Gary Onuekwusi can relate to his Camden Catholic football players.
The Irish athletes have been through a lot of change over the last eight months, as Onuekwusi on Tuesday was named the program’s third head coach since April.
He went through some upheaval during his playing days as well, competing under three head coaches during his time at Temple.
“I went through a similar situation,” Onuekwusi said. “I dealt with that firsthand so I can relate to what these kids have been through.”
Onuekwusi, 28, served as Camden Catholic’s interim coach at the end of last season after former coach Cody Hall left the team Nov. 6.
Onuewski, a Baltimore native who works as the dean of climate and school culture at the School of the Future in Philadelphia, hopes to rebuild Camden Catholic’s once-powerful program.
“I want to create a strong culture based on faith, hard work, and perseverance,” Onuekwusi said. “We want to mold young men as student athletes.”
In a statement, Camden Catholic athletic director Derrick Levine praised Onuekwusi for his steady influence on the program last season.
“Gary has played an instrumental role in the growth of our football team during a challenging year,” Levine said. “His experience as a Division I football player, his dedication to our student athletes and his knowledge of how to run a quality football program will help to continue the team’s growth.”
In the statement, Camden Catholic rector Father Joseph Capella said Onuekwusi will lead the program into a new era.
“His commitment to our program in the final portion of last season demonstrated his desire to match both missions: that of a first-class high school football program and the Catholic Christian foundation of CCHS,” Capella said.
Onuekwusi played at Dunbar High School in Baltimore, helping the Poets to three consecutive state championships. He was a linebacker and special-teams standout at Temple, playing for head coaches Al Golden, Steve Addazio and Matt Rhule.
“I saw what that was like,” Onuekwusi said of the impact of coaching upheaval on a program.
Onuekwusi was a defensive assistant under Hall through the first part of last season. He plans to continue to focus on the defensive side of the football as head coach, although he said he will be involved with the Irish offense as well.
Onuekwusi said he still was in the process of building his coaching staff.
“I knew we need to hit the ground running, getting bigger, faster and stronger through this offseason,” Onuekwusi said.
Hall was Camden Catholic’s coach from June to November. He had replaced Nick Strom, the highly successful coach for the Irish from 2014-2017 who was dismissed amid controversy in early May.
Strom’s teams were 34-6 in his four seasons and the Irish regularly ranked among the Top 10 squads in South Jersey during his tenure.
Strom’s dismissal, which followed his accusations that the school administration had encouraged him to play more white athletes, led to student protests on campus as well as the decision by more than 25 players to transfer to other schools.
That created a difficult situation for Hall, whose young team, featuring several freshmen in key positions, struggled against a challenging schedule.
Hall left the program and the school because of what he described as an “unforeseen circumstance.”
Two sources close to the program confirmed in November that Hall had an altercation with a player in the locker-room area before the team’s Oct. 19 game vs. Camden.
Onuekwusi took over the team and coached the Irish through the final three games. Camden Catholic finished 0-10.
Onuekwusi said he was impressed with the Camden Catholic players under challenging circumstances last season.
“These kids are resilient,” Onuekwusi said. “They are hard workers, and they fight through adversity. I saw that. We have fighters.”