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Jun 09

The Road to the NFL Goes Through Fred Stengel – Sports Talk With Anthony Bonelli

The Road to the NFL Goes Through Fred Stengel

By:  Anthony Bonelli

            Coach Stengel has been at Bergen Catholic High School for 21 years, 20 of those years his team was in the state tournament and they won the tournament seven times.  Coach is very warm and friendly; a cordial person, who is a very quick  thinker on his feet”, said by Diane Bonelli, transportation coordinator who was also an attendant of the interview.

Newspaper clippings proclaiming state titles, a banner listing collegiate destinations of his players, and a table where some of the most prestigious college coaches have sat, decorate Fred Stengel’s office.  Stengels reputation is more outstanding than his stature, he has a medium build and is in very good shape for a man in his sixties.

One of the main reasons for his success is because of players like Brian Cushing.    One of the GardenState’s own went to MadisonSquareGarden on April 25, 2009 for the National Football League draft to begin his quest to becoming an NFL player.

Cushing’s football career started at BergenCatholicHigh School in Oradell, NJ, with Coach Stengel, who is no stranger to sending players to the NFL.  Cushing, a versatile defensive player, is the eighth player drafted into the NFL after having been under Stengel’s tutelage.

Brian Cushing was drafted by the Houston Texans.  He was the fifteenth pick in the first round.

According to Stengel, there are 2,831 jobs in the NFL “so that means that your odds of going from being a high school football player to a pro football player are something like .07, less that one percent,” and Brian is part of that percentage.

When Cushing was being looked at for a football scholarship by USC, a school well known for its college football program, Coach Pete Carroll, who is also a former NFL coach, presented a very honest explanation of what he expected from prospective players.  “His whole line of reasoning is he wants USC to be the best and only wants players who are not afraid of competition, and presents that challenge to each and every one of his recruits and Cushing’s reaction to that challenge was Bring it on.”

Cushing played several positions on the defensive side of the ball at USC and he did not mind because all he cared about was being on the field.  He played a stand up defensive back during his sophomore year; he was a strong side line backer, then a weak side line backer.  Stengel said, “Now that was maybe the bad news as far as Brian was concerned, but as far as pro football is concerned it is the good news, because of the versatility aspect.”

Stengel, when asked of his first impression of Cushing, said he did not think that Brian was any different at first glance.  It was not until his sophomore year, when Cushing had grown six inches that Stengel said, smiling from ear to ear, “Holy Moley, we may have something here!”

As the year went on he went from the sophomore team to the JV team to starting varsity about week five or six of the season.

Coach Stengel’s philosophy when guiding a gifted player is “the less you tell them about how good they are, the better, unless they are the type of player who needs the ego boost.”

“With Brian that was never necessary and the reason is because in Brian’s mind, Brian was the best football player that ever stepped on the field, I mean he never lacked for self-confidence”.

One of the biggest problems Coach Stengel has with special players is keeping them shielded from the “hangers on”, those looking to use them for their own benefit. Stengel, when referring to Cushing says, “The bottom line here is that as time went on and it became apparent that he was special I tried to give him guidance and to get him pointed in the right direction”.

Brian’s father, Frank Cushing, also had a great influence on him, not only because he was his father but also because he was once a pro baseball prospect and knew how to keep his son’s feet on the ground.  Cushing benefited a lot because his father had been through the process and did not make it, so he understood what the odds were and he never let Cushing’s ego get too big.

“This is a big boy sport and you got to put on your big boy pants”.  A player must go to the NFL with the intention of giving their all, literally, because many of them, by the end of their career, are marred for life.  The NFL is “going to get their pound of flesh out of you”, as said by Stengel.

This is no matter to Brian Cushing because according to Stengel, “His work ethic is second to nobody”.  “It has been an interesting development over the years, he’s a great kid and seeing him do well is a credit to his family and to him and to our program,” and to Coach Fred Stengel as well.

            Over his 21 years, Stengel has had tremendous success, not only as a coach but as a mentor to thousands of kids. Coach Stengel’s main concern as a head coach has been to positively affect boys as they grow into manhood, he enjoys being a part of their lives and has fun teaching them to do the right things, “that to me is a worthwhile life’s work and forty years later I never feel like I worked a day in my life.”

It has not always been easy for Coach Stengel, as he was turned down for head coaching positions 10 times.  He finally got a job as head coach; it was Father’s Day, June 17th, 1988.

That football season, Stengel says, “I had one hundred and fifty football players, myself, and a whistle; I had no assistant coaches.”  Stengel had no choice but to hire coaches who had no prior varsity coaching experience and he taught them how to coach, “they were like a blank sheet of paper”.

Coach Stengel has had 40 scholarship players, 56 Ivy League and Patriot League players, twenty two players who made first team all state, 16 college captains, seven NFL players, with Brian Cushing on his way.  Coach Stengel now stands sixteen wins away from 200 as head coach and credits his success to kids who work hard and a school that supports the program.