2017 Section 9 Football Coach of the Year

Cavanagh’s dedication helps spark turnaround at Ellenville this season

By Justin Rodriguez
Section 9 Football Insider

Ellenville coach Dan Cavanagh admits second-guessing himself as he tried rebuilding the program.

However, Cavanagh believed in the process, even if it was painstaking, draining and sometimes demoralizing. The Blue Devils went 1-8 in each of Cavanagh’s first three seasons.

“That was the toughest thing to do, to stick with it,” Cavanagh said.

Cavanagh, the Section 9 Football Insider Coach of the Year, remained dedicated and this season his vision paid off. Ellenville went 5-3, won its first league title since 2009 (Class C Division I) and reached the playoffs. Cavanagh is a 2001 Ellenville graduate and a former quarterback at the school.

For him, the most rewarding part of the rebuild is bringing pride back to the team and Ellenville community.

“It was a magical year,” Cavanagh said. “The attitude of some of the players used to be that we are going to lose again this week. Why even try? But I saw a difference this year in the huddle. There was hope and I kept reminding everyone that this could be the year.”

It would have been easy for Ellenville to lose faith early in the season. The Blue Devils opened the season with losses to Section 1 Class D champion Tuckahoe and Class C runner-up Chester. Ellenville, which competed in Class B in 2016, responded with five straight wins, before losing to Chester again in the Section 9 Class C semifinals.

Cavanagh, 34, credited the dedication of his players for Ellenville’s turnaround season. When he took over four years ago, he scraped the Blue Devils’ entire system, installing a Double Wing-T offense and a 4-4 defense. Pine Bush coach Jim Wright advised Cavanagh on the Wing-T, which the Bushmen run.

Wright’s son, Eric, is a freshman running back/linebacker for the Blue Devils. Cavanagh also instilled an offseason training program and made football a year-round priority for players.

“Jim was one of the people that said you have to give it four or five years to get results,” Cavanagh said. “Then he chuckled and told me that I might have to question myself after that.”

Ellenville was a power in the 1980s and 1990s and Cavanagh has returned the Ulster County school to respectability. There was a buzz about the Blue Devils in the school this fall and more players are interested in joining the team next season. Cavanagh isn’t second-guessing himself anymore and probably never should have in the first place.

His players always believed in him.

“Coach Cavanagh never gave up, even during the rough seasons,” Ellenville quarterback Zachary Bonitz said. “He always kept trying to get us better and helped us develop as player, and into a team that would get results. It definitely made us play harder because we knew that Coach Cavanagh always had our back.”

Follow Justin Rodriguez on Twitter at jrodsportshs