Paul Mastronardi was well aware of the myriad of hurdles that awaited him after accepting the Nassau Community College football head-coaching position earlier this year.
If making the transition from athletic director at Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School wasn’t difficult enough, Mastronardi’s calendar flashed the harsh reality that it was already May, miles into the journey of offseason preparation.
Making matters worse, Mastronardi claims he’s “lost at least 25 players” after coming on board.
“Right now, we’re playing a very hard schedule with really a freshman team,” Mastronardi said during practice earlier this week.
But Mastronardi — who had eight years of assistant coaching experience at his alma mater Stony Brook, St. John’s and Villanova before resigning after nine months at McGann-Mercy — desired to accept this challenge, and the North Fork, Long Island, native wanted some local products along for the ride.
“One of the major philosophical changes is we feel we have a lot of good football players here on Long Island and they’d gotten most of their talent out of state, and we really want to make an emphasis on recruiting in Nassau, Suffolk, the five boroughs, Westchester, New Jersey and Connecticut,” Mastronardi said.
After having “a total of 17 Long Island kids on the roster” last year, Mastronardi believes he has “over 40” entering this season.
So, naturally, Mastronardi began his incorporation of homegrown talent at quarterback. James Kelleher, a true freshman from MacArthur High School, was named the starter entering the Aug. 27 opener against Erie — a 20-6 loss.
Kelleher struggled in his NJCAA debut, completing just 4 of 20 passes for 13 yards. He also lost one of two fumbles and threw an interception.
Kelleher attributes his team’s overall rough beginning to a “lack of experience” but that they definitely “want to win out” now.
NCC will take on Ohio’s Hocking College in its next test Saturday.
On the other side of the ball, Mastronardi exudes unlimited confidence, especially in outside linebacker and defensive captain Kush Curry.
“I believe he’s a Division I talent,” Mastronardi said of Curry.
Curry, who played sparingly last season, hails from Mount St. Michael Academy in the Bronx. Curry makes it quite clear that he doesn’t take his role as captain lightly.
“Just being a leader on and off the field,” Curry said, “making sure I set the tone and that I’m doing the right things because at the end of the day, I know that not only are my teammates looking at me, but also the outside world, whether it be fans, students, professors.”
Mastronardi raves about Curry’s leadership skills, and hopes to build a team that emphasizes other important values from back in his early days.
“We’re trying to build a brotherhood,” Mastronardi said. “I was a career New York City firefighter, so we’re trying to create a brotherhood here. I think that’s really important. I think if we do that, we’ll be all right where we are.”