Imagine a coaching staff like this: Joe Montana helping out with quarterbacks and offensive skill positions, Walter Payton assisting the running backs and defensive backs, and Lawrence Taylor coaching up the linemen and linebackers. Not bad to have three of the best to have ever played their positions sharing their skills.
For Woodland, a similar triumvirate has emerged on its coaching roster—the best that have ever played their positions at the school are back, trying to help the Hawks back to the winning they enjoyed in the middle of this decade.
Jared Katchmar, Pat Krakowski, and Mike Stankus are back in the Woods, and the three former all-staters are not just familiar faces on the sidelines for the Hawks. They’re full-fledged coaches, each given responsibilities and intensely involved in the action during games.
“It was always a goal of [former Woodland coach Chris] Anderson to get guys who played for him back to coach,” Woodland head coach Tim Shea said. “It’s been something we’ve done throughout the program in the past, and right now with Adam Schultz, who played for me at Naugatuck, and these three, it’s really come full circle.”
In case anybody around the Naugatuck Valley League has been under a rock for the last five or so years, let’s recap just how good these three were.
Katchmar was the first—and greatest—quarterback in program history. His name appears frequently in the Connecticut record book: third in career completions (415), fifth in career attempts (753), 14th in career passing yards (5,539), 19th in single-game passing yards (437 against Naugatuck in 2003), and 21st in single-season completions (167 in 2004).
Krakowski is the gold standard for Woodland’s running backs. He’s in the record book too—his 412 career points is 11th all-time and his 66 career touchdowns are good for 12th. Oh yeah, and his 3,602 career rushing yards more than doubles any other Woodland player’s total. Krakowski also starred on defense—his 90 career solo tackles is second in program history and his 11 interceptions are tied for third.
Last, but not least, Stankus is probably the most well-known defensive player to have ever graced the Woodland gridiron. He is near the top of the leaderboard in almost every defensive statistic: First in total tackles (200), second in sacks (13), and third in solo tackles (87).
Now these three are back on their old stomping grounds, after a few years at college. Their collective return began with Katchmar at the end of 2007.
“When we were coaching in the New Haven-Fairfield All-Star game, we needed a quarterback coach,” Shea recalled. “So we called Jared, and he was excited about helping out.”
“I always wanted to get into high school coaching ever since I was in high school myself,” Katchmar said. “When Coach [Rob] Didato left before this season, I asked Shea if I could fill the position, and he let me. I really just like being in the NVL.”
Shea said after Katchmar came aboard, Stankus and Krakowski were soon to follow.
“Mike approached me next and said that he wanted to give back to the program, so we added him to the staff,” Shea explained. “So then, I called Kraker [Krakowski] and told him that Jared and Mike were with us, so I expected him at practice the next morning.”
Throughout the pre- and regular seasons, the trio was immensely involved in helping to improve a squad that posted a 4-7 record in 2008, second worst in program history. Katchmar says even though he can detect a clear difference in the style of players, they’re very coachable.
“Things are a lot different now than they were back in 2004,” he said. “We were such a different breed of kids. Sometimes it’s frustrating because you want to be 12-0 every year—that’s a winning season to me—but you can’t always do that. I’ll take any kids that are ready to work and turn them into a good football team.”
Krakowski agreed that while recent teams may not be quite as talented as the back-t0-back championship-winning teams were, they work just as hard as he and his teammates did.
“I always felt that skill is something you can’t teach–you either have it or you don’t,” Krakowski said. “However, I do stress to the kids that if you practice and play every play as hard as you can and hustle, one’s skills will improve. You have to be willing to work harder than your competitors.”
The hard work the coaches stress during practice translates into their attitudes during games. For example, anybody who has seen Katchmar’s emotion on the sidelines this season knows his passion for the game. The toughest part for him, he says, is that he’s relegated to coaching now.
“During the game, man, I want to get out there and play,” he said. “I want to show them what they’re doing wrong and how to do things. But I can’t, so I have to work with them.”
Shea sees the sort of emotion showed by Katchmar, Krakowski and Stankus as a sign that the Woodland football program is an already-successful one.
“I think the true sign of a successful program is when you have alumni wanting to come and give back,” Shea said. “They bring the swagger and moxie that these kids didn’t know about before. They used to be only pictures in the weight room. Now they’re real faces. … I was confident in their abilities when they played, and now I have complete faith in them as coaches.”
By the way, apparently this gig is only a stepping stone for Katchmar.
“Before I die,” he said, “I’ll be in the NFL.”