2016 Shore Sports Network Football Coach of the Year: Wall’s Dan Curcione
The first two years of Dan Curcione’s head-coaching tenure at Wall didn’t exactly go as planned, but all along he knew this season’s group of seniors had the goods to return the program to glory.
After going 3-7 in 2014 and 4-6 last season, Wall returned to the promised land this fall by going 10-2 and claiming the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III title, the program’s first state championships since 2002. For his guidance in leading Wall to its first state championship in 14 years, Curcione is our selection for the 2016 Shore Sports Network Football Coach of the Year.
“It was three-years in the making with this group,” Curcione told Shore Sports Network’s Matt Manley following Wall’s 20-7 win over Delsea in the sectional final. “We knew we had a good group and it was a senior-heavy group, which makes it pretty damn emotional. You’re around the guys this long and that much, you care about them.”
After several years as the defensive coordinator at Toms River North, Curcione took over at Wall following the 2013 season where the Crimson Knights went 3-7. The 2015 season figured to be the year when Wall got back to its winning ways, but when starting quarterback Steve Cluley went down with an injury in the first game and missed nearly the entire season, it threw a wrench into the Knights’ plans. At the same time, the adversity set the stage for a dynamite 2016 season.
With a senior-laden roster built around a power running game and a stingy defense, Wall started 5-0 and surged into the Shore Sports Network Top 10 after beginning the season unranked. The Crimson Knights took down Ocean in Week 1, 35-14, flattened Central, 41-6, in Week 2 and held off returning sectional champion Raritan, 29-21, in Week 3. After a 27-7 win over Long Branch, Wall won a thriller over Red Bank Catholic, 27-21, in a battle of ranked teams in Class B North.
The season didn’t come without its hiccups, however, but it was how Wall responded that set the tone for a run to a state title. Star running back Sean Larkin was hurt early in the Week 6 game against sectional finalist Middletown North, and the Knights were also without their starting kicker. They suffered their first loss that night, 21-20, but bounced back the following week with a 35-14 win over Matawan to improve to 6-1.
After a bye they got Larkin back for a showdown with Middletown South, but the Eagles got the better of the Knights with a 22-3 victory. The practice that followed let Curcione know his team was ready to make a run to the South Jersey Group III title.
“They were intense and there was almost a few fights that day,” Curcione said. “The practiced basically turned into a game scrimmage. We didn’t have to say anything to them, and that’s when we knew they were ready.”
Wall blanked Camden in the first round of the playoffs, 35-0, before taking down Hamilton, 49-21, to reach the championship game. The Crimson Knights’ hot play continued with a dominant 21-3 win over Manasquan on Thanksgiving. Manasquan also finished 10-2 and went on to win the Central Jersey Group II championship.
The final hurdle to climb was Delsea, one of the top programs all-time in South Jersey which entered the state final as the four-time defending champion and with 13 sectional championships in its illustrious history. Wall dominated from start to finish with Larkin running for 171 yards and two touchdowns behind a powerful offensive line and the defense holding Delsea to 184 yards of offense.
“It’s an unbelievably great community,” Curcione said. “To see (the alumni) come out and support the team means the world to us. In 14 years, it just proves how hard this is. (Delsea) won it four years in a row and that’s not the norm. It’s the exception to the rule and that makes this very special.”
Larkin ran for 792 yards and 13 touchdowns in Wall’s final four games, including 621 yards and 10 touchdowns in the playoffs. Not to be outdone, Wall’s defense, which Curcione coaches and calls the plays for, allowed just 7.8 points per game over the final four games.
Larkin finished the season with 1,506 yards rushing and a program-record 25 touchdowns. Wall had a top 10 offense and defense in the Shore this season, ranking No. 7 in scoring at 28.6 points per game while yielding just 13.1 points per game to finish No. 5.
Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.