During the pregame huddle before an early season game this fall, McGann-Mercy football coach Jeff Doroski gathered his players to deliver a message. Before him stood a group of players expected to finish near the bottom of Division IV — an all-too-familar destination for the Monarchs.
We’ve been down for a long time, Mr. Doroski told his team. No one believes Mercy is a team that can contend.
And Mr. Doroski posed a question to his team: Why not us?
Believe in your teammates, he said. Believe in your coaches. Trust the hard work you’ve put in.
“You get chills when you hear him speak sometimes,” said Phil Reed, an assistant coach at Mercy. “You feel like you want to put on a uniform and go out and play for him. I don’t know how he does it, but he just comes up with these things.”
Under Doroski’s leadership, in only his second season as Mercy’s head coach, the Monarchs surged to their most memorable fall in three decades, posting seven wins, advancing to the semifinals of the Division IV playoffs and captivating the close-knit Riverhead school.
For his efforts in turning Mercy’s football program around, while also working as a well-respected health and physical education teacher and volunteering his time at a bevy of school functions, the News-Review selected Mr. Doroski as its 2012 Educator of the Year.
McGann-Mercy is a second home for Mr. Doroski. His parents both attended Mercy. So did his wife. As a high school student, he was the featured running back for the Monarchs. After graduating in 1992 he owned the single-season and career rushing records.
It was back when Mr. Doroski carried the ball for Mercy that the Monarchs last had a season comparable to this year. When the Monarchs won an epic 22-21 playoff game over Hampton Bays in November, it was the first postseason win for the program since 1991. The seven wins matched their best season since 1978.
“He’s a big part of continuing the tradition of excellence at Mercy because he’s been through it,” said athletic director John Lonardo. “He’s very aware of that and that’s something he really brings to the kids and reinforces to the kids about what McGann-Mercy stands for and the tradition of McGann-Mercy.”
In addition to coaching the varsity football team, Mr. Doroski, 38, also coaches the junior varsity baseball team in the spring. When it comes to baseball, he is a bit of a legend. In 2003 he coached the varsity team to a state championship, the only state title for any team in Mercy history.
No matter the time of year, Mr. Doroski, who lives in Riverhead, can be spotted at Mercy long after the school day has ended. In the winter he works the scoreboard during basketball games. He also monitors the weight room.
“Jeff has an outstanding rapport with the students,” Mr. Lonardo said. “He’s extremely liked. He communicates very well with the kids. He’s extremely motivational. The kids not only enjoy his classes, but they enjoy playing for him.”
When Mr. Doroski became the varsity football head coach, numbers were dwindling in the program. Former athletic director Paula Nickerson said in 2011 that it was a “miracle” the program survived during some of the leanest years.
Mr. Doroski helped rejuvenate interest in football and this past season the Monarchs had the kind of depth that allowed them to not only stay competitive, but excel.
“You could see from day one when he took over the program that the kids responded to him,” Phil Reed said. “The way he wanted to set the program up and it’s grown from leaps and bounds from when he started.”
As a teacher in a small school, Mr. Doroski gets an opportunity to work with many of his athletes in the classroom as well. Asaiah Wilson, the football team’s junior quarterback, had Mr. Doroski as a health teacher last year and as a gym teacher this year.
Mr. Wilson said Mr. Doroski’s demeanor as a coach and teacher is very similar.
“He wants us to work hard,” he said. “If we got a 99, he wants us to ask why we didn’t get 100.”
The quarterback position was something Wilson had little experience in before this season. He had played in PAL leagues during his youth, but never anything close to being a varsity quarterback.
Mr. Doroski was instrumental in helping him learn the position and encourage him along the way, even when things were tough, Mr. Wilson said.
“He guided me through everything,” he said. “Reading defenses, switching plays at the line, he guided me through all that. Sometimes I would get down on myself and he’ll pick my head up.”
Patience is one of Mr. Doroski’s greatest strengths, according to Mr. Reed.
“He’s not an excitable guy,” said the assistant coach, who also coaches varsity boys basketball at Southold. “He can be loud when he wants to be but when it comes to the games he has nice level confidence about himself in order to make the right decision.”
After the Monarchs improved 5-0 in October, Mr. Doroski was selected for the New York Jets’ High School Coach of the Week award.
“He’s been one of the best coaches I’ve been able to work with and I’ve been coaching for a long time,” Mr. Reed said. “He’s just a wonderful person to be around.”