New Catholic League coaches energize their teams on first day of football practice

Allen Park Cabrini head coach Bryan Obrycki demonstrates the proper stance to a young lineman. Obrycki, who coached the Monarch football team for 15 seasons, returns to the school after a nine-year break. (Photos by Wright Wilson | Special to Detroit Catholic)

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — “I’m excited; I love football,” Ben Jones said. “It’s been too long since I’ve been out here. I’m excited, the staff’s excited, and we’re ready to get rolling.”

Jones is the new head coach at Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood, and he wrapped up the team’s first official session Monday morning by having each of his assistant coaches say a word or two about how they love the game.

It wasn’t a total love-fest, though: the Cranes still had to conclude their physical activity by running 40-yard sprints — something for which few players openly profess their admiration. Despite that, it was a productive morning in Jones’ eyes.

“We got out, went over the new offense this morning, focused on the fundamentals of blocking — football starts with blocking — just getting our assignments down, getting down where we need to be and what we need to do at a high level, with a lot of effort and energy,” he said. “Based on what we saw here today, I was very pleased with our kids’ effort.”

Teams across the state officially opened their practice season Monday (Aug. 12). While early sessions are drill-focused, the athletes can “armor up” in full pads later in the week, focus on a controlled scrimmage on Aug. 22, and play their first game on Aug. 28-29.

While this is Jones’ first head coaching assignment, he brings plenty of experience, having played at Muskegon Catholic Central (on a state champion team) and at Hillsdale College. A financial adviser working nearby in Bloomfield Township, he was hired by former coach Joe D’Angelo in 2016 and aims to continue a lot of the hallmarks that D’Angelo brought to the program before retiring.

“Joe installed a winning culture with dedication to football, just as he’s done everywhere,” Jones said. “The expectations of football at Cranbrook were the same, so I’m just the next guy coming in to fill that role. We are all in the same system, and we’ve all worked under Joe and we all work together. I’m excited for the challenge, and excited to run this program.”

Jones said his experience at Muskegon Catholic — one of the state’s most storied programs — developed many values he hopes to instill in his players.

“There’s hard work, dedication, kindness, teamwork, humbleness, togetherness, and just (a desire) to do everything the right way,” he said. “There’s a certain discipline that’s required. I think it’s no secret that the Catholic values require discipline, and that’s extended beyond the football field into our daily lives. If you make it the fabric of who you are as a person, there’s really no nuance or extra thing you have to do.”

Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood new head coach Ben Jones blows the whistle, signaling his players to start running a 40-yard dash. Jones, the Cranes’ former line coach, takes the top job this fall.

Meanwhile, across town in Allen Park, Cabrini head coach Bryan Obrycki described Monday’s first practice as “sort of a homecoming.” Obrycki, who attended the school in the late 1970s, was later the head coach there from 1996-2010 (with 66 wins, 86 losses). After that, he moved to nearby Taylor Kennedy (which merged last year with Taylor Truman to form Taylor High).

Out of coaching on a formal basis since 2012, Obrycki was more than ready to get back into it.

“It’s very exciting. It’s like a rebirth,” he said. “You’ve got the fire going, that excitement. I feel a little bit younger — although mentally and physically it may not look like it.”

Like Jones, Obrycki was animated, direct and intense while directing his players through drills Monday.  

“It was a faster-paced practice,” he explained. “I try to do 10-15 minutes at different things and throw a lot at them. We did a two-minute offense, seven-on-seven, ran some offensive plays, some passing plays, so they get a little bit of everything in 10 minutes and you keep them moving. Everything we do is fast-paced. When we go to our next station we run there. It’s a combination of getting your plays in and getting a workout in.

“The thing that you want to see is kids excited — I think they are — and the other thing is you want to see them working hard, and they’re working hard,” Obrycki said.

The Monarchs had been on an upswing recently, even winning a playoff game last season under former coach Ken Briere, so that’s why Obrycki was surprised last winter when a couple of parents and alumni informed him the job was open and he should consider applying for it.

“Going back for your second time, sometimes it’s hard. I went to talk to the athletic director, and Steve Dolunt said, ‘Yeah, put your app in.’ Then I got the job,” Obrycki said. “When it came open, I just followed my heart. I didn’t want to overstep my boundaries. The people here at Cabrini might have wanted to go in a new direction, so I just put in for it, and they hired me.”

On the field, Obrycki hopes the Monarchs can “build on what we accomplished last year” and possibly challenge for a Catholic League championship, but he also has goals beyond the gridiron.

“It’s not just football — you want to make them the whole young man,” he said. “You want them to be good in school. You want them to be good academically, but also when they leave school, you want them to be good in the community. Be that young kid that has those values and morals, the common Christian values that we teach and do here. Be good young men.

“My staff is mostly alumni. Look how we all turned out — we went to school here 15-20 years ago, and all of our values and lessons that we’ve learned were taught to us here at Cabrini. We want to instill that on them, too.”

The Catholic League’s other new head coach is Matt Giarmo at Father Gabriel Richard in Ann Arbor.

This is his first time leading a program, but he’s surrounded himself with quality coaches before getting to this point. For the past two years, he’s been on the staff at Downriver League champion Gibraltar Carlson, coached by his uncle, Jack Giarmo, who also led Monroe St. Mary-Catholic Central to a state championship in 2014.

That was the year Matt Giarmo first started coaching, as an assistant under John Shillito at Zeeland West. That team also won a state championship the following year.

“My dad (Gasper) was a head coach when I was a kid, at Byron Center and at Dundee High School,” Giarmo said. “He’s taught me pretty much everything about the game of football, I’ve just added from those other coaches as well. I’ve been around great people, people who support me and give me great advice. I have a lot of good resources that I can pick from.”

With that in mind, Giarmo said he’ll bring a new wrinkle to the Fighting Irish offense this fall.  

“We need to pick up our intensity on the offensive side of the ball,” he said. “We run a Power-T offense, and using our deception in the offensive system is going to be huge, especially when we play teams that have better athletes than us. We don’t have the biggest kids, but we’re going to make up for that with our intensity and our attitude and our effort.”

Under head coach Matt Lewis (now at University of Detroit-Jesuit), the Fighting Irish reached the playoffs in 2017 with a 7-2 record. However, that mark was reversed last season.

“Unfortunately we took a step back last year, so we’re hoping to build it back up,” Giarmo said. “A lot of the kids that are in the program right now played for coach Lewis. He laid a really good foundation for the lower levels and the kids coming up. Deacon (Dave) Lawrence filled in last year and did what he could and helped out the school. He’s on my staff coaching special teams; he’s a great guy, a great person. We’re in a good position where we have guys who have been around.”

Giarmo was hired in April — by his admission, late in the game — but like Cranbrook’s Jones and Cabrini’s Obrycki, he was looking forward to the season finally getting under way.

“I’m just excited,” he said. “It’s been a good summer so far, and like any coach, you just want to get everything going. You want practice to start, and that’s what makes us who we are.”