I went to Roosevelt High School in Yonkers, N.Y. A place where you were stuck behind the 8 ball. A school that could send you on the wrong path or make your dreams come true. It’s an institution filled with sports and music. There were smart college bound kids (who were weird to me) and street kids looking to hustle their way out of the local neighborhood. Along comes a man I barely knew. Who would know, twenty years later he would have such an impact in my life.
Going into my Junior year in Roosevelt High School I joined the football team. Summer practice was grueling, we practiced from 8am to 8pm. It was 90 degrees, I was so unfocused. I was only asked to be on the football team because my cousin was a great quarterback to our rival school. Coach’s brother coached him, he was a star, I was a scrub. He probably thought I was the worst football player he ever coached, but a white guy who is fast, lets give him a shot. I couldn’t believe how intense Coach and his staff were. I was a baseball player all my life, I never witnessed anything like this. We ran a wing T offense that was unstoppable. Coach should of been an NFL or NCAA coach. I felt like I was at a D1 school. I was super fast back then and coach wanted me to learn to play quarterback. I never took it serious. I remember my best friend Joe found the playbook stashed under my couch, we both laughed. I eventually learned the plays and played a couple of games. I ended up spraining my ankle playing pick-up basketball. I quit the team, and that was my football career in a nut shell.
So I fast forward to today. What do you know, my son who is ten years old wants to play football. He loves tackling, he wants to play defensive end. So I do what every sports nut Dad does, I sign up to coach. I figure this could be a fun thing, I will wing it! They ask me to work with the running backs. I think back to Coach, he had such a great coaching staff. I can never forget this huge man, his name was Chubby Jenkins. He would scream at me and say, “Zukoski step with this foot when you go to the run ball.” Coach was so much more detailed than any coach by far. So now I am teaching these kids what foot to step with, power blocking, and how to run the option. I am teaching ten year olds how to juke other players. I started coaching running drills.
It was amazing, all the things I learned, all the techniques Coach taught me, came out of me. I remembered everything, it was like riding a bike. The head guy who runs the program tells me I should be a head coach. He’s telling me you are the most detailed coach we ever had. I had no notes, I did not buy a how to coach football idiot book. I did not look online or play Madden to get plays. Instead, I remembered those practices, doing the same thing every week thinking this is stupid. I was 16, an idiot, I knew it all.
This past week I coached my first game, we scored 7 touchdowns and had two interceptions. On defense we only gave up one first down. I had all the kids screaming, going nuts. Every parent was asking me to coach their kid. After practice all the coaches asked me if I coached High School Football. Mind you, I have only coached AAU Basketball and a some Baseball, never Football.
Later that day while I was home relaxing, I was reminiscing on my High School football experience like it was yesterday. I could hear the cars driving fast down Central Avenue while we practiced. Hearing Coach’s voice, the smell of the field. Our home field was the worst football field known to man. It had a beach baseball infield, it was literally rocks and sand. The grass was pure weeds, hardly any greenery. It was awful, but we did have some eye candy “guidette” cheerleaders on the sidelines!
Coach’s office was basically in a janitors closet. It was on the first floor of the school, across from Mr. Forand’s classroom. It was small, had thousands of VCR tapes everywhere, endless trophies and awards. He always had an unlit cigar, and the thickest glasses I have ever seen. This Coach might never be known to the masses, but he has saved kids lives. Helped them become great players, better yet great men. He drilled everyone with technique to the smallest detail. He talked about character and honor. One time he cried during a pre game speech, I wanted to run through a wall for him. You probably do not know him, maybe there is one of these coaches in every state. A legend, a master of shaping men. Even though I did the unthinkable and talked trash to him in a basketball game in front of half the school (still can’t believe I did that) YOU are a legend to me. You impacted my life greatly. You were an iconic High School football coach, but most of all - A TEACHER OF LIFE.
I just want to say thank you Coach DeMatteo.