Dan Wendel always wanted to be a head football coach at Monmouth Regional High School, his alma mater.
Now, after more than a decade of teaching and assistant coaching at the Tinton Falls school, the 35-year-old Wendel has his dream job.
He landed the head football coach job at Monmouth Regional in the offseason. But the reward for hard work is more hard work, and Wendel faces a major challenge in his first season.
The Falcons have had one winning season in the last decade, and they only return six seniors from last year’s team. Monmouth Regional will open 2019 as a mostly blank slate.
Wendel’s first regular season will officially kick off on Sept. 4 at Holmdel High School.
“This is something I’ve always wanted if I had the opportunity,” Wendel said. “And I felt I had gained enough experience and wanted to test it.”
Wendel has two seniors, wide receiver/safety John DeMarzo and wide receiver/linebacker Aidan Convery, who played in all 10 varsity games last fall. Both bought into Wendel’s new program over the offseason, and now they are helping him establish a culture.
Both players have shown up early and worked hard in the weight room, and their teammates have followed suit. They did the same thing when the Falcons started practicing.
“They bought in fast to what we’re trying to do,” Wendel said. “And now they are showing people what the expectation is moving forward.”
DeMarzo and Convery bought in because they knew Wendel already, and trusted him. The new coach served as an assistant in the program when they were freshmen in 2016. He has also been a health and physical education teacher at the school for over a decade, so the seniors knew him from gym class, too.
“I’ve had a relationship with them and they’ve seen me coach,” Wendel said.
But the new coach didn’t just depend on his reputation in the building. He was also proactive. After Wendel was hired in March, he set up meetings with every individual player and with every class, from the freshmen up through the seniors. The coach wanted to establish the same expectations that DeMarzo and Convery are now following.
It must have worked, too, because the Falcons had over 50 players at every summer workout and should have over 60 when the season opens in September. Both are increases from last year.
“The kids responded well and picked things up,” Wendel said. “Now we’re just trying to get our base stuff in.”
Wendel is trying to build a fluid team, one that can shift sets from series to series. His offense will use both option and spread principles, and his defense will use multiple looks, meaning four down linemen and interchangeable linebackers and defensive backs behind them.
“In this day and age with different types of teams, it’s hard to pigeon hole your team into one thing,” the coach said. “You have to adjust to get kids into better situations.”
The Falcons have no idea what any of this will look like in games. Wendel is still building lines from a group of 14 unproven players.
But the team is showing up every day and working hard, and that’s a start.
“Take care of the day to day and everything else will take care of itself,” Wendel said.