Here’s Mike Zacchio’s dispatch from Pearl River on Monday, Mike Oliva’s first day of official practice with his new team:
On his first official day as Pearl River’s new head coach, Mike Oliva hit the ground running with his new team, quite literally.
While running a defensive drill, Oliva said to one of his defensive linesman, “You’re going to learn how to spill better than that. Watch me.” Oliva lined up, waited for the snap, got past the offensive linesman and speared the garbage can used for the drill.
Oliva, who took over for former coach Jeff Michael after he stepped down for health reasons, will be tasked with turning around a Pirates program that went 2-7 last season. His plan is not a complex one. The former Irvington coach preached to his players to focus on their individual jobs, that all 11 players collectively executing their roles would lead to wins.
“It’s not a complicated game,” Oliva said after the team’s first session Monday. “You can make it very complicated, but if you do simplify it for the kids and teach correct technique and correct responsibilities and jobs … then you have a chance to be successful.”
Oliva, a Pearl River resident, said that he wants to “reflect the hardworking people” of Pearl River, adding, “this is a great little community that works hard and the football team should reflect that.”
Even though it will be his first year leading the Pirates, Oliva is well aware of some of the Rockland rivalries the school has. “I think any time you coach at Pearl River, in any sport, your goals are to beat Tappan Zee and beat Nanuet, so those are two goals we’ll obviously have,” he said.
Pearl River opens its season on September 6 against Brewster, which is the primary focus of the team for the moment. The Pirates will be on the road against both Tappan Zee and Nanuet on Oct. 2 and Oct. 18, respectively.
Players donned white t-shirts with “One Speed,” written in blue on the top line of the back and “Full Speed” written on the bottom. Senior Pat Metcalfe was one of several players who attended Oliva’s training camp in July, so the third-year varsity player was already slightly familiar with Oliva entering Monday.
“Last year, we didn’t really prepare so much this early in the year,” said Metcalfe, who will be the team’s running back and safety. “This year, we’re running the camps, getting in full pads … we’re running plays earlier this year.
“It’s just nice to have an early start,” he added.
Fellow senior Brian Tarsnane, who also attended the July camp, said he wants to “go out with a bang,” this year. Tarsnane, who also plays running back and safety, said that the team’s primary focus will be its line, due to the lack of height on the roster.
“We’re a small team. We’re gonna come out there and just, hopefully, fight — fight to win,” he said. “Always.”
More importantly than anything football related, Oliva relayed to his players after practice that he wants them to stay out of trouble, on all fronts — with classmates, with cheerleaders, with the law. With the first session ending at noon and the follow-up scheduled to begin at 2 p.m., Oliva said that the two-hour window left plenty of time to get in trouble.
Oliva wanted the players to remain on campus until the second session. Another point he preached during his post-practice speech, which will likely be repeated throughout the season: “Use your time wisely.”