By MIKE SMITH
Following a 7-3 season this fall, Monroe College football coach Terry Karg was named North East Football Conference Coach of the Year, a testament to both the on-field play of his Mustangs as well as the tremendous job he has done since launching the program last summer.
Though the team struggled to compete in its first year, going 2-6, Karg said the seeds for this season’s success were planted with that inaugural class of freshmen.
“We took our lumps our first year, but we made the decision that we were going to play as a young team,” said Karg. “With that group of guys, we were trying to create a culture that we wanted to have here with our football program.”
Karg said that he began to see that culture take shape in the off-season, with leaders like Sumir Burns, Leo Meyers and Kourtney Leftridge beginning to set the tone with their dedication to the sport. By the time the new Mustang recruits arrived over the summer, that culture, which Karg had been hoping to see, was finally in place.
“The biggest difference between this year and the first year is that in the first year, we didn’t have those guys to lead the way, we had them this year,” Karg said. “When the new players come in now, they’re not just hearing it from the coaches, they’re hearing it from the veterans too.”
That veteran leadership came in handy this year after the Mustangs found themselves mired in a three-game losing streak in early October. Taking on a solid Louisburg College with the season hanging in the balance, the Mustangs responded, coming from behind to beat Louisberg–which was 5-0 coming into the game–21-17. Monroe would not lose a game the rest of the year, rattling off five straight wins.
“That game was the turning point,” Karg said. “You have to play 60 minutes of football and we hadn’t been doing that, but the way we competed in that game was the difference.”
With a winning season and number of players moving on to play for Division I and II schools next year, Karg said Monroe’s stock could be rising among local recruits, something that will only help the fledgling NJCAA program as it continues to grow.
“I think those things helped put us on the map,” Karg said. “I think it made us contenders for recruiting.”
As for the award, Karg was honored by the acknowledgment of his program’s turnaround, but was adamant that such accolades were a testament to everyone associated with the program.
“I say that awards like that, they’re really about the people around you,” he said. “The support we’ve gotten from administration has been great, we have a great coaching staff, and great players in our program. That’s why awards happen.”