Nobody can argue that Joe Pesci brings a winning pedigree to the South Lyon East football program.
The new varsity coach hopes it can translate into immediate victories, but it could take time.
Pesci was hired in February after spending the past four seasons as an offensive coordinator at Farmington Hills Harrison, his alma mater and one of the state’s premier programs.
The former Albion College quarterback takes over for Mike Lindman, who resigned after going 12-34 in his five seasons while guiding East to its only playoff berth in 2012.
Pesci, who led Harrison to the 1993 MHSAA Class A state championship, has a rebuilding job on his hands after East went 0-9 in 2014 while being outscored 388-156.
The new East coach calls it “a fresh start’ while hitting the “reset button” for the KLAA Kensington Conference’s second smallest school.
And while East lost arguably its best two players to graduation in all-area players Brendan O’Brien and Trent Willenborg, the Cougars do return four starters on offense and four on defense as they prepare for their season opener Thursday, Aug. 27, at Waterford Kettering.
Key offensive returnees include senior linemen Jordan Thibodeau (6-0, 250) and Joel Trent (6-4, 230), along with senior wide receiver Garrett Read (5-11, 170) and senior quarterback Josh Smith (6-1, 155).
“We look to run the football and be physical up front … and just move the pile,” Pesci said. “And then we’re looking to run play-action passing off some of our run plays.”
On the other side of the ball, junior linebacker Shane Patterson (5-11, 185) returns, along with senior defensive back J.D. Simon (5-10, 175) and senior defensive end Mike Mojika (6-3, 210).
Also expected to help is junior linebacker Will Carter (5-11, 180), who will also start a center, along with sophomore outside linebacker-wide receiver Jake Waranauckas (5-10, 160) and junior free safety-running back Anthony Salters (5-10, 180).
“We’re certainly just going to try and stop the ball,” Pesci said. “Try and limit big plays. And really, what we want to do is make sure our offense can help the defense by controlling the ball. We want to be a physical team on both sides. We’re going to try to get 11 tacklers to the ball and just try and punish the ball carrier, try and create turnovers and be as active on the defensive side as we can be.”
Pesci began meeting with East players the second week in March and was still in the learning curve mode entering the summer.
“It was tough, because the only place we saw them was the weight room until May, when they got outside and starting running around,” he said. “For the longest time, we didn’t know who could do what or really what anybody’s athletic abilities were.”
But Pesci has been able to familiarize himself with his personnel and remains optimistic about the future. This year’s preseason roster features 11 seniors, 22 juniors and one sophomore.
“We had a great off-season and we’re focused as far as turning it around,” Pesci said. “We want to be a foundation of what we want to become.”