Moffo takes the reins

Woodland head football coach Chris Moffo sends in the defensive signals early this season. Moffo, who has been an assistant with the team since 2007, was handed the reins in the spring when he was named head coach. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI
Woodland head football coach Chris Moffo sends in the defensive signals early this season. Moffo, who has been an assistant with the team since 2007, was handed the reins in the spring when he was named head coach. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

For the fourth time in as many seasons, the Woodland football team kicked off the year with a different head coach.

Chris Moffo, who has been a member of Woodland’s staff since 2007 and was the defensive coordinator most recently, took the helm for the Hawks this season. After landing the top job in the spring, Moffo knew there would be a big difference between being a coordinator and the head honcho.

“Being involved in all phases all the time is the most obvious change for me. I was the O-linemen coach in years past, but on Friday nights I would just have to focus on one side of the ball as the D coordinator,” Moffo says. “Now, as the head coach, I need to be more reserved because as an assistant you can be more gung ho and as the head guy you have to look at the big picture more.”

For Moffo, the big picture is much larger than what happens on the gridiron under the lights on Friday night. It’s appreciating the opportunity he has to help shape his players.

“Watching the kids grow and improve, whether it is executing what we are installing for the week, a technique, a play, a step even; to watch the kids excel is what makes everything worthwhile for me,” says Moffo, a 1999 Wolcott High graduate who played offensive line for the Eagles. “But my favorite part of being the head coach is building the young men, not just in football but in life skills moving forward and watching them grow from teenagers to young adults. That transition is probably the best part.”

Transition is something the upperclassmen — the few that are on the team — know about, having had a different head coach each of the last four years. Last season, it was Chris Anderson leading the Hawks. Tim Phipps was the coach in 2014, and Tim Shea resigned after the 2013 season and six years as head coach.

The transition to Moffo was an easy one for the players because, as senior captain Cody Doyle puts it, “he has been with us already for all four years.”

Moffo’s players know what they are getting with their latest head coach on and off the field.

“He tries to be a lot closer with all of the players not just the upperclassmen. I think he is a great coach, honestly,” senior captain Isaac Negron says. “He expects a lot of everyone but at the same time is very easy to talk to and is very smart.”

Doyle adds, “He talks to everyone individually and is there for everyone, and I’m not even talking about football right now, outside of football if anyone ever needs any help; even in the summer he would come to players’ jobs and stuff just to see how we are doing. He is there for everyone. I’ve been injured multiple times and he calls me up to see how I am doing to see if I’m getting better. He is always there. He looks at us like his family. He cares.”

Moffo, who is the director of the Prospect Parks and Recreation Department, was handed a very young team this season.

With only five seniors on the roster, half of the 22 starting positions on offense and defense are filled with underclassmen — six on defense and five on offense, including three out of the five all-important offensive linemen. For part of the season, the offensive line had no seniors on it as Doyle missed time with a knee injury.

The youth movement has led to growing pains on the field and a 1-8 record as the Hawks prepare for their annual Thanksgiving eve game with Seymour.

Moffo is not one to shy away from a challenge, make excuses or back down. What his team may lack in pure size and experience, he makes sure they make up for with hustle, hard work, and preparedness.

“It’s just his passion for football,” senior captain Scott Lawrence says. “Every week he has a game plan and it has every play they run and how many times they run it. He is very smart and it really helps us out. His attention to detail is great.”

Sentiments Negron and Doyle echo.

“He knows everything [opponents] are going to do during the game and he is never wrong,” Negron says.

Doyle adds, “He is strict about technique and you can tell why because in the game if you don’t do the technique that’s what messes up the play.”

Coming off a 7-3 season, a 1-8 record isn’t what the Hawks hoped for this year, but it’s not a reflection of a lack of effort.

“The kids’ effort is not indicative of our record right now. They come to work every day and give their all for me and for the program,” Moffo says.

That determination stems from their leader on the sidelines.

“[Moffo] always tries to get the best out of everyone. I really appreciate his work ethic,” senior captain Quincy Koch says. “He is good at motivating kids. He has taken all kinds of kids and got them into football and motivated us to really give our all.”

Moffo’s ability to keep his players on track, and his meticulous game-planning, payed off on Nov. 11 when the Hawks earned their first win of the Moffo era, a 40-20 victory over Kennedy.

“We had 470 yards of offense and our defense came to play,” Moffo says about the win.

When asked how it felt to get the proverbial monkey off of his back, the always humble coach replies, “It was very exciting, but I was happy for the staff and the kids. They work so hard and really deserved it.”

They aren’t the only ones. Their head coach deserves it, too.

Editor’s note: This article appears in the Citizen’s News’ special Thanksgiving football section published the week of Nov. 25, 2016.