COXSACKIE — Football has always been a big part of Fred Howard’s life.
A scholarship player at Pace University, Howard got into coaching after his playing days ended. He has been teaching the game for the past 14 years at the high school level as an assistant at Middletown and Liberty, before getting his first head coaching gig at Peekskill in 2015.
Now, Howard brings his knowledge and passion for the game to Coxsackie-Athens where he takes over for Paddy Bailey, who stepped down after the 2019 season.
C-A opens its season on Friday at 7 p.m. at Watervliet.
Howard, a physical education teacher at Coxsackie-Athens, has had his coaching debut at C-A delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, but that’s given him more time to get acquainted with his new team and he is chomping at the bit to get the season started.
“The students here at C-A are hard workers,” Howard said. “We had an offseason weight room program and had limited numbers inside a small space at a time, but they would come. We started early in September because we were putting in a new system, putting in a new defense, new coaches, so we had to get the ball rolling.
“We did a 7 on 7 in Kingston and started a lifting program. The students here are hard workers and they want to win. We have to change the culture. We’re building better young men and teaching life lessons, but you have to change the culture.”
Howard has assembled an impressive coaching staff that features former collegiate standouts Mykel Benson (Florida A&M) at offensive coordinator and Mo Ruffins (Louisiana Tech) as offensive and defensive line coach.
Eugene Carey, Jason Wagor, Jason Warren, Mike Wolbert, Mike Oathout and Lance Armour are also assistants on Howard’s staff.
“Our coaching staff is very knowledgeable about the game,” Howard said. “Understanding this is the high school level, there’s not enough time in a day to teach everything.
“Defensively, instead of read and react, we’re going to press the issue. At the high school level where there’s schoolwork, homework — academics always comes first — we just have to teach them to be aggressive. Teach the proper techniques and fundamentals at this level. And the rest of it as you build the program and change the culture and you start with a modified program and maybe get Pop Warner going, then you start teaching at an early age.
“Coming into a new program that has been down for a couple of years, you just want to stay positive. I am a very aggressive coach, very passionate, very emotional and I love my players. You have to let them know that you care about them.”
Howard has 10 returning players to work with including dual threat quarterback Brandon Wolbert and two-way linemen Colin Riley and Andrew Riley. The new coach loves his new team’s work ethic, its willingness to learn and is excited to see the finished product on the field. He’s hoping to see continued improvement from week to week.
“First goal we set was to go out there and focus and let’s just win the first quarter,” Howard said. “It’s one quarter at a time, one play at a time. And you have to believe that from the coaching staff down to the last player.
“We’re all in this together, so let’s go win that first quarter, win that first play, win that battle. That’s all football is and all it will ever be, that one play. When you line up across from another person and you have to win that individual battle. And you take baby steps and that’s how any program is built. It starts with a belief.”
After spending most of his coaching career at larger schools in Sections IX and I, Howard couldn’t be happier to be making the move to Section II and Coxsackie-Athens.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” he said. “To have an opportunity to help build a program from the ground up. It’s different coming to a program where the kids don’t want to be successful, but these kids want that. During the pandemic they’ve come to school on time.
“This is one of the first times where I didn’t have to worry about eligibility for football players. They understand they’re students first and that’s a big change. You don’t have to deal with the eligibility part during the school year. There’s nothing better than Friday nights driving by a field and those lights are on, especially in a small, close community like this.”
SENIORS: Brandon Wolbert (QB/CB), Patrick McManus (TE/LB), James Barone (WR/CB), Anthony Lansing (RB/FS), Colin Riley OG/DE), Andrew Riley (OG/DE), Nate Van Valkenburg (C/NT), Thomas Notabartolo (WR/LB), Brian Somsky (RB/SS), Spencer Tergeoglou (K/P), Jesse Pickett (OT/C/NT).
JUNIORS: Dillon Hynes (RB/CB), Anthony Patti (OT/NT), Thomas Jones (WR/FS), Albert Bushane (OG/NT), Kaleb Crewell (OT/NT).
SOPHOMORES: Cole Wagor (RB/SS), Berno Cary (RB/LB), Ryan Gunderson (OT/NT), Zachary Kinch (WR/DE), Aiden Dunkel (OG/NT), Tony Iammuno (RB/SS).
FRESHMEN: Brady Wagor (QB/SS), Rocco Salvino (WR/CB), Joseph Martinez (RB/LB), Martin Mosely (TE/LB), Riley Swartout (OT/DE), Nick Moyer (WR/CB).
March 19: at Watervliet, 7 p.m.; March 26: vs. Catskill/Cairo-Durham, 6 p.m.; April 2: vs. Ichabod Crane, 6 p.m.; Aprl 9: Hoosick Falls/Tamarac, 6 p.m.; April 16: at Taconic Hills, 6 p.m.; April 23: crossover; April 30: crossover.