New Coach Brings Winning Attitude to Sleepy Hollow Football Program
By Tom Pedulla–
Sleepy Hollow’s varsity football players are hailing the arrival of new coach Jerry Flora while laying some blame on the previous coaching regime for its role in a series of dismal seasons.
Flora, 50, who has extensive college coaching experience, was hired following Jorge Veintimilla’s resignation. Veintimilla had been promoted from defensive coordinator in February, 2017 after what was described as a comprehensive search.
Senior captains Michael Scaglione and Aren Arduino believe the prior coaching staff fell short in critical areas, leading to a breakdown in the relationship between coaches and players.
“The respect for coaches was not there before and the preparation before games was not there as it is this year,” said Scaglione, a member of the football program since he was a freshman.
Arduino, who will lead the offense at quarterback, echoed Scaglione’s comment.
“There was a lack of respect for the coaching staff, especially the last two years, and that did come from in-game decisions, from practices, from the treatment of players occasionally,” Arduino said. “It kind of spiraled out of control more and more as time went on.”
Arduino described members of the previous coaching staff as “great people outside of football and that is what does matter most.” But he also said, “There wasn’t a winning culture in place.”
The team kicks off its season at Pelham on Sept. 10 at 7 p.m.
Flora, a Long Island native, played offensive tackle at Iona and later worked as an assistant coach at his alma mater. He served as head coach at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., from 2008-2017. His teams qualified for bowl games in three of his first five years.
“What we bring to the table is a college-like atmosphere,” he said. “Everything we do in the program is what I would have done in college — how we practice, how we meet, how we evaluate film, how we lift, how we travel.”
Sleepy Hollow players, who have never enjoyed a winning season, are relishing the change.
“We’re being treated as students of the game as opposed to players of the game. I think that’s making a very big difference in terms of attitude,” Arduino said. “The coaches are bringing this level of intensity every day that you just can’t help but hop on the bandwagon.”
Coaches grade practice film every night. According to Scaglione, it is not uncommon for Flora to work past midnight. “The way he carries himself and his passion for football makes me want to love football more than I already do,” Scaglione said. “He truly loves this game, and he brings that every day.”
It helps, too, that Flora has been involved with downtrodden programs before. “I know how to rebuild,” he said. “I know what it takes. I know what you have to do. You have to focus on three major areas. You’ve got to focus on strength and conditioning, you’ve got to focus on academics, and you’ve got to focus on retention.”
Flora noted the importance of retaining players from the modified level to the junior varsity, something that has been an issue in the past. He also noted the need to convince some of the most talented local athletes that it is not necessary for them to enroll in private schools to best develop their talents.
Flora said he advised Athletic Director Michael Arias and other administrators that he views the program as a three- to five-year project. He praised Arias for his unfailing support, down to such details as the installation of an end-zone camera that will help to evaluate film, making it easier for mistakes to be identified and corrected.
There is great hope that, over time, Flora can reverse the fortunes of a long-suffering program. “Coach brings with him a wealth of experience and knowledge from his many years as a college football coach. Coach separated himself from a group of talented candidates and we feel he is the perfect fit for our program and our community,” Arias said. “We look forward to big things to come for our football program.”
Flora was brought on as a volunteer coach when the team went 2-4 last season despite having seniors at key positions. That group was led by quarterback Ben Good, who graduated as the school’s all-time passing leader but was never part of a contender.