Joe DeSimone knew in August that this would be his last season as Cardinal Spellman football coach. He just wasn’t sure how it would end.
As it turned out, it was the perfect ending for DeSimone as the Falcons defeated rival Cardinal Hayes – his alma mater – 8-6 at Mitchel Athletic Complex on Saturday morning to win the CHSFL Class A title.
“If you could write a script, I would say it was a perfect script for it to happen,” the 53-year-old said. “It was just an honor to me and a few of my coaches who went to Hayes, to be playing them in that situation and then to get the victory. It was a perfect script.”
DeSimone never planned on coaching football when he arrived at Spellman eight years ago, even after 15 years with the Bronx Warriors youth football organization.
He thought he’d help out the baseball program, but a year later DeSimone was the junior varsity football coach. Following an 0-8 season on the JV level, DeSimone became the varsity coach and helped lead the Falcons to the CHSFL Class A title game against St. John the Baptist.
In his seven years as varsity coach, Spellman went to the title game three times, winning a pair of championships.
With two of his five children playing college football – Joey DeSimone is a junior starter at Marist College and Lawrence DeSimone is a freshman at Catholic University – DeSimone decided before the season that this would be his final year.
“Before the season started I talked about it with my family,” DeSimone said. “Just before the first game, I committed to it and about a month ago I gave in my letter of resignation. I just needed to take a break from coaching and (the school administration) was very supportive of it.”
DeSimone also told his assistant coaches Willie Cawley and George Kern, who have been with him since the beginning, before the season.
“I don’t think they ever really believed it,” DeSimone said. “They were hoping I was just kind of talking about it. But I was committed to it.”
The only ones who didn’t know at Spellman were the players. They learned in the locker room after Saturday’s dramatic ‘A’ championship victory.
“I waited until after we got the trophy, obviously,” DeSimone said. “I told the team privately and I was very emotional. As much as you want to convince yourself it’s something you want to stop doing, the rush of winning and all that, you wonder if you’re doing the right thing. But I know I’m doing it for my family.”
In a tight game that wasn’t decided until the final whistle, Hayes jumped in front, 6-0, capitalizing on a host of Spellman mistakes. But led by Damir Redzepagic, the Falcons defense held strong.
“Earlier in the week I showed them film of our 2006 team that beat St. John the Baptist in that game,” DeSimone said. “It was a very similar defense that gave up a lot of big plays all year, but in that game our defense caught two touchdowns and kind of set the tone for the game. It seemed like it work because the defense just took control like they haven’t taken all season.”
Fittingly for DeSimone, his two leaders stepped up big and had an impact on the game. Leading rusher Devon Osei scored the tying touchdown in the third quarter after the defense recovered a fumble at the Hayes’ 8-yard line and then it was Redzepagic who scored the pivotal 2-point conversion on a broken play.
“Those two guys have kind of been our leaders and two very different leaders,” DeSimone said. “Devon is just a quiet workhorse and Damir is much more emotional. He just ran the defense all day. He was a force to be dealt with.”
When it was all over, when all the team pictures with the trophy were taken and all the players finished celebrating in the locker room, DeSimone and his staff returned to school for one last film session and watched the game all over again.
“It was like the first time I saw it,” DeSimone said. “When all of it happened out there, it was kind of a blur. But it was just incredible to watch it all over again, the intensity of our players, how hard they worked.”
With the emotion of winning the championship against his alma mater in his final game still fresh, DeSimone said the reality of his decision has yet to set in. That, he figures, will come in about two months.
“I think right after New Year’s will be when it really starts to hit me and when my wife starts telling me to paint things and all the things I promised her I’d do when I stopped coaching,” he said.
As he looks back at his successful eight years at Spellman, it’s not the wins and losses DeSimone will remember the most.
“Today we had a bunch of our alumni players on the sideline with us and that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “Some of them are still playing football and just the fact that some of them still care to come back and help us out sometimes at practice, that’s the most rewarding thing.”
“The kids still remember,” DeSimone added. “They send me e-mails all the time. I have some who are oversees in Iraq who still take time to write, send photos and ask how the team is doing. That’s’ the most rewarding thing, that you touched someone’s life and they appreciate the effort.”