When Luke Alex, Chad Edwards, Mike Wright and Eric Rozanski arrived at Youngsville High School with head coach Tony Tridico in 2006, the Eagles football program was in shambles, having suffered through 11 straight losing seasons.
Five short years later, the group - minus their mentor Tridico who stepped down as head coach after the 2010 season - helped guide the Eagles to what was arguably the greatest football season in school history with a 10-0 undefeated regular season and Region 2 championship.
Last Wednesday, the group tendered their resignations and agreed to exit as they entered - together.
Times Observer file photo
At the beginning
Youngsville head football coach Luke Alex, right, and assistant head coach Eric Rozanski, left — as well as offensive coordinator Chad Edwards and varsity assistant, running backs, quarterbacks and defensive backs coach Mike Wright (not pictured) — came to Youngsville in 2006 with then head coach Tony Tridico, center. After Tridico resigned in 2010, Alex moved from his defensive coordinator position to head coach. All four — along with junior high coaches Don Hardy and Andy Chase — resigned from the program last week, ending a long run with the Eagles’ football program.
The decision to leave wasn't one that came without a great deal of thought.
"It's something that we had been talking about for a while," said Alex, the defensive coordinator from 2006 to 2010 and head coach for the 2011 and 2012 seasons. "I'm getting married in the spring, another coach is going to become a father. There is just a lot going on in all of our personal lives at this time. I hate to leave, but at this point in our lives, it's time to start a new chapter."
The four coaches were all teammates at Titusville Area High School in the late 1990's and early 2000's. While there, they were coached by Tridico, then the Rockets' defensive coordinator.
Even back to their high school playing days, the idea of joining Tridico in the coaching ranks had been discussed.
"We'd always talked with Coach T (Tridico) about possibly joining him if he ever took a head coaching job down the line," said Alex. "With him getting the job at Youngsville, the timing and everything just worked out perfectly. We had the opportunity to create some lifelong friends and create some amazing memories while living out a dream we had had since high school."
When the quartet of coaches and Tridico arrived at Youngsville in 2006 - along with former Youngsville assistant coach Adam Vincent - the job of turning around the football program was anything but an enviable task.
"When we arrived here, there wasn't really even a program in place," said Rozanski. "At least not in the sense of what we wanted to run. Our biggest challenges were establishing our belief system and vision, establishing a weight program and trying to get the group of kids to buy what we were looking to sell."
After winning just four games in their first three seasons with the Eagles, Youngsville began to show signs of improvement during the 2009 season when it finished 5-5 - the school's first non-losing season since 1994.
The program was poised for a breakout year in 2010, but injuries ravaged the team and Youngsville took a step back with a mark of 2-8.
In 2011, that breakthrough season finally came - and then some.
The Eagles steamrolled through the regular season, finishing 10-0 and claiming the school's first Region 2 championship. Despite losing in the opening round of the District 10 Class A playoffs, Youngsville qualified for the postseason for the first time since 1994.
The memories made during the 2011 campaign are the kind that last a lifetime.
While the "on field" success was nice, the impact the coaching staff had on the young men that made up the team is perhaps most impressive.
Sam Lucas was a senior running back on the 2011 team and is currently a freshman studying Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering at Penn State University. The words he left on his personal Facebook page provided everything you need to know about the relationship between Eagles players and the coaching staff.
"All I'm going to say about the resignation of Youngsville's football coaches is that I'm sitting in a dorm room at The Pennsylvania State University typing this, and I got here because of a work ethic instilled in me by some of the greatest coaches, friends, and mentors that a young man could possibly ask for. Those men taught me more about life through the game of football than I could possibly learn anywhere else...
"...I promise you that I could never ask for a greater group of guys to have influenced me in the way that they did, and I've got a few others who would agree (Sawyer Dininny, Cory Craig, Sage Sivak, Dalton Maze, Jordan Gurdak). So with all that being said, I just wanna say thank you to those guys, some of them might not ever see this, but it was a great run and we had a lot of fun while it lasted. You guys have done more for me, my brothers and the community than you might ever know. Thank you."
While the program wasn't able to maintain the momentum built in 2011 (finishing 1-9 in 2012), the outgoing coaches, which also include Don Hardy and Andy Chase, remain proud of what they accomplished during their time guiding the Red and White.
"I think the qualities we were able to instill in some of those guys is what I'm most proud of," said Alex. "I've read some of those posts those guys are writing on Facebook and what they're saying means more to me than any win we ever had."
"Probably seeing the kids develop and turning into the young men that many of them have is what I will miss the most," he said. "Many of the kids came into the program and listened to the example we tried to provide and became very successful both on the field and off. We, as coaches, are going to miss seeing those kids grow like that."
Despite having left the program two full seasons ago, Tridico is also proud of the mark he and his proteges have left on the team.
"For me personally, it was incredibly gratifying to see those guys grow as both players and then coaches right in front of me," said Tridico. "It's not very often that you can take a program that's down and take them to 10-0 like these guys were able to do. They beat a lot of odds in doing so.
"All along the goal was to make better people - not worry about wins," Tridico added. "That is what this group of coaches were all about."
Some members of the outgoing staff are planning to jump right back into the game in a different setting.
Others, like Alex, are planning to take some time away from the game.
"I've devoted 18 straight years of my life to the game of football," said Alex. "For me, it's time to commit to starting something else. I've never done anything half-hearted and I'm looking forward to starting the next chapter of my life."