One benefit of having a coach who has seen it all is that he can instill the belief in his players that anything is possible.

That is one of Shawnee football coach Tim Gushue's greatest advantages. There hasn't been a situation he hasn't experienced.

So this year, when his team was 3-3 and seemingly struggling, or was down by 24-0 in a playoff semifinal at Toms River South, Gushue drew on experience.

He saved his deepest resource of experience for last. Gushue's team was an underdog against a two-time defending sectional champion, Timber Creek, that had one of the most creative and dangerous passing games in the state.

Shawnee employed a championship-game plan that beat Timber Creek, 31-22, for the South Jersey Group 4 title.

It was that kind of season for Shawnee and Gushue, who has been named The Inquirer's South Jersey coach of the year in football.

This was Gushue's 31st season as head coach at his alma mater. It was his fifth sectional title and improved his record to 210-100-6.

That mark doesn't tell the whole story of Gushue, a 1972 Shawnee graduate whose passion, knowledge, organization, and ability to relate to players are just some of his virtues.

"He bleeds Shawnee football," standout running back/linebacker Anthony Diorio said.

The passion part can't be understated.

"All I ever really wanted to do was be a coach and teacher," Gushue said. "When you get a chance to do it and then do it where you went, that is special."

So special that at the end of the year, when the school holds its spirit assembly, Gushue wears his Shawnee jersey from the early '70s, when he was a running back and defensive back.

That is symbolic, because people will have to rip the old jersey off his back, it seems, before Gushue heads toward retirement. He loves coaching so much.

"He is thinking football 24/7," Diorio said. "He's been awesome, a great mentor for me and the rest of the team."

When his team was 3-3 this year, having lost on a last-second, two-point conversion to Clearview and then by 31-0 to The Inquirer's eventual No. 1 team, Cherokee, the following week, there was no sense of panic.

Gushue reached back to 2007 in his memory bank and remembered that team was 2-3 before running the table, finishing 9-3, and winning the South Jersey Group 3 title. This year's Shawnee team also ended at 9-3.

As for trailing by 24-0 at halftime?

Gushue recalled being down, 21-0, in the fourth quarter of a playoff game at Toms River North in 2002. In that game, the Renegades tied the score in regulation before winning, 24-21, in overtime.

So when his team fell in that 24-point hole in a sectional semifinal at Toms River South, Gushue didn't tear the walls apart when speaking to his players.

Gushue had only a simple plea for his team: Don't look at the scoreboard. Just play hard.

When the coach doesn't panic, the players tend to follow suit.

As for the Timber Creek game, Shawnee installed a different defense suggested by assistant coach Luke Bonus.

The Renegades had played predominantly running teams to that point, but Gushue knew they would have to adjust. So Shawnee concocted a defense to combat the pass. Timber Creek still threw for 343 yards and three touchdowns, but it needed 50 attempts to do so.

It was a total team effort.

As for Bonus, he is among five former Shawnee players who have come back to coach for their former high school coach.

It's this type of pride in the program that Gushue has fostered.

While the championships are gratifying, so are the many visits he receives from former players who have gone on and made their mark in society.

He's coaching not only X's and O's, but also young men.

For Gushue, no situation is too big, no challenge insurmountable.