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Phil Anastasia: Haddonfield's DeLano architect of new era

Frank DeLano's neatest trick wasn't to coach Haddonfield to its first South Jersey title since the playoff system began in 1974.

Frank DeLano's neatest trick wasn't to coach Haddonfield to its first South Jersey title since the playoff system began in 1974.

It wasn't to lead the Bulldogs to a school-record 11 victories.

It wasn't even to steer his 29-man roster to postseason road triumphs over previously undefeated Willingboro and West Deptford.

All that was impressive.

All that was reason enough for the 34-year-old DeLano to be named South Jersey's Football Coach of the Year.

But the real feat involved more than 2010. It involved more than the creation of a new Golden Era for Haddonfield football, a remarkable three-year run that has included a 29-6 record and six playoff victories.

DeLano's magic has been to turn Haddonfield back into a football town.

"All coaches have a vision," DeLano said. "All coaches have an idea of what they want their program to be like, what they want it to mean to their school and their town."

When DeLano was hired as Haddonfield's head coach as a 25-year-old just a few football seasons removed from his time as a quarterback for Kings (Pa.) College - and not all that far from his days as a quarterback at Gloucester Catholic - he had a vision for the team, and the town.

It involved brisk Friday nights in the fall, with large crowds under the lights in that big, old stadium off Kings Highway.

It involved a vibrant youth football program so in sync with the high school team that the 75-pounders ran the same offense and defense as the varsity.

It involved thousands of folks in a tony town known for running and swimming - and tennis and soccer and basketball - who came to realize (or remember) the galvanizing effect football can have in the community.

"I've been involved in football for 29 years," DeLano said. "I don't know what life is like without the game. I don't know what else you do in the fall.

"It's so much more than a game."

When DeLano was hired, the youth football program had 34 players. Total. This season, four of the program's teams went to the championship games.

"We've had so much support from the guys at that level," DeLano said. "They love Haddonfield. We all want the same thing. We just had to get on the same page.

"I thought if we could get them running the same things as third graders, fourth graders, then that takes away the mental challenge. Then it's just a physical challenge, getting bigger and stronger, maturing."

As a sixth-grade teacher in Haddonfield, DeLano gets to know most of his players long before they get to high school. He talks up the game, celebrates the part his program plays at the heart of a sports-crazed community.

He makes sure all the football players in the middle school wear their jerseys on Fall Fridays, just like the high school players. He referees the annual Powder Puff game between the junior girls and senior girls.

"It's all about building relationships," DeLano said.

DeLano had plenty of help in revitalizing Haddonfield football. He mentioned the tireless work of assistant coaches Bill Mumbower, Mike McDevitt, Mike Miller, Alex Ferrante, Stu Holloway, Anthony Abbate, Zach Romash and Pat McCarthy, among others.

DeLano's record was 14-26 in his first four seasons. He was no overnight success.

But the coach and his assistants were persistent. They stayed positive. They kept working with the youth program, developing the off-season program, studying film and devising ways to keep pace with the West Deptfords and Paulsboros and Woodburys of their world.

Haddonfield took a big step in 2008, going 8-3 and reaching the sectional semifinals. The Bulldogs took another in 2009, going 10-2 and beating West Deptford in the playoffs before losing to Delsea in the Group 2 finals.

This season was the culmination of a nine-year journey. Haddonfield's only loss was 31-28 to West Deptford in the regular season. But the Bulldogs got better as the season got longer, beating 9-0 Willingboro by 38-27 in the sectional semifinals and beating 11-0 West Deptford by 16-8 in the sectional finals.

"I can't even describe that night," DeLano said of the championship game. "The people running on the field, the looks on the faces of our players and parents, seeing the alumni, riding the fire truck back in town.

"It all came together that one night, but it really took us nine years to get there."