Long-time assistant A.J. Brown enters his first season as the Falcons head football coach in 2020. Coach Brown sat down for a quick Q&A session as he prepared for his inaugural campaign leading Saint Stephen’s:
Q) You are taking over from Tod Creneti after being a big part of an amazing run as an assistant. What sort of impact did he have on you?
A) Tod had a very positive impact on me. He always coached his coaches. He wanted to make sure everyone had a plan and he wanted to make sure everyone knew how to execute that plan. He taught me how to see the game as a whole: offense, defense, and special teams. He also taught me how to change and shape my coaching attitude toward different individuals. He told me, “You can’t coach every kid the same way; you have to find out what works for each individual and build a plan.” That was powerful to me because it made me begin exploring other avenues of coaching and reaching my players.
Q) What things have you learned over the past nine seasons as an assistant that have prepared you to lead the Falcons?
A) One thing I have learned is how to lead a team. Being an assistant coach, I was able to learn the day to day operations such as: developing practice plans, game day duties, coaching clinics, and having a role with dealing with parents, as far as emails and face-to-face contact. Under Coach Creneti, I have coached multiple positions on the field. I think coaching multiple positions has given me an overall mindset to see the big picture as a head coach should. Having veteran coaches return to the staff does make leading this team much easier for me as a first-year head coach.
Q) What sort of things will look the same about SSES football?
A) I don’t foresee any major changes to the football program this year. Our uniforms, practices, and game day operations will pretty much stay the same for now. As a team, we will continue to love one another under my leadership. We will continue the tradition of working hard, playing for one another, and representing our school and community with class and character.
Q) What will look different about SSES football under your leadership?
A) Well, one thing that will be different will be some new faces on the coaching staff. After losing some veteran coaches this past season, I have to find some new guys to take over key positions. I am fully confident that we will fill those roles with great coaches.
Q) You’ll have a young team in 2020, but with some returning leaders like DJ Clark, Matthew Konkol, etc. How important will those guys be with their experience?
A) Yes, we will be fairly young in 2020, but we actually have nine seniors returning to the team. Daniel (DJ) and Matthew will be called upon to lead this team and mentor the younger athletes. There are other seniors that will have to step up and be leaders, as well: Keaton Donnelley, Brock Gay, A.J. Hyppolite and Joel Erby. With the seniors that you mentioned, it will be very important for them to step up as leaders because of the experience that they bring to this team. After missing spring practice and a month of summer training, those guys are going to have to be like coaches on the field, teaching the younger players while learning information about their own positions, too.
Q) The coronavirus pandemic wiped out spring practice. How did that impact the preparation for your inaugural season as head coach?
A) The pandemic has been tough on everyone. Not being able to have spring practice was difficult because spring is the best time to evaluate players before summer break and the upcoming season. As a coach, it gives you a chance to try kids at new positions, to see if they can serve the team in other ways. So, yes, the pandemic did have a huge impact on certain things, but every other school in the nation was affected, as well. We were able to meet virtually as a team and staff to get some “mental” work completed. I do think that was a success and our kids really enjoyed the virtual meetings.
Q) What sort of goals/expectations do you have for the 2020 team?
A) We have always set a goal to win our division in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference (SSAC) and have an opportunity to make the playoffs, which gives us another opportunity to play for a championship.
Q) What does the new SSAC divisional alignment mean for SSES?
A) The new divisional alignment for us does mean we have to travel a lot more than we usually would. It is also a great opportunity for us to continue to get better and put in the work to go and win another division title. I think that will show people that we can play in any division and be successful.