TOMS RIVER – Dan Curcione has a simple goal as he heads into the 2017 season, his first as the head football coach at Donovan Catholic High School.
“I want to field a competitive team,” the 1986 Brick Memorial High School graduate said. “It’s as simple as that. You will never get me to say, ‘We want to win this amount of games,’ or, ‘We will do that.’ We want to be competitive. I can’t even say how good we will be.”
The Griffins were winless last season in their lone season under former Jackson Memorial and Rutgers University quarterback Tom Tarver, who was not rehired by school officials.
“I know Donovan was 0-10 last year,” Curcione said, “but we will judge this year on this year.”
Donovan was outscored 329-112 last year when it was 0-7 for last place in Shore Conference Class B South. The Griffins have not had a winning season since 2012 when they went 6-4 and won Class B South under then-coach Dan Duddy. Their winless season in 2016 was their second in the last three years and third in the previous 11.
Donovan’s only NJSIAA title was in 1976 under then-coach Dennis Toddings. The school was known as St. Joseph High School and the Griffins won the Non-Public B South title with a 15-12 victory over the now-defunct Our Lady of the Valley of Orange.
The Griffins advanced to the Non-Public South A title game in 1992 when Toddings was in his second tour of duty. The Griffins lost to Holy Cross of Delran.
Curcione said he has met with his team.
“I introduced myself and that was about it,” he said. “The whole team was there.”
Two players to watch are Jack Hadley and Ryan Clark.
“I know Hadley is a good player,” Curcione said. “Clark played each snap last year at quarterback. He is young. Hadley plays on the defensive line and is ranked among the top long snappers in the nation at 6-3 and 280 pounds. I think Clark has a lot of potential. He has a lot to learn.”
Curcione said the school has an impressive weight room.
“I love the facility,” he said. “It is a great setup. It is real exciting looking. The boys are lifting weights. When the spring weather breaks, we will begin to incorporate conditioning.”
Curcione was the head coach at Wall Township the last three seasons. He guided the Crimson Knights to the South Jersey Group III title in 2016, their first sectional championship since 2002. Wall was 17-15 overall, including 10-2 last season. It was 4-2 in Class B North in which it finished in a three-way tie for second place with Manasquan and Middletown North.
In his first year on Curcione’s coaching staff is former Toms River South and Penn State University player Chip LaBarca Jr., the offensive coordinator. He was the offensive coordinator at Wall the last two seasons and Curcione was a defensive assistant coach under LaBarca Jr. during his seven seasons as Toms River North’s head coach from 2006 to 2012.
“Chippy is a great coach,” Curcione said. “He obviously really knows his stuff and does a great job with the offense. His offenses have gotten better and better over time. He works hard. The boys respond to him and he has a pretty good record of winning a lot of ballgames.”
LaBarca Jr. led the Mariners (12-0) to the 2007 South Jersey Group IV and Class A South titles. His Mariners went 51-22 overall at North. His 58-34 career record includes the 1997 and 1998 seasons at Lakewood. He was the offensive coordinator of the Brick Green Dragons when they won Central Jersey Group IV in 2013.
“We ran the spread power offense at Wall last year,” Curcione said. “Chippy ran it at North and Brick so what he will do here is not that big of secret. It is a very good offense that can incorporate a lot of different players. There is the potential for anyone on the field to do well with this offense.”
The defensive side of the ball will be Curcione’s main responsibility.
“We will run a multiple 3-4, the same thing we ran at Wall for the last few years,” he said. “In this day and age of the spread offense, the defense has to be multiple. I have coached the 3-4 for years and years and it’s a flexible and multiple defense that lets us do a lot of different things.
“As the head coach, I will be around everything. My background has been with the defense. I called the defense each year at Wall when I was the head coach.”
What will be the team’s personality?
“I think a lot of these things are cliché type things and don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the personality of the team,” Curcione said. “I want the boys to work hard, be accountable for their actions and enjoy playing football. Kids are kids and these kids won’t be much different than the kids I have coached in the other 14 years I have been coaching.”
Curcione is no stranger to inheriting losing teams.
“When I took over at Wall, they won three games and two games in the previous two seasons,” he said, “but winning had been done there before then. As the head coach, you need to work hard and be there each day. The boys will see that and they will start to work hard. I try to win every game, but I am not saying that will happen.
“We will teach the boys how to prepare to win and how to be accountable. We want them to do the little things right. I will expect everyone in the program to work hard.”
Curcione, a Brick resident, is an eighth-grade life skills teacher at Toms River Intermediate School North.
“The Donovan Catholic job is a great opportunity for my family and me,” he said. “It is a great challenge and the school is close to where I work.”
Curcione, 39, played three years of varsity football at Brick Memorial. He competed for the Mustangs at linebacker, tight end, quarterback and wide receiver. He also played football at the University of Buffalo where he received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in history.