Former colleagues guiding alma maters into postseason
Four years after they shared the same sideline on a team that finished one win shy of the state championship game, a pair of local head coaches are preparing to guide their respective alma maters on deep playoff runs.
On Friday, Elkton’s Matt Feeney and Bohemia Manor’s Joe Graf will begin postseason play. While both men are in pursuit of their first region championships as head coaches, it wasn’t very long ago that they combined to help lead Elkton to the 2A East Region crown as coordinators under then-head coach Sean Lenz in 2012.
Feeney held the position of defensive coordinator and Graf helped call the plays as offensive coordinator for a Golden Elks squad that finished the regular season 9-1, defeated Kent Island in the 2A East Region championship and lost to Middletown in the state semifinals.
“Being there that first year was something special at Elkton. We meshed really well and I think that was part of the success there,” Graf said. “We had all these different people coming in but the attitudes were the same. We wanted the best for the kids and to teach them the game of football the right way.”
The 2012 season also marked Lenz’s first year as head coach. He would spend one more year with Elkton before stepping down for personal reasons. While his time with the team was short, he left a major impression on his top assistants.
“We bring a lot of passion to our programs and a lot of love for our schools,” Feeney said. “You just hope that translates into the kids. [You hope] they appreciate those up top [who are trying] to guide them to not just win football games but be great citizens for their town.”
Both coaches also display a comparable spirit on game day.
“His demeanor on the sideline is very similar to mine,” Graf said of Feeney. “We get excited. We jump around with the kids.”
When Lenz departed after the 2013 season, both his coordinators applied for the job. Feeney eventually won the position, while Graf moved on to be offensive coordinator at Bo Manor. Two years later, he took over for long-time Eagles coach Todd Shives, who stepped down this past offseason after 19 seasons on the sidelines.
“Being a head coach is something that I always wanted to do, and being back at Bo makes it that much sweeter,” Graf said. “I love this community, I love this school. I played there, I coached there and now I get to lead them.”
In two-plus seasons as the head coach of Elkton, Feeney has produced a 25-9 record and consecutive playoff berths, including a trip to last year’s 2A East Region Final. Graf, meanwhile, has kicked off his tenure as head coach by guiding the Eagles to seven wins this season and earning the top seed in the region playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Elkton will travel to play Queen Anne’s County on Friday in the 2A East Region semifinals, while Bo Manor will host Kent County in the 1A East Region semifinals.
“[With both schools] being only nine miles apart, it’s a close-knit community. It’s fun,” Graf said of Elkton and Bo Manor. “When we play each other it’s going to be a war and we’re going to hate each other for one week, but other than that we root for each other and we want to see each other do well.”
Flashback to 2012, and neither coach envisioned they would be leading their alma maters into the playoffs as head coaches.
“We never really talked about being head coaches because we were both happy under Sean. We thought this might be what we’ll be doing for the next 10 years,” Graf said. “It didn’t happen that way but we never talked about being a head coach. We were just happy in the roles we were in.” Feeney agreed. “You know it’s funny. It doesn’t matter where you’re at, it doesn’t matter what school, you go through some trials and tribulations as a head coach. We watched Sean and he would always joke with us, [asking us] which one of you guys want to do this? He’d have his days, we all have our days, and [Graf and I] would look at each other and say ‘No, not me,’” Feeney joked. “Here we are, a few years later, we’re both back at our alma maters as the head coach and I think it’s a good thing.”
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Elkton head coach Matt Feeney, left, and Bohemia Manor head coach Joe Graf, right, are preparing to lead their respective programs into the postseason just four years after they both served as coordinators on the 2012 Golden Elks football team that advanced to the state semifinals.