The same old sheriff will lead the Watertown Red and Black into its 116th semipro football season.But this year, which begins with a 3 p.m. game Saturday at the Monroe County Sting, he’ll be surrounded by more deputies than ever before.
The Red and Black will look more like an NFL coaching staff than an Empire Football League staff this season, with 11 coaches roaming the sidelines. The nation’s oldest semipro squad ended last year with four.
George Ashcraft, also the owner and the team’s general manager, will be at the helm for his 23rd year as head coach. Returning along with him will be offensive coordinator and assistant head coach, Ammbrose Souza, defensive coordinator Jeremy Chaney, and special teams coach Christian Hughes, who also assists with the skill players on offense.
“As an administration down, we’re more organized,” Souza said. “We had the luxury of having three or four dedicated guys, and that quickly rolled over into 11 guys.”
Two weeks after the team’s loss to Syracuse in the semifinals of the EFL playoffs last year, the four got together to begin planning for 2012, and have been holding coaches meetings every Sunday since.
The staff underneath Ashcraft was shuffled halfway through last season when former offensive coordinator Jerry Levine stepped down from his position. Souza moved from the defensive coordinator to the other side of the ball, Chaney stepped in for him, and Hughes took on more offensive responsibilities.
“It was a trial by fire, and because of that, the four of us learned a lot about each other,” Souza said.
A number of former players, either because of injury or retirement, went through an interview process throughout the offseason to join the revamped staff.
Aaron Brown, a 13-year veteran lineman who made the EFL first-team all-star list last season, was hired to assist with both lines.
Dustin Demerritt had knee surgery to deal with lingering issues, and became the linebackers coach instead of one of the starters at the position.
Alan Dwyer, Wayne Dupre and Mike Winn, all former players who have been away from the team for several years, came back on board as assistants.
Ivan Geoff returned as a general assistant after leaving the staff early last season due to military obligations, and four-year wideout Nate Bryant hung up the cleats to coach the receivers.
“The fact that these men who couldn’t play this year, for whatever reason it may be, wanted to stick around and wanted to be a big part of this, that gets you right here,” said Ashcraft, pointing to his chest. “That lets you know you’re doing things right.”
The early results from the new regime have been positive. The returnees say that having specific position coaches has made a world of difference at practice, allowing them to focus more on overall game planning, rather than trying to juggle that responsibility with coaching every individual at every position on the field.
The players are also appreciative of the new program.
“I’ve been playing football since I was 7 years old, I’ve never had a coaching staff so into football, so understanding of football, and so disciplined in their approach,” veteran quarterback Brian Williams said. “To us, as players, that’s exactly what we like.”
The roster has grown in correlation with the coaches. Ashcraft said that he has distributed equipment to more than 60 players, well above the usual number.
He added that at least 45-50 players have been at every practice, dating back to early spring.
“We have the most dedicated group of football players we’ve ever had,” Souza said. “The work is being put in by them as well, and that’s great. Nobody gets paid to be out here, and when we get that dedication from our players, it makes us want to work harder and do more for them.”