As a 24-year-old Major League Lacrosse player for the Lizards, Steve DeNapoli seemed like the prototypical dream coach for a high school player: young, cool, knowledgeable, relatable and probably easygoing.
Then came the Holy Trinity boys lacrosse team's first day of practice.
"It was kind of an eye opener for them," the first-year coach said. "I told the guys, 'I hope all of you are getting your schoolwork done because I'm going to your guidance counselors and collecting your progress reports.' Their facial expressions just dropped."
Senior defender Doug Carman, when asked about that initial meeting, still seems a bit shocked.
"He's been on everyone's back about stuff like that," Carman said. "It could definitely get annoying, but it's annoying in a good way because it's for everyone's benefit."
By instilling values, like education and discipline, and relaying to his players what has made him successful as a player first at Hewlett High School and then at Hofstra before becoming a quality pro, DeNapoli wants to change the culture at Holy Trinity.
There are obstacles. At the intersection of good attitude, not-so-good results, the Titans carry on in the CHSAA. DeNapoli inherited a team that was 3-15 last season. Holy Trinity has won two of its last three, but is 2-10 in 2014.
The team is only three years removed from a 15-6 record, though, and DeNapoli trusts his commitment to holding players accountable off the field eventually will correlate to wins on the field.
"It may not happen overnight, but we believe that with the system we put in place, things will be better," DeNapoli said. "We're going to keep moving forward with what we have now and hopefully soon, parents and youngsters will see what's trying to go on here, see what we're trying to do and want to be a part of it.
"If they want to come to Holy Trinity to play lacrosse, they'll know they're not just coming to play lacrosse and get out of here. You have to go to school. You have to do things in the community. And you have to be disciplined and respectful."
DeNapoli, who never coached previously, said he saw overseeing the program as an opportunity and a challenge. With training camp and practices for the Lizards already underway, the challenge becomes somewhat two-fold. He said there have not been scheduling conflicts yet. If one were to arise, he added, he would be wearing the Titans' green, which is acceptable to the Lizards.
"Holy Trinity would come first," DeNapoli said. "I made a commitment to both, but I made a big commitment to the kids and I couldn't let them down by missing a practice or missing a game. I promised them I'd have their backs no matter what."
For Carman, he couldn't have dreamed for a better coach.
"I wish I was a freshman, actually, playing for four more years here," Carman said. "I'm cherishing every moment with this coaching staff. I feel like I've improved in every part of the game, in being smarter, more athletic. I've been shown a way to play lacrosse at a higher level."