Joe McCourt learns with loss

Posted: August 31, 2008

Joe McCourt knows what people are saying. He's too young, at the age of 25, to handle all the responsibilities associated with being head coach of a high school football team.

But McCourt, the new boss at Roman Catholic, is eager to prove the critics wrong. And he seems to have a good grasp of what it will take – and that while winning is important, it's also crucial to reach his players and teach them lessons they'll take with them in life.

Yesterday's season opener, vs. West Catholic in Wildwood, N.J., had positive moments. But McCourt's Cahillites were knocked off by the Burrs, 34-28, in overtime. Back to the drawing board.

Kasseim Everett, a senior running back and defensive back for Roman, says that McCourt has "an open-door policy with all of us. He wants you to come in and talk to him, about whatever is on your mind."

In preseason practices, Everett and his teammates became quite familiar with 200-yard gassers, McCourt's imposed punishment for transgressions.

"If there's anything he doesn't approve of, you're going to run at the end," Everett said.

McCourt knows that being a head coach will come with headaches, tons of paperwork, sighs of frustration, and the occasional late-evening phone call from a player or a player's parent.

"I know what to expect," McCourt said. "I'm bracing myself for what's going to happen. The good thing is that I've gotten a lot of support from the Roman administration."

The foundation

For where he is now, McCourt largely credits the years he spent playing football for the Frankford Boys Club. He was with the club from the age of 5 until he began playing at Roman Catholic.

"The one thing the coaches preached was doing things the right way," he said. "And once you stepped inside the lines of the field, it was all about football and winning. They had an all-business approach."

McCourt, who also played for the nationally known Little Quakers, starred as a running back for Roman. The 2001 graduate had more than 3,300 rushing yards in high school. In 1999, the tough-as-nails ballcarrier helped lead the Cahillites to the Catholic League Red Division championship.

His success continued at Lafayette. A 6-1, 205-pound bruiser, he rushed for 4,474 yards and 50 touchdowns. In 2004, he was the Patriot League's offensive MVP.

Intense

Roman's players say McCourt works them in practice much the same way Jim Murphy, his predecessor, did.

No shortcuts. Do it till you get it right. Be committed.

"It's been intense right from the get-go," Tahir Basil, a 6-2, 250-pound senior two-way lineman for the Cahillites. "He probably makes us run a little more than coach Murph."

Basil pointed out that McCourt has made it a priority to involve all the players, not just the starters, in practices. "He makes sure everyone participates," the Division I-A recruit said.

And when it comes to hollering? "He's equally hard on everybody," Basil said with a laugh.

McCourt said he talked to Murphy, who posted a 64-34 mark in eight seasons, every day during training camp. "We talked about X's and O's, organizational stuff," he said. "He's been a big help."

Plenty of doubters

From last season's team, which went 12-2 and beat, er, shocked, powerhouse St. Joseph's for the Red Division championship, Roman returns four starters on offense and the same number on defense.

"From everything I'm hearing, we're too young, from the coaches on down," McCourt said. "But I'm confident. We have a lot of good talent. The important thing for us is to get the younger guys to stay focused, in practices and games, throughout the year."

There are only two coaching leftovers from Murphy's regime: defensive coordinator Neal Regan and defensive line coach Dan Jankiewicz. McCourt handles the offense.

Under McCourt, the Cahillites are running more of a finesse-type offense. Defensively, they show many looks, beginning with a 4-4 set, to foes.

"The good thing is that we're flying under the radar right now," McCourt said. "Everything you hear about is St. Joseph's Prep and Cardinal O'Hara. If people want to make us the underdogs, that's fine with us."


Contact staff writer Rick O'Brien at 610-313-8019

or robrien@phillynews.com.

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