Here’s my column from Thursday’s Journal News about how New Rochelle and Iona Prep’s struggles prove sometimes even the best must rebuild rather than reload:
When his team lost to Ketcham opening week, New Rochelle football coach Lou DiRienzo reminded his players that wins, playoff berths and championships aren’t preordained. They don’t come as accessories to purple jerseys or white helmets or by stepping foot on Ray Rice’s old home sideline.
Forgive the Huguenots for needing a heads up. Almost all of Westchester County’s best football these last 10 years has been played in the city of New Rochelle — if not by the Huguenots themselves, then by their old Turkey Bowl rival Iona Prep.
Beginning Rice’s junior year in 2003, New Rochelle won eight of the last 10 Section 1 Class AA championships, all while nearby Iona Prep evolved into a perennial semifinal or final participant in the CHSFL’s deep AAA division. The Huguenots claimed state titles in 2003 and 2012; the Gaels won their league in 2008 by beating St. Anthony’s, arguably the state’s top program.
If the two teams have learned anything so far this season, it is that recent history is just that: History. The cliche that teams “don’t reload, they rebuild” is more fallacy than a tenet of football faith, especially in high school, where coaches generally coach who shows up for practice.
The current versions of New Rochelle and Iona Prep both lost Saturday to fall to 1-5 combined. This came after they began the season ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, by this newspaper — a judgment, of course, based more on past success than the present.
In truth, even with the cyclical nature of high school football — where a confluence of enrollment advantages, proven coaching staffs and demographics combine to churn out perennial contenders in certain communities — no powerhouse is immune to what ails the two New Rochelle schools in 2013. North Rockland finished just 3-6 in 2010, Joe Casarella’s only losing season in 30 years as coach. Football-mad Harrison endured a 16-11 “slump” from 2007-09. Dobbs Ferry suffered a similar three-year downturn from 2008-10 when — gasp! — the Eagles failed to reach the Class C title game.
The common thread between those three is that their rise resulted in a Section 1 title the following season. New Rochelle and Iona Prep could find solace in future success, but don’t expect the two proud programs to wait a calendar year to reboot.
Despite its two losses, New Rochelle can still repeat as sectional champs, and can take a step toward erasing last week’s loss to Scarsdale as soon as next week against rival White Plains. Iona Prep will travel to St. Anthony’s and its rival, Stepinac, in the next month, and don’t be shocked if the Gaels awaken at either turn, especially against Stepinac, a rising program in its own right but one that has dropped eight of the last nine in their series.
Unfortunately, both New Rochelle and Iona Prep already find themselves well-schooled in DiRienzo’s lesson. That football adage actually rings true.
Yes, they’ll rebound, maybe even rebuild another league or state champion as soon as next season. Just notice I didn’t say reload.