There’s a new coach with an impressive resume this season at Middletown North.
Steve Bush will begin his first season in charge of the Lions’ program, returning to the Shore Conference for the first time since coaching Manalapan from 1993-99.
Bush has had two high-profile stints along the way. He was an assistant at Syracuse under Paul Pasqualoni from 2000-2004, and more recently served as a quality control and receivers coach for the Miami Dolphins under Tony Sparano from 2008-2011.
“I think it helps to have been exposed to all that football where you’re able to work on football full time and been around some great coaches that I’ve had a chance to work with and learn from,” Bush said. “That’s been a great experience.”
Bush’s high school experience, though, isn’t limited to Manalapan, having coached winning programs in Massachusetts and New York. After his stint at Syracuse, Bush led a West Genesee (N.Y.) High School program that had not had a winning record in 12 seasons to a state title in his third season.
Bush, who played at Ridge High School, also enjoyed success at Manalapan in the 1990s, going 36-30-1 and winning an outright Class A North title in 1996 and twice sharing the division championship in 1998 and 1999.
Even in the NFL, Bush was part of a staff that turned the Dolphins into AFC East champions in 2008 after a league-worst 1-15 record the year before Sparano’s arrival.
Bush will be faced with a similar reclamation project at Middletown North after a 2-8 record in 2012. Although the Lions have reached the playoffs as late as 2008 and 2009, the last time Middletown North had a winning season was 2000. That’s also the last time the Lions won a playoff game.
“I’ve been a head high school coach at three different other programs too, in different states, too, so I think I understand the difference between the two (high school and Division I college/NFL) and what can be done at the high school level,” Bush said. “There are things that I can still implement that we’ve done at the higher levels that I think will still fit it.”
Senior receiver/cornerback Jake Betkowski, one of the few returning starters from last year’s team, already sees a difference in the way the Lions’ daily routine.
“The main thing is it’s faster than last year in practice,” Betkowski said. “Last year was slower, but this year it’s up-tempo, real tempo, which is helping us. It’s like a game speed. (Bush) wants a game speed in the practice so we don’t go to the game and get blown out by a fast team.”
Bush added, “We try and run our practice like we would a college practice, and really the whole program like a college type of program. Also making a big commitment to it and guys working hard, and working on the little details in their technique, studying film and doing everything we can to get as prepared as we can be.”
Senior Ryan McMahon will run the Lions’ spread offense, although an injury in preseason enabled junior tight end and backup quarterback Troy Thompson and freshman Donald Glenn to get extended time behind center.
“Ryan’s a smart kid, he throws the ball well and I think he understands what we’re trying to do offensively,” Bush said. “I’m kind of expecting big things from him.”
New defensive coordinator John Denuto has installed a 4-4 look that Bush said will play an “aggressive, attacking style” of defense.
With plenty of new faces, both among the coaching staff and on the field, there’s a feeling of anticipation among the Lions.
“These guys are hungry to win and they’ve been doing everything that we’ve asked of them, so I’m real pleased with their effort,” Bush said. “We want to be a tough, physical, disciplined team. I think our kids will be well prepared and they’re going to come in here and they’re going to compete with everybody that we play and play with confidence.”