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Camping out: New coach, era for Saints

St. Bernard Saints - 2009 Season
Posted Wednesday, September 02, 2009 by By TIM EHRENS

UNCASVILLE — For some, a handshake represents an informal way of meeting someone new. The St. Bernard’s football team, however, used the everyday act to symbolize something quite more significant.

Before the team’s first practice in pads, the entire team formed a single line in the gym and introduced themselves to their new, first-year head coach Sean Ladyga and his  assistants, using a simple handshake to epitomize the transition from old to new.

What’s old was the regime of Mark Romano, who coached the Saints for three years until he left after last season to spend more time with his family. Now, Ladyga takes over the program and brings his own philosophy and demeanor to the team, which may take some getting used to at first.

“It’s tougher for the kids because they’ve had a lot of success over the past three years under Coach Romano,” Ladyga said. “I’m coming in and changing the system and it’s a lot they have to learn.”

There’s no question Ladyga has paid his dues to get to this point. The 1997 Montville graduate knows his way around the Eastern Connecticut Conference as he has been coaching for the last 11 years with a stop as a freshman coach at Montville (six years) and stints as defensive coordinator both for Ledyard (one year) and for the past four years at Stonington, where he remembers his share of battles with Romano’s teams.

Once Ladyga was hired, it was his old foe that was right there to help ease the changeover.

“He’s helped me with the transition of coming in, (introduced me to) people to talk to and (showed me) pretty much how the setup is down here,”  Ladyga said of Romano.

Ladyga describes his coaching style as “organized and disciplined.”  He plans to take the emphasis on discipline and accountability he learned at Stonington and make those values the touchstones of his tenure at St. Bernard.

“Everyone has their own viewpoint on how they’re going to run a program. Sometimes, fresh is good,” said defensive coordinator Mike Doherty, one of two coaches from the Romano era who remain on the staff. “Coming in with new blood, the excitement gets kicked up. It’s one of those things where everyone’s just really excited to hit the field.”

That excitement manifested itself in the success of the summer weightlifting program, which averaged about 30 to 35 players a day, according to Ladyga. Those kinds of numbers are something Ladyga hasn’t been used to in his previous coaching jobs, where he said those programs would be lucky to get 15 players to participate.

“These kids were ready to go the first day of practice,” he said. “They had the itch, they were ready to play some football.”

After about two weeks of practice, players such as senior lineman Jeff Nossek are warming to Ladyga’s coaching style.

“(He’s) a little more laid back whereas Romano was more in-your-face,” said Nossek, one of six captains on the team. “It’s not a bad thing, just a different way of going about it.”


Starting from scratch?

The Saints are ripe for remolding this year, as 16 seniors are gone and only five starters return from last year’s team. Instead of lamenting over the inexperience the team has, Ladyga sees this year as one filled with opportunities.

“We lack varsity experience a little bit but the work is no different than any other year when you have those kids coming back,” he said. “You take the athletes that you have and you work them to the best of their abilities. I look at it as (us being) in a great situation.”

One thing that permeates Ladyga’s attitude is the feeling of optimism and the thought of this being a new start for the program. Both Ladyga and the team are venturing into new territory with the players transitioning to life without their previous mentor and Ladyga testing the waters of being a head coach for the first time.

Replacing a coach as successful as Romano is never easy, but the response Ladyga has received from players and coaches alike has only fueled his desire to start the season at the helm of his new team.

 “I know Coach Romano had met with the team earlier and assured them that they were going to hire the best coach they could find,” Ladyga said. “When I first met the kids, they were eager. I’ll never forget the first kids that I met that day — it was pretty much all the seniors.

“I just assured them that we’re going to have a successful season, we’re going to work hard and do things you haven’t done before.” 
 

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