by Tom Pedulla –
The slogan on the backs of the practice jerseys worn by Dobbs Ferry High School football players says everything about the hopes, expectations and pressure that annually surround the program.
It also says everything about the stiff challenge Joe Cox faces in succeeding Jim Moran, who enjoyed a distinguished eight-year tenure that included a state championship his first year. Moran resigned to spend more time with his family.
Moran developed the “We Reload” theme a couple of seasons ago, wanting to create a mindset that the Eagles could withstand the loss of a large number of players to graduation and pretty much whatever other adversity came their way.
“We Reload” is certainly applicable now. The defending Section 1 Class C champions graduated 13 seniors but are not expected to miss a beat under Cox, one of Moran’s trusted assistants for the last seven years.
“It’s definitely a job that comes with some expectations, a bit of pressure, and I think that’s great,” Cox said. “It’s exactly where I want to be.”
It is exactly where his players want to be as well.
Senior running back and free safety Thomas Ritch said of playing for Dobbs Ferry, “You’ve got the whole town looking up to you. We’ve got all these kids looking up to us. Everybody knows Dobbs Ferry football. We’re always a winning team.”
It helps that Cox enjoyed an auspicious debut. The Eagles asserted themselves on both sides of the ball in blanking Woodlands 26-0. It helps, too, that Cox played center at the school before graduating in 2002. He earned his undergraduate degree at Manhattan College and a master’s degree in physical education at Manhattanville.
Cox served as defensive coordinator the last five years. He treasures the time he spent with Moran, who never experienced a losing season.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be at the right place, right time,” he said. “I was fortunate to join Coach Moran’s staff back in 2012. I didn’t know too much back then. I learned quite a bit from him and the guys who coached with us over the years.”
Cox noted Moran’s attention to detail and his ability to develop strong working relationships with players. “A lot of things I thought were important as an assistant coach I still think are important, the culture I saw him build and the environment he created here,” the new coach said.
Jack Fessler, a senior fullback and linebacker, believes the transition has been fairly seamless. “They are very similar people,” he said. “They play by the rules and they get the job done and they make sure the kids are getting the job done.”
Imposing senior tackle Thomas Palicz said players understand all that Cox’s new role entails. “Now that he’s head coach, he’s got to be more strict,” Palicz said. “And if we’re not doing the things we need to get done, he’s kind of got to be the bad guy. He can’t be your friend all the time.”
Cox is grateful for the outpouring of community support the program enjoys.
“We all realize it’s a special place to play football and a special program to be a part of. There are a lot of wonderful traditions,” he said. “I know it’s probably not like this everywhere, so I’m a little spoiled to be able to coach at Dobbs Ferry.”
The Eagles believe they have indeed reloaded.
“We have the same expectations every year to go to the state championship,” Ritch said. “I don’t see why we can’t do it this year just like last year.”