By Richard L. Gaw
Beginning at the end of June, the long-suffering football program at Avon Grove High School will begin its first steps toward resurrection.
Harry O'Neill, who most recently served as the defensive coordinator at Unionville, was officially named to his position at an Avon Grove School District meeting on March 27. He inherits a team that went 2-19 over the past two seasons, but rather than just focus his energies on improving won-lost records, O'Neill has decided to cultivate and grow an entire program, beginning with kids who are just learning to play football.
From June 24-27, O'Neill will oversee a football camp targeted toward youngsters from the third grade through the eighth grade. Campers will receive instruction on offensive and defensive fundamentals, as well as participate in punt, pass and kick competitions. The camp will also feature combine-like agility testing, and each session will conclude with seven-on-seven passing games. Campers will get an opportunity to interact with current Avon Grove players, and learn from varsity coaches.
O'Neill brings 27 years of coaching experience with him to Avon Grove, which have also included coaching stints at St. John Neumann High School in Philadelphia and with the Avon Grove Wildcats youth football team. In many ways, the camp will allow O'Neill to spot -- and develop -- local talent as part of a "feeder" pipeline to the Avon Grove varsity squad.
"I'm trying to change the culture of the entire program overall, beginning with the youth leagues, so as to give the younger players a chance to take pride in what they will eventually be a part of," he said. "By engaging them early, their first exposure won't be when they walk into tryouts when they reach ninth grade."
It's one thing for a new coach to project innovative ideas like a youth football camp in order to give a floundering program a shot in the arm, and entirely another to get others to buy into the plan. O'Neill said that his goal of tethering together youth football in the West Grove area to the high school team is already working. He has conducted clinics with 20 Wildcat coaches, in which O'Neill "invited" them to take ownership of the entire Avon Grove football program.
"The Wildcats' coaches have been unbelievably supportive of us and what we want to do with this program," he said. "The Wildcats are the future of what we will become here."
O'Neill said he was already supervising spring practices, and has seen a commitment from his returning players.
“When you're 2-19 over two seasons, the game becomes an afterthought, and the football program becomes irrelevant,” O'Neill said soon after he was hired at Avon Grove. "In the time I've been at Avon Grove, I've already seen that the guys here are much better than what I've seen on the field. The talent level is there to be successful, and if we focus on the fundamentals of the game, we can make improvements to those win totals.”
The cost to attend the camp is $140 per camper, if paid by June 1, and $160 if paid after June 1. To obtain a registration form, contact Coach O'Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org.