H.S. Football: Pope John's Ryan shows Sussex class
By PETER STEIN
For Seamus Ryan, Brian Carlson and Tony Williams, it seemed like old times.
Ryan, Carlson and Williams were all part of Pope John's NJAC American Division championship football team last season — Ryan as a senior lineman, Carlson as the Lions head coach and Williams as Pope John's defensive coordinator. Their season ended on Nov. 16 with a home loss to Camden Catholic in the Non-Public, Group 3 quarterfinals. But Monday, the trio was part of the same team for one last battle, the North-South All-Star game
played at Kean University in Union.
They were each part of the North's team, which blasted the South, 54-8. Ryan was Sussex County's lone player in the game; Sparta quarterback Jake Melville and Lenape Valley running back-linebacker Nick Rafferty were also selected, but had Division I college football commitments and couldn't participate.
Ryan is also bound for the Division I ranks, having signed his letter of intent to play for Marist last February. But he was able to play on Monday.
"It was really cool representing Sussex County," Ryan said. "I didn't realize until I got down there: ‘Oh yeah, I'm the only kid (from the county).' It meant a lot."
For Ryan, Monday's game was a homecoming of sorts, because he played left guard, a position he hadn't filled since his sophomore season with the Lions in 2010. Ryan moved to right tackle for his junior season and to left tackle last year.
Returning to left guard seemed fitting for Ryan. "It was basically getting back to the beginning of my career," he said. "It was like full circle. ... It was a weird feeling. But then again, it felt right because I was already used to it. So it was a confident feeling."
It was also good practice for Ryan, who expects to play one of the guard positions or center in college. "Yeah, it was a great experience," he said, "getting all the cobwebs out and getting fresh for Marist."
While Ryan was toiling in the trenches Monday, Carlson was serving as the North's special teams coordinator, with Williams working as a special teams assistant. Carlson was familiar with Kean's Alumni Field, having been Kean University head coach. But his role in Monday's game was a new one.
"It was a great experience, especially (being) special teams coach, trying to put the best kids out on the field," said Carlson, who in September will begin his third season as Pope John's head coach. "It's not your team. You only know the kids for a few days, so it was challenging that way."
For Carlson and Williams, coaching special teams was a kid-in-a-candy-store situation, because among that unit were three future Division I dynamos. Madison's Justin Goodwin and Weequahic's Akrum Wadley are headed, respectively, to Rutgers and Iowa. Ridgewood kicker Young Hoe Koo is destined for Georgia Southern.
"Obviously, all the kids are very talented," Carlson said. "Athletically, we could do things more aggressively than maybe in a normal setting. ... All these kids are big-time players, they love to play. They got after it."
Goodwin and Wadley are two of the most explosive players around. And Koo, according to Carlson, put most of his kicks on Monday in the back of the end zone. He also booted two field goals, including a 42-yarder.
Ex-Montville legend Gerry Gallagher served as the North's head coach. "I've known him since the early 90s when I was at Kean and he was at William Paterson," Carlson said. "So it was awesome we re-connected. It was a lot of fun."
Ramapo head coach Drew Gibbs was the North's offensive coordinator and Delaware Valley head coach Mike Columbo coordinated the North defense.
Gibbs was returning to the field where his Ramapo Raiders came from way down to beat Sparta, 37-34, in last December's North 1, Group 3 championship game. For most of the North coaches, though, Monday's game needed a different approach than they're used to.
"We all thought about that," Carlson said. "We're all head coaches. We were all saying, we're all A-type of people who are used to being in charge. It was unique just staying in your own little spot."
Though Carlson didn't coach Ryan and the offensive unit in Monday's game, he appreciated the opportunity to work with him one last time.
"Yeah, it was great," Carlson said. "Me and Seamus were laughing, we had a good time. In practice, we were kind of reminiscing. And going out with a big win, it was awesome."
"It was a cool feeling, getting that one last game under our belts," Ryan said. "They (Carlson and Williams) coached really well. ... Our special teams played really well."
Carlson will miss Ryan's blocking abilities for sure, and will miss his leadership, since Ryan was the only senior starter on Pope John's offense last year.
But Carlson might miss Ryan's grit even more.
"He hurt his shoulder against Morris Hills early on (last season)," Carlson said. "They put it back in, and he did a good job of hanging in there in really tough situations. I think that's what I'll remember the most."