For­mer col­leagues guid­ing alma maters into post­sea­son

Cecil Whig - - SPORTS - By JOR­DAN SCHATZ

jschatz@ce­cil­whig.com

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.”

Fol­low Jor­dan Schatz on Twit­ter: @Jor­dan_Whig

PHOTO BY MIKE WAR­DEN

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.

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