Trenton Eubanks plays one of the toughest position in football. He’s a middle linebacker. That means he’s in the middle of all the action on defense. Blockers coming at him. Teammates flying past him. There’s a lot of moving parts, so it’s not easy.
But when Rush-Henrietta coach Joe Montesano gets on him for not doing something right, Eubanks doesn’t take it personally.
“He’s (not) putting me down,” the senior says. “It’s more that he’s urging me because I know he cares.”
Trust is not something that’s earned in a practice or two. “We’re around these kids all year … it’s not really August through November like when I was in school,” says Montesano, an Avon graduate who turned 40 three weeks ago. “We develop relationships with these kids outside of football, whether it’s driving in a car to a camp or having them in class.”
Showing them he cares what happens to them off the field as well as on it allows Montesano to be tough on his players.
“We push them in practice every day and I think that makes them better players and better people,” he says. “That’s what life’s about.”
In his 11th year as R-H’s varsity head coach and 16th year with the program, Montesano is the next winner of the Coaches Who Care award, a joint initiative between the Democrat and Chronicle and Compeer Rochester that recognizes top Section V coaches. Montesano’s 2010 squad climbed to the top of the mountain, winning the Class AA state championship. Two others have won sectional crowns.
He teaches his players to not get too low after a loss and too excited after a win, says R-H senior quarterback Jared Gerbino. A fourth-year varsity player, he realized as a freshman something special about Montesano.
“The way he communicated with the older players and the way I saw that they respected him, it made me feel that he was more than just a coach,” Gerbino says.
Montesano make sure his players are doing their homework, keeping their grades up so they stay eligible. A physical education teacher, the door to his office is always open. “Kids come in and sit and talk,” he says. “We have a very diverse team here. It’s not always the easiest thing, but it’s rewarding as a coach when you can get them all on the same page.”
There are teachable moments in wins and maybe more so after losses. “It was a tell-the-truth Monday,” Montesano says of this week, following what he thought was a sub-par effort in Friday’s 21-7 loss at Victor.
It wasn’t because the Royal Comets (3-2), who host Webster Schroeder at 2 p.m. Saturday, lost to a very good and unbeaten Blue Devils squad. Montesano thought his team didn’t play up to its ability.
“It wasn’t an R-H football team,” he says. “There’s a standard we talk about.”
Montesano, whose career record is 71-31, wants his players to appreciate what they have. A few weeks ago at homecoming, R-H senior Landon Brice was an honorary captain for the game. Brice, 17, played youth football with some R-H guys but he can’t anymore because of a liver disease.
“It sends the message home that we’re the lucky ones, we get to do this,” says Montesano, who is married (wife Nicole) and has three children, daughters Olivia (age 12) and Brielle (4) and son Caden (2). “To see him going through what he’s going through — it puts it into perspective what’s really important.”
Montesano was one of R-H athletic director Tom Stewart’s first hires back in 1999.
“Coaching football in today’s high school world is a lot. It’s a 365-day-a-year job,” Stewart says. “(Montesano) does everything possible — whether it’s connecting with the kids at school, checking their academics, being a part of their lives — he’s their role model.”
Montesano learned how to be one from his mentors, his former coaches at Avon in football (Bill Pierce), basketball (John Smith) and baseball (Jim Dolgos). He was tight with the Dolgos family. Tim Dolgos, Jim’s son, who is Geneseo’s head football coach and a former R-H assistant, is one of Montesano’s best friends.
Wade Bianco may have made the biggest impact on Montesano as a youngster. “Probably one of the big reasons I got into coaching,” Montesano says of the former Avon and Irondequoit head coach.
They first met when Bianco was Montesano’s middle school physical education teacher. Bianco stressed the importance of fitness and weight training. But there was more.
“He just made you feel like you were a special person. He had a way about it,” Montesano recalls. “If you were a young boy, you wanted to play for him.”
Sounds like how a lot of R-H boys feel about Montesano.
About this award
The Coaches Who Care Award recognizes individuals who’ve shown a commitment to players that goes beyond only developing a winning team. Eligible coaches must work at local high schools at the modified, junior-varsity or varsity level. E-mail nominations to JDIVERON@Gannett.com. Please cite specific examples in your nomination. The coach of the year will be honored at the Oct. 29 Compeer Luncheon in Rochester. This year’s special guest is Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback, Jim Kelly.