“Football not giving up, despite losing season”
By: Carl Stoffers
Head football coach Dan Garrett arrived at Kean in 2006 and promptly turned the lackluster program into a powerhouse, winning two ECAC Southeast Bowl titles and an NJAC Championship. His arrival marked the first of seven straight non-losing seasons in Union, a streak that will come to an end this year.
His team entered 2013 campaign with high hopes, but all has not gone according to plan this season. Injuries and an anemic offense have led to a dismal 1-6 record, assuring the Cougar football program its first sub-50 percent finish since 2005.
“It’s frustrating. It hurts,” said Garrett. “It’s been a learning experience for all of us. It’s taught me to stay true to my convictions about giving 100 percent, about fighting.”
Despite the team’s record, Garrett isn’t giving up on this season or his team. He’s continued to motivate and connect with his squad in the same way he’s done since arriving at Kean.
“I’ve spoken to them from my heart,” he said. “I’ve told them that we’re going to get through this together. We all owe it to the guys who were in this program before, who bought in and turned this program around, to keep fighting.”
Garrett’s team has been depleted by key injuries this season, with the most glaring being the loss of starting quarterback Christian Bailoni in Kean’s week four loss to SUNY Cortland. There have also been injuries on the defensive side of the ball, most notably to defensive back LeRon Dillard. In the wake of these blows to the team, other players have stepped up to contribute.
“Tyler Jones, he’s been gritty for us,” Garrett said. “He’s not real vocal, but he is a phenomenal leader on the field.”
Jones, a senior inside linebacker, leads the team with three sacks and has recorded 50 tackles, ranking second on the team. Additionally, seven of Jones’ tackles have resulted in losses of yardage.
Despite the team falling to last place in the NJAC standings after dropping a heartbreaking 21-20 homecoming game to William Paterson and a tough 17-7 contest at Brockport, Garrett sees more than the win column defining the program’s success.
“Sometimes in life we’re judged by wins and losses, but we’ve been in every game,” Garrett said. “We haven’t given up, haven’t given in, ever. That says a lot.”
In addition to his team showing heart, there have been underclassmen who have emerged as significant players this season. Quarterback Robert Meade, forced into the starting role after Bailoni was injured, has been solid. The sophomore signal caller has thrown just one interception in 72 attempts and rushed for 205 yards, recording a credible 3.7 yards per carry.
Junior Kevin O’Connor is second on the team in rushing, logging an impressive 4.3 yards per carry while gaining 271 yards. Additionally, freshman Tahj Hammary was recently named NJAC Offensive Rookie of the Week for his 3-catch, 155-yard performance against William Paterson.
Despite the promise this young talent holds for the program’s future, Garrett isn’t looking ahead to next year. The Cougars have three games remaining in 2013 and the he hasn’t changed his approach entering the final weeks of the season.
“I’m excited by what we’re doing right now,” Garrett said. “The only thing on my mind is this week. I’m not looking past that.”
The Cougars face Morrisville State (3-4) and Rowan (5-2) before wrapping up the 2013 campaign against Montclair State (2-5) on Nov. 16. Regardless of the outcome, the Kean coach fully expects to look back on 2013 as a positive season for the program.
“I love this team. I’m so very proud of this group,” Garrett said. “We live in an instant-gratification society, but they’ve been selfless. They’re fighting, they’re practicing hard. My head is held high and I’m proud to be their head coach.”