Jersey Shore: From 0-10 to District Champions
A struggling east coast team learns how to win
by Kim Goss, MS
“Stay humble, stay hungry” is the usual advice Coach Tom Gravish gives to his football team from Jersey Shore High. The first part was easy two years ago when his team lost every single game in the season. Now, after winning the district championships last season, they will have to double their focus on staying hungry.
Jersey Shore High is a Class AAA school in North Central Pennsylvania. In 2012 the team was 0-10, and the season could not have been considered a rebuilding year, as the Bulldogs had only won a total of five games in the past five years and had not won a district title since 1997. However, Gravish believed his team had a shot at the district title because his team had many athletes returning from the previous team, possessed a good worth ethic, and were motivated by the fact that no one. except for the Bulldog coaching staff. Unfortunately, the season started off with some bad luck.
First, due to construction the team had to practice on the baseball field or in the gym when the weather got bad, and these restrictions prevented them from using much of the larger equipment, such as football sleds. Then, on the second game of the year, starting quarterback Jordan Tawney broke a finger and could not throw; he played with a cast on his hand and ran the ball and also played defense. Eight games into the season the team had only won two games, but things got better. Much better.
Despite having to play on the road against the top three seeded teams, including a team that had scored 63 points on them the previous year, the Bulldogs won the next four games in a row. What’s more, their 6-6 record earned them a shot at the district title against the Seals of Selinsgrove High. The Seals had a psychological edge, as the Bulldogs had beat them only twice in the past three decades. That edge ended quickly in the first quarter when Tawney ran 64 yards into the end zone for the first score of the game. Their confidence wavered in the third quarter when the Seals came back to lead 16-14, but the victory was sealed with four minutes left in the fourth quarter when Bulldogs’ quarterback Logan English hit Troy Rowan on a 13-yard pass to end the scoring at 20-16.
In the playoff for the state championships the Bulldogs faced the Bison of Clearfield, who were undefeated and had averaged 334 yards per game rushing. Clearfield won that game, 27-8, but the score doesn’t truly reflect how close the game actually was – three times the Bulldogs were in the red zone, once fumbling on the 1-yard line. What’s more, Jersey Shore established themselves as a gridiron force to be respected.
“The turnaround in individual, team, and community support has come quickly and is unmatched for a program that hasn’t been good for so long, with so many circumstances working against us,” says defensive coordinator Alex Jackson. Jackson added that the theme going into this season was “Dog Soldiers: Stand Beside or Step Aside.”
For Jackson, this season was especially satisfying because from 1995-2001 he had been an assistant coach at Jersey Shore under coach Dick Delaney. Later, he coached for several years at nearby Lock Haven University, in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, and then joined up with Coach Delaney again, this time at Loyalsock High School in Loyalsock, Pennsylvania. Jackson became head coach in 2008. He stayed with Loyalsock until 2011, and the school was featured in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue of BFS.
Jackson became a believer in the BFS program, and when he took over the strength and conditioning program at Loyalsock, the team went from 3-7 to 6-4 and then a playoff berth, a level the team had not attained since 2001. As head coach, Jackson continued the winning tradition by capturing a district championship and eastern conference championship. With such success, when he returned to Jersey Shore and took over the strength and conditioning program, Jackson’s first order of business was getting back on track with BFS.
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Coach Gravish, who was also on board with BFS, says that one aspect of the program that he particularly likes is that it instills accountability among the players and helps them set performance goals every time they step foot in the weightroom. Jackson especially likes the BFS focus on striving to set personal records with every workout, as well as the fact that BFS is not a “football specific” workout but one that works for all types of athletes.
Gravish also supports the concept of a unified program and encourages his players to compete in multiple sports to become well-rounded athletes. It’s a sound philosophy, as during the 2013-2014 season the Jersey Shore boys won several district championships; they also made the state playoffs in football, wrestling and baseball, and got into the state playoffs for basketball for the first time in five years.
Jackson says the Bulldogs’ remarkable achievements this season have earned them respect from the student body and the football district. The Bulldogs have turned around their program, and we can expect even more from them in the coming years because, yes, they are still hungry.