By Sean Lynch
Section 9 Football Insider Staff
Surrounded by the Section 9 Class AA and A champions from last year, the Washingtonville football team looked like a small fish in a big pond.
The Wizards, who finished 3-6 last season, fielded only 21 players on the first day of Cornwall’s camp at New York Military Academy. Both Newburgh and Cornwall had more than 40 players suited up in pads.
Since taking over as Washingtonville’s head coach in January, Anthony Finochio has focused on building a football culture at the school.
“It’s definitely exciting,” said senior running back Luke Pecovic. “Coach (Finochio) has changed a lot of stuff around here for the better. As of right now, he changed both formations on offense and defense and the culture has changed. There’s definitely a better vibe around the team.”
Finochio, 36, became the head coach at Washingtonville after being an assistant coach for the last two seasons under Don Clark. Before becoming an assistant at Washingtonville, he was the head coach at James I. O’Neill from 2010-16, winning two Section 9 Class C Championships.
“This is what coaching high school football is all about. Coaching in the community you live in and in the school district you teach in,” Finochio said. “Because of that it’s a different feeling than anywhere I’ve ever coached before, but overall, it’s a great feeling.”
The community Finochio lives and teaches in has seen a sharp decline in football participation at the school level. Last season, Washingtonville was the only Class AA program without a modified football team. Their varsity team fielded 33 players — which was the least amount of players from any Class AA school. Sixteen of those players were seniors, including four-year starting quarterback Vinny Martello.
“We’re getting new uniforms this year and we’re going to try to make practices more exciting and get everyone on the team with a high energy level throughout the weeks during the season,” Finochio added. “To get new kids to play, I think the biggest thing will be to recruit the hallways (in the school).”
Washingtonville’s youth program has always been above-average. They won the Mighty Mites title in 2013, and have had three consecutive winning seasons, but that success has never translated to the high school level. The youth program has never been involved with the high school program and Finochio hopes to change that.
“We’ve always had a strong youth program, so another big key is to get them involved with the high school team so those kids see the connection between what they’re doing at Mighty Mites and what we’re doing up here. Hopefully that can get them more excited about becoming a part of our program.”
In addition to having the pee-wee football teams involved with the varsity team, Finochio says he will have enough players for a reboot of the modified team.
“I work in the middle school, so I’ve been working the hallways pretty hard, trying to gauge interest, but I’m pretty confident we’ll have enough kids and hopefully it’ll trickle up to us in a couple of years.”
Senior safety Ryan Hendricks will play on the varsity team for his fourth season for the Wizards. He trusts Finochio will help him and his team be the best they can be right now, but also in the future.
“The way he’s approaching different players on our team is noticeable. If someone isn’t familiar with their role, he does whatever he can for them to understand and feel comfortable in that role, and when the rest of the team sees things like that, we gain more confidence, but ultimately, we gain his respect. There are a lot of kids on the team who will be playing football in blue and gold for the last time, including myself. We’ve made some big changes around here already and hopefully we can make even more.”
Finochio hopes to change the downward trend of football participation in Washingtonville, and encourages every kid in the district to try play the sport.
“Come out and play and see where the fun is at. The kids on the team are a really close-knit group, and they’re hungry to win. If you’re at home hanging out by yourself, come out to one of our practices and see what it’s all about because you might make some friendships that will last a lifetime.”