There might not be a boys' soccer coach in South Jersey who is more enthusiastic about his job than Jeff Eppright of Haddon Heights.

His saddest day of the year is always the final game of the season, but by the next day, he's already preparing for another campaign.

Eppright is a 1978 graduate of Haddon Heights, and he bleeds garnet and gold.

"I just love what I'm doing," Eppright said.

It shows by his work, especially this year.

Haddon Heights went 19-3-2, won the Colonial Conference Liberty Division title, and earned the school's first South Jersey Group 2 title since 1975. Heights advanced to the state finals before losing a hard-fought 1-0 decision to ultra-talented Cliffside Park. The Garnets were No. 5 in the final Inquirer South Jersey rankings.

Eppright has been named The Inquirer's South Jersey boys' soccer coach of the year.

Outside the Haddon Heights community, this type of season wasn't expected from a team that graduated 13 seniors. Only three returning players had sufficient varsity experience.

And after losing, 1-0, in the opener to West Deptford, nobody could have seen this coming, except possibly Eppright.

After the loss, he gathered the team and gave the players a simple message, telling them they would win a lot of games if they kept working hard.

From that game on, the Garnets kept battling, beating West Deptford, 2-0, in the final game of the regular season to earn the division title.

And Haddon Heights then steamrolled through the playoffs, with a highlight being a 2-1 win over two-time defending state champion Delran in the South Jersey Group 2 final.

Besides being a true tactician, Eppright, whose career record is 292-134-38, has a great rapport with his players. He is always teaching, always passing on a positive word.

"He has always been there for me, and I was honored to play for him," said senior George Gans, who set a single-season school record with 31 goals.

This season, coach and player became even closer. George Gans' father, also named George, was gravely ill with leukemia and died on Nov. 21, the night Heights played in the state Group 2 final.

The team dedicated its season to the elder Gans, and Eppright became much more than a coach to the younger Gans.

"He was always there talking to me, asking how everything was, but never pushing anything," Gans said. "I can't say enough good things about him."

Eppright deflects any praise back to his players.

"With players like George Gans and [stopper] Austin McCleery, we had great leaders, and these were great youngsters to coach," Eppright said.

Even leaders at times need to be led, and that is where Eppright was at his best. As a result, he helped nurture a relatively inexperienced team into a champion.

Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynews.com.