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Lacey Township High School football coach Lou Vircillo has become one of the most successful head football coaches in the history of the Shore Conference.

He'll be able to add to his legacy in 2020 as he closes in on 300 career wins in his 40th season coaching the Lions.

It all began in 1969 when Lou Vircillo played and later graduated from Tarkio College in Missouri where he would then work as an assistant for the program.

From 1972 until 1974 Vircillo was an assistant football coach at Red Bank Catholic.

A season later he became the Offensive Coordinator for a Red Bank Regional team who won the Central Jersey Group II Championship.

Following that season, Vircillo was named the head coach, a post he remained in through the 1980 season.

Then came something new as Vircillo was hired as the first head football coach at Lacey High School with the backing of the school and the community.

"In 1981, we sat together with the Board of Education and administration and we talked about this dream of building a school system and football was very important to them and I could see that and for that very reason I decided to leave Red Bank as a head coach and take something that was brand new and try to develop it," Vircillo tells the Shore Sports Network. "There wasn't very much coming here. We had part of the athletes from Central, we didn't have starters from Central, but we had a varsity program right away. That was a challenge but we were able to do it. We were able to develop the kids and develop the traditions and build upon it. I'm pretty proud of the fact that the school system allowed us to do it, the administration, the Board of Ed and various people had enough enthusiasm behind their athletic programs."

Coach Vircillo saw success right away as the Lacey Lions won their first of 13 Conference Titles in 1982.

They did so again in 1988 and 89 where they went on to win the programs first two State Sectional Championships and won 21 of 22 consecutive games along the way.

Lacey came close to winning state titles again in 1992 and 1993 but fell short in the Championship games.

Coach Vircillo led the Lions to the teams 3rd and 4th State Sectional Titles in 2006 and 2010.

"We had a great deal of talent and depth (on those teams) and the chemistry is always a very important thing in high school football and every level of football, chemistry is probably the most important thing," Vircillo said. "From chemistry you develop very fine leaders and from that you waste very little time and you're always improving. I would say the consistency of play helped (on those teams) because of the amount of kids that go after it correctly and don't waste any time."

Whether it's an offseason following a championship or a season that ends in disappointing fashion, the way Coach Vircillo prepares for the next season has never changed.

Take it a day at a time, improve yourself and help the team improve with less focus on who you're playing and when.

Lacey players not only learn what it takes to be a better teammate and football player but Coach Vircillo instills in them important life lessons.

"We ask them to be better family people, number one, is being good at home and good to your parents and it kind of starts there," Vircillo said. "We also ask them to be very good in the classroom and be a good citizen in the classroom and do everything they're responsible for and do it diligently. If they do that, that usually carries over to a football field and we find that our best players are those young men that do things right at home and do things right in the classroom."

Some of those players, including Chris DiMiccio (2006), Sean McAndrew (2006), Warren Smith (2007) and Mike Stuppiello (2008) currently, have come back to Lacey over the years to coach and teach the current generation of Lions.

It means a great deal to Coach Vircillo.

"I've always wanted to be able to see the boys come back if they were going to get into education or coaching and kind of take over the program and we're getting to the point where we have quite a few of the players coming back and coaching nowadays," Vircillo said. "In the beginning, the first half of the 40-years, not too many kids went into coaching but in the ladder half we have a few. It's been fun."

Lacey has had many athletes play for Coach Vircillo over the last 40-years who have gone onto to play in college and even at the professional level.

"In thinking about them, there was some stellar athletes that we had here who went on to play in college and one went onto play in the NFL (Keith Elias) and one in the Arena League (Warren Smith) and about three others that made football pro-camps...those are pretty lofty accomplishments," Vircillo said. "Most of our kids, if they play collegiate football, they're like Division III football players but we've had a good share of Division II and some Division 1-AA players as well."

1990 graduate Keith Elias is the Lacey Lion who went on to play in the NFL.

He was an All-American Running Back in high school under Coach Vircillo and again at Princeton University.

Elias signed with the New York Giants as an un-drafted free agent ahead of the 1994 season where he played for three years before heading to Indianapolis in 1998 to play with the Colts for two seasons and then to the XFL in 2001 where he played for the New York/New Jersey Hitmen.

His relationship with Coach Vircillo began while he was playing Pop Warner.

"He pulled down his eye lid, he would always do this thing, and I said 'what is that?' and he said he has the eye for potential and he said that potential is both a good and a bad word because potential has no real value, it's what you do with potential that creates the value," Elias tells the Shore Sports Network.

The potential that Coach Vircillo saw in the young Keith Elias led to a successful high school career on the field which led to college football and playing in the NFL.

"He taught me how to workout and gave me my first workout plan and he taught me how to run the football," Elias said. "When everybody was saying run to daylight, he would say 'don't run to daylight, daylight is going to close real fast on those upper levels. You run to your downfield help, you find that wide receiver, you find that guard and get to his back'...and that changed how I ran the ball. That made 4-yard runs become 40 and 80-yard runs."

Coach Vircillo has also had a life changing impact over the years on who his players became off the field.

"He taught me how to care about other people, he coached me how to do interviews, he coached me on how to take care of my teammates, he coached me on what it was like to treat a woman the right way and next to my father he had the most profound impact on me becoming the man that I am today," Elias said. "He was also the first person that introduced me to the idea that there was a God who absolutely and personally loved me and cared about me. I'm not unique, every guy you talk to who has come through these halls has had that Coach V conversation about their future, who they are as a man, about their character, about their integrity and that's what being a leader and a (Lacey) Lion is all about."

Over the years the Lacey Lions have many successful teams and Elias explains it's because players continue to buy in to Coach Vircillo's program built on a core value of beliefs of playing football the right way.

"Work hard, loyalty, you have my back I have yours, sacrificing your own personal wants and desires for the greater good of the team...that's how you build a football team," Elias said. "Then when you put onto that blocking and tackling, you can run any system. I don't say that to diminish that part of his (Vircillo's) genius because I have been at games where at halftime and Lacey may be losing by a touchdown or maybe up by three points...and at halftime I'd look to my brothers and say 'this thing is over' and my brothers would say 'what are you talking about? we know that he is coming out in that second half with innovation that's going to knock the other team on their butt'. He has a way of adapting the plan and making moves on the run that gives his team an amazing advantage but that only works because they believe in the fundamentals, they believe in the core, they believe in the principles of integrity and character and all of that carries them forth to be so successful."

In his more than four decades of being a head coach, Lou Vircillo has totaled 294 wins and is closing in on a milestone number heading into the 2020 season trailing the legendary Warren Wolf, who had 364 victories across 51-seasons at Brick and one season at Lakewood, for the most wins in the Shore Conference.

For Coach Vircillo, 300 wins is just a number, what matters more to him is all the teams he's coached over the years and the time they spend together on the field.

"People on the outside talk about this a lot more than I do," Vircillo said. "To be quite honest, I just cherish the fact that we can come out here and practice."

There have been several honors presented to Coach Vircillo over the years including in 2012 when he was inducted into the Shore Football Coaches Foundation Hall of Fame and in 2018 when he received the New Jersey Football Coaches Association's Ray McCrann Lifetime Achievement Award.

When the hall of famer became a football coach more than 40-years ago, his focus was on his current situation at Red Bank Catholic, then Red Bank Regional and then Lacey with no end in sight.

"Every place I've been, I've thought I'd be there forever so I really never thought about how long I wanted to coach or any of that, I just go to work everyday and coach kids," Vircillo said.

So how long does Coach Vircillo want to keep coaching?

"That's like asking me how long I want to live," Vircillo said. "I personally do not think about that at all. Does it ever enter my mind? Sure, you have flashes and moments of 'this is it' or that kind of thing but for me it's only been flashes of that. I really enjoy getting up and going to a field and working with kids."

Coach Vircillo still enjoys driving to practice, heading to games and being there with his team on the sidelines instructing them on how to get better and making the tough calls with the game on the line.

"Those moments have been precious to me like I would believe any moment in anyone else's life and I've been happy to be able to work with athletes and see them do well in life," Vircillo said. "As most coaches do, we want to see the young men that we teach and coach do well in life and make the right choices. I've been blessed to be able to coach and if God willing it's meant to be that I continue, than I continue, and if not, then I don't, so it's day to day."

One of his proudest accomplishments overseeing the program at Lacey has been the Lacey Football Foundation which began 24-years ago and has raised nearly $250,000 for the weight room, uniforms, the scoreboard, press box, lights and more over the years.

You can follow Vin Ebenau on Twitter and Instagram and email at vin.ebenau@townsquaremedia.com.

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