By Justin Rodriguez
Section 9 Football Insider
Most Cornwall players were reduced to tears on October 5th when hours before a game at Roosevelt, they were informed that Mike Connolly had abruptly resigned as head coach and a teacher in the district after 4 ½ successful seasons.
On the fly, Eric Holzapple went from offensive coordinator, to interim head coach during a full-blown crisis. Of course, Holzapple, 29, felt the pressure in that moment, but he never flinched.
“Nothing changed,” Holzapple said. “Our goal was still to win a state championship. We had a great staff and a great team. It was still a team effort and nobody was above the team. Forty-three kids and a coaching staff has always our motto.”
That rallying cry isn’t exactly the stuff of Vince Lombardi, but it certainly worked for the Green Dragons. It is who they are at the core, a team, selfless, loyal and focused. Holzapple, the 2018 Section 9 Football Insider Coach of the Year, helped Cornwall channel that when he took over.
Under his watch, Cornwall never steered off course, and made history by becoming the first Section 9 team to win a Class A state title to culminate a perfect 12-0 season. Only two other Section 9 teams have ever won state championships Rondout Valley ( Class B, 2000) and Monroe-Woodbury (Class AA, 2005).
Holzapple, a coach in the Cornwall program for eight years, is very good at deflecting praise.
“This isn’t solely about any one person,” Holzapple said.
It certainly helped that he inherited a stud team and an experienced coaching staff, which included Connolly’s dad, he of Monroe-Woodbury fame, and a defensive guru. However, Holzapple deserves some credit. Cornwall played its best ball under Holzapple 7-0 under him, including 5-0 in the postseason.
“When Coach Holzapple took over, he acted like it was no problem,” Cornwall center Joe Parker said. “He knew we had bigger goals in mind. I think everyone was torn up, but he kept the same routine, he kept us together. We had to keep playing, but Coach Holzapple had to also step up, and he did in many ways.”
Holzapple is the top candidate for the Cornwall job, which began attracting attention as soon as Connolly resigned. However, he is in no rush to make a decision on his coaching future. For now, he is content with enjoying Cornwall’s historic run.
“I think I need the month of December to decompress a little bit,” Holzapple said. “I need some time to reflect and think about it some more. Right now, we are still enjoying this win as a community and a program. The kids are still smiling ear-to-ear.”
Follow Justin Rodriguez on Twitter at jrods9insider; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org