GMEN HQ: You coached high school football at Spring Valley, your alma mater where you thrived on the offensive line. Tell me about your high school football experience, being team captain your senior year, and how it helped shape the man you are today. What was it like taking on the HC job of the varsity team at age 26 for a team that had struggled to win games the year before your arrival? What did starting 11-0 in your second season and reaching the NYS Class AA semifinals mean to you and your dad?
LPG: You just brought them back some sick memories.
My high school career was awesome because I had the same coach, Coach Boykin since I was eight. When I came up from midget football, he was my coach for Pop Warner. When I was in junior high school, he got the job as the junior varsity coach. When I became a varsity player, he got the job as well. So I only had one coach, which is crazy. The best part about that is we all stuck together.
Now, I grew up in Spring Valley and it’s predominantly African-American and I was only one of three white players on the team. I played offensive line my whole life even though I was a really good wide receiver. I have hands, unlike Engram. I could catch any ball, that’s my one pat on the back.
I remember my senior year going up to my coach and I practiced this speech, I mean really practiced it. “Coach Boykin. I’m not going to be center this year. You had me at center for my last 20 years of my life. I’m not doing it. I’m not playing center. Not playing nose guard. I’m going to be a wide receiver and I’m going to catch some touchdowns”.
He looked me dead in my face and he said, “If you want to be a wide receiver and you want to play every other play, while we run the ball and I’ll never throw you the ball, you can play wide receiver.”
Well, I was snapping the ball on that first day of practice.
I was an All-County center and nose guard at 147 pounds. I can’t imagine that I would have been that for any other team. But that was my position for 15 years. So I get to college and I played running back at Western Connecticut and then I went on to play at Cortland.
After that, I immediately got the JV Head Coach job at Spring Valley. Then a few years later after JV, I became the varsity coach. I will say that I probably got it too young. Although my football experience was pretty cool and I handled the football stuff, I was still too young in the head. I made a lot of mistakes, a lot of things that I would have done a little differently. I was still too young in the head and did some things that I would have done a little differently
But to take a struggling team and to be the best football team, there’s nothing like it. To this day, I still think about Spring Valley and that year of 1997. I’ll go to my grave loving life with that. I am still friends with those guys today, which is funny because they’re only less than 10 years younger.
I appreciate you asking me about that because I never really get questions about that. But it should just show you my love of football started very young. And it still grows to this day. After 1997, I left and became an Athletic Director and I never looked back. If there’s one thing I am proud of, my claim to fame is I’ve never lost a game to Tony or any DeMatteo.
*Author’s Note*: While Joe was undefeated against the DeMatteo family, I was winless in my own career playing the same DeMatteo family!