THURSDAY, DEC. 3: That voice was familiar, yet not as imposing.
At practice today, the usual sounds of coaches exuding the players was evident, especially with head coach Wayne Demikoff and his usual, “good, good….back in the huddle”, Jermain Johnson “read your keys” and John Jacob “are you kidding me? Okay, that’s better.”
But in the background, a different voice was evident, yet somewhat laid back.
It was former Wayne Hills head coach Chris Olsen, who had just arrived from his home in North Carolina, and will be cheering on his team this Dec. 5, when the Patriots travel to MetLife Stadium to take on Old Tappan, starting at 1 p.m, for the state sectional championship.
Olsen’s accomplishments at Hills are well documented. He was head coach for 26 years, leading the program to eight state championships, as well as 14 appearances in the state final.
Since retiring after the 2012 season, he’s stayed pretty low-keyed, having moved, with his wife, Sue, to North Carolina to be closer to middle son, Greg, a star tight end with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. He’d often text me during a Hills game to check on the score, but until this year’s season opener, when the Patriots visited Graham High School in North Carolina, Olsen hadn’t been to a Patriots game since his last contest as head coach, on Nov. 30, 3012.
Olsen offered some encouragement as he watched practice, telling Demikoff on a few occasions that he felt the team looked real good, especially on defense.
Assistant coaches would stop by and say hello to the coach during practice. Olsen was especially pleased to see Pat Cosgrove, Hills’ longest-tenured assistant coach. Cosgrove and Olsen go back to Olsen’s days as head coach at St. Cecilia High School, and Cosgrove has been with Olsen since, with stops at Bergenfield, Paterson Eastside and, of course, Hills.
Olsen would also comment on a few occasions that he had forgotten how cold it can get at the field, when the sun sets and the wind picks up.
“Hey it’s great that they’re still practicing this time of year,” Olsen said, referring to the team returning to the state finals for the first time in four years. “We never minded the cold.”
When practice ended, Demikoff spoke briefly, as he always does following practice, to the players at midfield.
“Tomorrow (Dec. 4), will be your last practice on this field (for the 2015 season),” Demikoff reminded his team. “And for the seniors, it’s the last time you’ll be on this field, practicing football. Make it a perfect practice. You’ve had two excellent weeks of preparation for Saturday. You’re ready. We can see that. Now, go over the formations tonight, get on Hudl, and be ready tomorrow.”
With that, Demikoff, asked the coaches if they had anything to add, then said, “Coach, (Olsen) how about you?”
Olsen didn’t want to take away from Demikoff’s message, but was clearly fired up for the team.
“Like Coach said, you’re ready,” Olsen reminded the current Patriots. “You’ve worked hard for this. Not everyone can play this game, and devote the time and effort needed to be a football player at Wayne Hills. You’ve done it. Now, finish it on Saturday.”
The team took the long walk back to the locker room, from the field. Inside, Demikoff was talking to a few of his senior players, as the kids prepared to head home.
Wayne Demikoff has been on the coaching staff for all of Wayne Hills’ eight previous state championships. On Saturday, he’ll be a head coach for the first time in a state final, coaching a group that he admits he’s very fond of.
“I have to say, of all my years here,” said Demikoff. “This may have been the most fun. What a great group. I know I’m hard on them, but they’re special.”
Just a little over 24 hours away from MetLife…Tick, Tick, Tick…