The Saint John Paul II football program has a new head coach at the helm.
On Thursday, March 5, the school announced former Sandwich High School head football coach and former UCT boys’ lacrosse coach Bill O’Connell will lead the Lions entering the 2020 fall season.
“Coach O’Connell impressed us from the get-go. He is enthusiastic, dedicated and experienced. He’s ready to rebuild Lions football,” Rich Fazzi, SJPII’s athletic director, said in an issued press release.
Since the Lions’ first varsity season in 2012, they have gone 59-29, including five state tournament appearances and three Central Catholic League titles.
O’Connell most recently coached at Apponequet Regional High School as an offensive assistant, and previously served as the Blue Knights head coach from 2014-2017 with previous assistant coaching stops at Coyle & Cassidy.
“It’s exciting,” O’Connell said. “I know they had a big senior class this past season, so I can get my hands on a new squad this year.
He went on to add that the team will be returning three seniors next season and has already drawn big interest from the underclassmen and incoming freshman from St. Francis Xavier.
While with Apponequet, O’Connell was able to get back to his roots—handling the passing game, quarterbacks and defensive backs. But getting back to the head coaching ranks has been on his mind since stepping down with Sandwich after the 2017 season.
“Organization and structure are my strong suits and I think that makes me a good head coach,” he said. “I’ll be bringing back Chris Bartholomew on the defensive side of things. He’s involved in youth football here on the Cape and coaches the St. Francis boys’ middle school basketball team as well.”
In addition to taking over the head coaching vacancy, O’Connell will also be helping out Chris Smalkais this spring with the Lions boys’ lacrosse team. O’Connell served one season as head for the UCT boys’ lacrosse team—his first season coaching varsity lacrosse.
Smalkais is a lacrosse coaching legend in the state of Connecticut with a career record of 404-156 with Fairfield College Prep, winning six Class L titles, 12 South Connecticut Conference tournaments and produced 39 collegiate All-Americans.
“Going through the [football] process the idea of helping out the lacrosse team came up,” O’Connell said. “They put it on the table and seemed to make a lot of sense with the possibility of cross-sport recruitment with football and lacrosse.”
Although short in his tenure, O’Connell looked back on his time at UCT with fondness.
“It was fantastic the whole time,” he said. “I know I’m leaving with short notice, but the program is in great hands [former head coach Ernest Yeaw]. I wish those kids the best of luck. It came down to choosing being a football head coach or lacrosse head coach and football has always been my top sport.”