Saturday, August 20, 2016

Uno En Uno With: Keith Fagan, New Rochelle Assistant

ZS: How do you assess this year’s team based on experience and the lofty expectations hovering over the program, knowing you’ve got a title to defend as we break in 2016?

KF: The 2016 New Rochelle Huguenots, although led by a group from the class of 2018 are a veteran group, with four  two-way players from that class starting on last year’s Section 1 champ and State semi-finalist. 

Bolstered by a group of six more from that class that played a major role on a two-year undefeated junior varsity run, the cupboard is hardly bare for New Rochelle.

The Huguenots return starters at RB/HB/RT/RG and C, as well as NG/DT/OLB/ILB/SS. The Huguenots graduated talented players from the 2015 squad without a doubt, but the beat goes on for Head Coach Lou DiRienzo in 2016. These Huguenots should face little resistance until the Sectional Championship game outside of a week 3 matchup with Scarsdale (1 of only 3 Section 1 Class AA teams to make the playoffs the last 7 years, New Ro and expected Sectional Championship game opponent John Jay East Fishkill are the others). Waiting for the Huguenots in the state playoffs should be the Goldbacks from Newburgh Free Academy in Section 9, hell-bent on revenge after losing to the Huguenots 21-20 in last year’s state quarterfinal matchup. With only 3 class AA teams on this side of the state, Sections 1, 2 and 9 rotate a bye every year into the state semi's.

Section 1 has the bye this year, so 1 victory outside that sectional title game would mean the 6th state title game appearance for Lou DiRienzo and the Huguenots since the 2000 season. 

No Class AA team in the State would have more State title appearances since the State went to a 5 class state playoff system in 1996.

ZS: Which position players are flushed into prominent roles this season?  Who will New Ro lean on for leadership?

KF: returning starters for the Huguenots are SR C/DT Denmar Wellington, SR OT Bailey Pilavdjian, JR TE/OLB Lloyd King, JR OLB Jonathan Saddler, JR HB/SS Romeo Holden, JR TB/ILB Jared Baron. Up from the JV and ready to announce their presences with authority are JR SE/FS Jaylin McGhee, JR DB Morgan Paul, QB/ILB Keion Jones-Hiland, JR SE/DB Myles Taylor, and OT/DT Rhain Allen. Add into that mix veteran players who contributed on last year’s team, SO TE/DT Khairi Manns, SR HB/DB Nashiem Hiland, SO TB/ILB Jordan Forrest, SR SE/DB Najee Bass, SO TB/ILB along with newcomer SO HB/DB Jayden Lambert, and the Huguenots are certainly not lacking in experience or talent.

ZS: What’s the strength of schedule like and which games have extra juice this fall?

KF: Unfortunately, the powers that be decided to end the five-year run of power scheduling, where teams are ranked in pre-season and scheduled accordingly, in favor of returning to a league structure. So, New Rochelle has league contests v.s.  Mount Vernon, Scarsdale, Mamaroneck and White Plains. Non- league games vs north Rockland, Clarkstown South round out the 6 game regular season. A major upset would have to occur for New Ro to not to be 6-0 heading into the week 7 "qualifying round," where the anticipated #1 seeded Huguenots would face the #16 (out of a possible 20) seed. 

Since a #8 seed has never beaten a #1 seed, it's safe to say the Huguenots should walk into the section semi-finals. 

In an up year for New Rochelle, and a down year for section 1 Class AA, New Rochelle should not see a team that is able to stay within 3 TD's of these talented Huguenots until the state semi's/championship game.

ZS: What should fans anticipate as far as the system Coach D will employ? Any changes?

KF: The Huguenots have been running the same 3-4 defensive scheme for the last 20 years, and when you've averaged giving up a measly 8.7 ppg over that span, things won't change at all defensively for the Huguenots. 

According to Max Preps, the New Rochelle Huguenots have the #1 defense in the state, regardless of class, public or private, the last 10 years. 

Offensively the Huguenots will continue to expand on their hybrid wing-t (think Auburn, Ohio state) offense they've been running since 2013. 

Last year’s 27.8 ppg average was the highest offensive output for new Rochelle since the 2003-04 Ray Rice-led Huguenots that obliterated opponents on their way to back-to-back state championship game appearances.

ZS: Any true fan of Section 1 has vivid memories of the deadly Ray Rice/Geoff McDermott tandem and that memorable team. 

What can you say about Ray’s commitment and contributions to the New Rochelle program? Even during his days as a young and promising face of the NFL with Baltimore, it seems he made great contributions to his alma mater.

KF: Ray is amazing. From sponsoring the team with new uniforms every two years, springing surprises on the team constantly (like in 2012 before the state championship game when he bought every player and coach on the team Nike dry-fit t-shirts, sweat suits adorned with the new Ro fluer-di-lis, beats head phones and a Nike travel bag), to new weights and workout gear, to coming to practice weekly. He's constantly around the players, so much so that he's not "Ray Rice, superstar" to them, he's just Ray. I have two stories about Ray and the team.

ZS: Let’s Hear em

KF:  We were playing John Jay East Fishkill on opening day last year. Big game.  Week  1, under the lights at John Jay-EF. The whole state had their eyes on this game. We win 18-16, scoring a TD with :30 left to win it.

 After the game, Ray is mobbed by what seemed like 200 fans clamoring for an autograph and "selfies" with Ray. So, as my WR who caught the game winning 45 yd TD pass and I walk off the field, the kid says to me, "Coach, why aren't they mugging me, I caught the game winner, he's just Ray."

The second story was last year as well. We are playing Saratoga Springs in the State Semifinal, winner goes to the dome to play in the Chip. SS has this huge, 6'2" 250, 4.5 running D1 RB named Dakota Harvey who made a killing all year cutting back against the grain when running Zone. I coach the DL, so I wanted to make sure the DL on backside pursuit stayed in their lane and didn't allow the cut back. So I take the ball and try and simulate what this kid from Saratoga was doing.

Ray took one look at my sorry behind trying to simulate Harvey, he came over, and having watched the film knew the kind of back Harvey was, proceeded to give scout team RB looks to the DL. Needless to say he still has it, and was just purely amazing at running the ball. We held Harvey to his season low rushing total, no doubt because our kids faces a better back in practice than a D1 Running back!

ZS: Knowing the mistake Ray made, knowing how it tarnished his golden image, yet also knowing how much he has done to help prevent others from such a mistake, where do you see him going in the next few years? 

As unfortunate as it is, the NFL has obviously seen worse from guys. Yet these guys have  been given a second and third chance. Will the NFL take him off the blackball list or what coach?

KF: Here's the thing about Ray. I know he messed up, you know he messed up, but most importantly he knows he messed up. 

He and Janay were in a bad place in their relationship, and although it never previously was physical between the two of them, there were certainly disrespectful treatment by both of them towards each other.

Well, Ray learned from his HS coach and the guy Ray considers a father Lou DiRienzo, there is only three things you can do when you make a mistake; Admit it, learn from it, and take steps to never repeat it. Well, Ray has done all three, and is a better man, husband and father because of it. Here’s the thing about his "non-signing" in the NFL.

All 32 owners are cowards, hypocrites and liars.

And here's why I say that. They are cowards because we all know the media fire storm that will immediately hit the team that finally does the right thing and signs Ray. What better opportunity to shine the light on the dirty little secret the NFL refuses to acknowledge and that is the nasty nature of domestic violence in this country? 20 people every minute are victims of intimate partner violence in America. 20 PEOPLE EVERY MINUTE!

So, instead of acting like a bunch of ostrich with their billionaire heads buried in the sand, why not take a stand, get behind the guy that is trying to do everything in his power to raise awareness of this issue, who has taken every single step and then some that every expert of domestic violence says should be taken, be a leader in the community, sign Ray and use that to further the cause to stop domestic violence in this country!

 They are all hypocrites because they all say they want to win, they all say they'll do whatever they legally can to put the best product on the field, and then they choose not to sign a pro-bowl running back that is a proven 1,000 yard rusher, a back that has over 9,000 all-purpose yards in six seasons!

That is the very definition of a hypocrite. Say one thing, do another. And don't give me the "down side of his career" BS the NFL owners public relations team is desperately pushing to anyone who will listen. From 2009-2012 he averaged 1,266 yds rushing.

 In 2013, after being injured in week 2 with an injury that 99% of RB suffering the same injury have season ending surgery, Ray ran for 660 yards on basically one leg, so in my eyes he still maintained his 1,266 YD season average! If that's the "down side" of a career then I'll take those guys and win a Super Bowl. The owners are liars because no NFL team signing Ray has zero to do with football and 100% to do with NFL owners being cowards and hiding from controversy. Unless an owner steps up, stops hiding from the issue of domestic violence, wants to win more than he doesn't want to speak to the media, Ray won't get signed. But all it takes is 1. One owner that is brave.

One owner who has integrity, one owner that wants to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. I'm choosing to think positively, and I continue to believe at some point in the very near future a true leader among the jelly fish that are the NFL owners will emerge and give Ray the second chance he had earned.