John McFarland wouldn’t divulge much about the schematic changes he has in the works as the new Highland High School football coach. He would prefer to operate shrewdly and make quiet moves.
Well, that strategy of keeping secret his strategies makes sense, particularly for a chess player.
McFarland has played the game for years and one of his initiatives will be attempting to get a few more of his football players into the board game, as he has done with the Highland wrestling team.
“I encourage athletes to play it,” said McFarland. “It’s a thinking game, much like football. Some of the skills developed in chess can certainly help on the field.”
Although McFarland, 40, is entering his first season as a head football coach, he’s not exactly a rook. He was an assistant under Carl Relyea for eight seasons and has been the head wrestling coach at Highland for 12 years.
The first official day of fall practice is Aug. 15.
McFarland was officially named the head coach after the Highland school board approved his hire during a July 6 meeting. He succeeds Relyea, 61, a longtime coach who retired in the spring before taking a job this summer as his son Matt’s assistant coach at Poughkeepsie High School.
“I was excited to get the job,” said McFarland, a native of East Fishkill who has taught at Highland for 15 years. “Carl had a great run here and I learned a lot from him. I’m looking forward to trying to build on what he accomplished.”
Tom Truscello and Josh Tatum, in the same meeting, were approved as assistant coaches.
But is there any added pressure in replacing Relyea, a decorated coach who led the Huskies to seven section titles, two state tournament appearances and who, for so long, had been synonymous with this program?
“There’s always pressure when you become a new head coach and I know what kind of legacy Carl has left here,” McFarland said. “I can’t say enough good things about him. It’ll be tough to match what he accomplished, but we’ll certainly try our hardest.”
His hire, McFarland said, was received well in the community and he believes his familiarity with the team should ease the transition. There are 18 players in the football program, including nine on the varsity roster, whom McFarland has also coached in wrestling.
Linebacker Larry Oliver and lineman Will Sickles are among the standouts who have grown accustomed to McFarland in both sports … and on the chess board during their downtime at wrestling tournaments.
“I think it’ll be good for us because most of the kids, especially the wrestlers, will understand my style and know my expectations,” McFarland said. “We’re looking forward to a positive year.”
Success this season likely won’t be a simple checkmate, however. The Huskies had long been a contender in Section 9 Class B, but the team struggled in the middle part of last season and went 4-6.
“We have a good senior group coming back,” McFarland said. “A lot of them, having experienced last year, know what needs to be done and what we have to improve.”
Among the key seniors will be Isiah Daubon, a dynamic quarterback who last fall was named a Poughkeepsie Journal All-Star.
McFarland previously specialized in coaching the offensive and defensive lines and special teams. He still will have a hand in those facets of the game, but he obviously will also oversee the team and create game plans.
The focus of camp, the coach said, will be to reinforce fundamentals and gradually implement changes.
Aside from coaching, McFarland said he also enjoys playing paintball. But he doesn’t compete as often these days — having a wife and two young sons can alter one’s priorities somewhat. So chess has become the leisure activity of choice.
So, have any of his pupils gotten good enough to beat him yet?
“Umm,” McFarland paused. “I’m gonna have to be quiet on that one, too.”
Stephen Haynes: email@example.com, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4