Rick O'Brien: Springfield coach knows players are in his corner

Springfield linebacker Tyler Morrissey , 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, anchors the 3-0 Cougars' defense. He also plays tight end.
Springfield linebacker Tyler Morrissey , 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, anchors the 3-0 Cougars' defense. He also plays tight end. (WHITNEY DOUGHERTY)
Posted: September 22, 2011

It was an unusual but effective endorsement.

After Dan Ellis stepped down as Springfield (Delco) football coach to take the top spot at West Chester East, then-junior Ryan Strain and a few teammates stopped by the office of athletic director Glenn Mallon to pass along their preferred choice for a replacement.

In no uncertain terms, they made a pitch for Tom Kline, the Cougars' offensive and defensive line coach.

"From seeing him coach, we just knew he had what it takes to be a head coach," said Strain, a senior quarterback and captain. "We were confident it would be a pretty smooth transition."

So far, so good. With Kline as boss, Springfield is 3-0 overall and 2-0 in the Central League entering Friday night's contest at Haverford High.

Of being the players' No. 1 choice, Kline said, "Something like that happening makes everything you do as a coach worthwhile. You know you're making an impact on the kids."

Kline coached under Ellis for three seasons. The 39-year-old admits to considering leaving the Cougars and joining Ellis, his close friend, at W.C. East. "I had to step back and think of what I really wanted to do," he said.

In taking the Springfield job, Kline wasn't overly concerned about the team losing Matt Craig, who rushed for 2,013 yards and scored 35 touchdowns in 2010, from a squad that went 8-4 and advanced to the PIAA District 1 Class AAA semifinals before losing to Strath Haven.

"I was confident that we were going to pick up where we left off," said Kline, a health and physical education teacher at Lower Merion High. "We're fortunate to have a lot of depth."

The 6-foot, 170-pound Strain, a second-year starter, has completed 16 of 33 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns.

"He's the ultimate competitor," Kline said. "I have no reservation about putting the team on his shoulders."

In a spread offense averaging nearly 35 points, Springfield's three-pronged rushing attack is headed by halfback Rob Murphy. The 5-9, 165-pound junior has carried 49 times for 514 yards and six touchdowns.

"Matt Craig was a great running back," Strain said. "But I knew Rob was going to do well. He's quick, crafty, and he works real hard."

Last season, with Ellis regularly using a no-huddle approach, the Cougars averaged 48 points. They scored 50 or more points four times.

Said Kline: "It was a real fast tempo. We wanted to try to run 70 plays a game. I'm more of a clock-management guy. I'm only concerned with the final score."

Murphy is joined in the backfield by Barry Foster and Mike Dougherty. Strain's main passing targets are Matt Reichert, John Wise, burner Cameron Durham, and Aaron Coyne.

The offensive line includes center Matt Doyle (5-11, 165), guards Nick Coyne (5-10, 275) and Nick Apostolu (6-5, 280), tackles John Ciurlino (6-2, 22) and Vince Marra (6-1, 205), and tight ends Tyler Morrissey (6-3, 230) and Mike McGarvey (6-4, 215).

At inside linebacker, Morrissey, who has notched 42 tackles, is the heart and soul of a 4-4 defense yielding 13 points a game.

The other defensive anchors are tackle Marra, ends Ciurlino and Joe Lockley, inside linebacker Dougherty, and cornerbacks Reichert and Warren Allen.

"This is the best we fly to the ball since I've been here," Kline said. "And we're a little more resilient on defense than we've been in the past."

Strain, 17, is also a quality baseball player. A third baseman, he plans to take part in All-Star Baseball Academy's Division II showcase Saturday morning at Glen Mills.

Strain had hoped to play one season of high school football with his younger brother, Jake. But the up-and-coming middle linebacker opted for St. Joseph's Prep, where he is a freshman playing JV ball.

"I was a little bummed," Ryan Strain said, "but I understand. He likes it a lot there. That's the most important thing."


Contact staff writer Rick O'Brien at 610-313-8019, robrien@phillynews.com,

or @ozoneinq on Twitter.

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