WEST CHESTER — You can almost envision the year-end team banquet when John Lunardi takes the podium to address the crowd.
It might start with one of those, “if you would’ve told me five months ago I’d…” lines, followed by chuckles from the crowd that drown out any memory of uncertainty everyone at West Chester Henderson felt back in July.
Moments before Henderson and Chester faced off in a preseason seven-on-seven, Stefan Adams told his squad he was resigning from his head coach duties to take a job in Ohio. It was a little over a year that Adams, a Henderson grad, was hired for the position, and with less than a month until camps opened, all of a sudden there were more-pressing issues than training camp depth charts.
“Kids were definitely shocked,” Lunardi said. “I think everyone was shocked. I think they moved on in a positive way. We didn’t lose anyone because of it, which is awesome. I think once the kids realized that, on the football field, the same things that are gonna make you successful, are gonna make you successful, and try to focus on that.”
Lunardi, who was the defensive coordinator under Adams, stepped into the head spot. Despite not applying for the position the prior year, due mostly to the birth of his daughter, Lunardi all of a sudden found himself the man.
“I plan on sticking around,” Lunardi said. “I plan on being here and seeing this thing through and trying to get the program back to where it was.”
For as abrupt and unique the move was, the ripples were limited. Lunardi said he has a few more emails to send these days, but he still calls the defense, Andy Logan still orchestrates the offense and life goes on.
“It was really upsetting for everybody, but coach Lunardi is just awesome and he stepped up right away,” Henderson senior captain Quinn Keegan said. “The transition has been fine, we’ve all been doing well. Nothing’s really changing, just one person’s out and another person’s in and we’re still going.”
Since reaching the District 1-5A semifinals in 2016, Henderson is 1-19. There is nowhere to go but up and Lunardi, who played for the Joe Walsh Warriors, is determined to put them back as one of the pillars of the Ches-Mont League.
“Obviously the last couple years have not been what anyone involved in the program wants,” Lunardi said. “We also have a lot of guys involved that have been here when we’ve been successful and we want to bring that back. Quite frankly it’s been ugly the last couple years. Everyone who has a pair of eyes, knows that. But I think we’re taking some steps in the right direction.”
There is a solid core of returning starters for Henderson, and that will help ease the transition. Keegan will man one of the defensive end spots, while junior Jordan Laudato should continue to progress at the other.
“The offseason is always fun, getting ready for football,” Laudato said. “We’ve been training ever since last football season. We haven’t stopped. I’m really excited to see what we’re going to do this season. … It’s really important to come back from an 0-10 record.”
The Warriors will get a good test of how far they’ve come with an opening-night matchup against American Division power, Unionville. If you look around the league, on either side, the one glaringly obvious trend you will find is what the consistently good programs all have; great and consistent coaching. From the Downingtowns to Coatesville to West Chester Rustin and Unionville, their coaches have been there over a decade. Certainly talent plays a part, but that stability in a world that is ever-changing with graduation is a huge key to success.
For now, though, Lunardi is focused on year one, and he’s well aware of what needs to improve.
“At the end of the day, we’re defined by wins and losses,” Lunardi said. “Other than that, there are ways to measure our overall improvement, but we need to make some improvement in the scoreboard because that’s how we’re measured.”