall, said Alejandro inherits about two dozen players, all of whom are incredibly dedicated.
According to the NJSIAA’s latest enrollment figures, Cardinal McCarrick is the eighth smallest of the state’s 347 football-playing schools.
Formerly St. Mary, Cardinal McCarrick suspended its football program in 1932 and reinstated it in 1998. The Eagles have no plans to shut the gridiron program down again.
“The program is still going forward,” Cardinal McCarrick Athletics Director Gil Pritchard said. “Mario is a young coach. He’s energetic, and he’s got a great coaching staff he’s put together. I’m hoping he’s the person who can build the program the right way.”
Alejandro, who started on the offensive line for Woodbridge’s 1997 Central Group III championship team – that high school’s last sectional title – has received encouragement and advice from Bill Nyers, his high school coach.
“He was a hard worker, cared about what he was doing and was all about the team,” Nyers said of Alejandro. “This (head coaching) is something that he’s wanted to get into. He knows the deal. They’ve got somebody that’s going to work (tirelessly).”
Cardinal McCarrick’s most promising players are quarterback/outside linebacker Armand Arnaldy, running back/free safety Alonzo Green and fullback/middle linebacker Ray Prato. They form a nucleus upon which Alejandro can build.
“We are trying to change the mentality of the team, getting the kids to realize it starts with attitude and character,” Alejandro said. “How do you want yourselves to be perceived? As the McCarrick that’s been losing? Or turn the table?”
Of having limited players on the roster, Alejandro said: “It’s great because now we can give every player individual attention. They are pulling together as a team right now. I’m excited about the season.”