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Cumberland head coach looks back at days as St. Raphael coordinator

September 27, 2012

Cumberland head coach Chris Skurka, left, stands on the sidelines during a recent game at Tucker Field. Friday will see 2-0 Cumberland venture to Pariseau Field for a Division II matchup against 1-1 St. Raphael. Prior to becoming Cumberland’s grid mentor in 2009, Skurka was the defensive coordinator at SRA for two seasons. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN.

A coordinator’s duties seem to be the attention grabber on a résumé, the kind that allows a deserving candidate to push to the top of the list whenever head coaching opportunities surface.
In Chris Skurka’s case, he was able to parlay the two seasons (2007-08) he spent as St. Raphael’s defensive coordinator into becoming Cumberland’s head football coach, a position he assumed in 2009. His tenure as the architect of the Saints’ ‘D’ was highlighted by the school’s perfect campaign in 2007, when St. Raphael surrendered just six points in two playoff games en route to capturing the Division I Super Bowl.
Come Friday night at Pariseau Field, it will be a homecoming of sorts for Skurka, his Clippers stationed on the same turf as the very team and program mentor (SRA’s Mike Sassi) that provided him with a prime opportunity to ascend the coaching ladder.
It will mark the first installment of this particular version of student vs. teacher, albeit with none of the frostiness or ill will that characterized Eric Mangini when the former Bill Belichick disciple took over the head coaching duties for the New York Jets.
“We spent a lot of hours together and became pretty close. I have a lot of good friends over there,” notes Skurka about the coaching bonds forged at St. Raphael. “When you win a championship together, that’s something they can never take away from you.”
Skurka understands he owes a great deal to the freedom and trust Sassi instilled in him while at St. Raphael. Of course it never hurts to associate oneself with a memorable season such as the ’07 Saints, understanding full well that the doors to the head coach’s office start swinging with less and less resistance upon aligning with success.
“You’re always good when you’re winning, but Mike, along with any coach I ever worked for, was pivotal in helping me become the head coach at Cumberland,” said Skurka, wishing to note his assistant apprenticeships under former Cumberland grid boss Frank Iannetta and Todd Vasey at Dean College.
For a few hours Friday night, the stroll down memory lane will be placed on hold in favor of important pigskin matters. At 2-0, Cumberland is tied for first place in Division II-B along with West Warwick. On the other side, St. Raphael is part of a tightly woven four-team pack of 1-1 clubs.
The jaunt to Pariseau represents Cumberland’s first league road game after opening with back-to-back contests at Tucker Field, where the Clippers outscored their foes by a combined – not to mention whopping – 63-6 margin. By no means is Cumberland heading into unchartered territory as last season saw Skurka & Co. win a tight 13-9 contest at the Pawtucket-based complex against Tolman in the Div. II quarterfinals.
Upon telling his players where they would be busing come Friday, Skurka says their eyes quickly lit up at the thought of returning to the scene of Cumberland’s memorable playoff conquest.
“You’ve got to make them understand about the added challenge of staying focused while riding on the bus and not get distracted,” said Skurka about some of the words of wisdom he’s imparted in preparation for heading into enemy territory. “The goods news is that it’s a short ride, but it’s going to be a different feeling. For starters, you don’t have your own locker room, but you still have to approach it in a businesslike manner.”
Skurka attended last Saturday’s SRA game at West Warwick, a contest that saw the Saints fall behind before turning the ball over three times in the fourth quarter in an eventual 36-14 loss. He saw the Wizards bottle up Saints senior Charles Correa to the tune of 60 combined rushing and receiving yards, a paltry sum that figures to have been addressed during practice this week, with Sassi and his staff undoubtedly emphasizing more touches for the team’s top ballhawk as well as his SRA teammates.
“When Charles is on, he’s very good. One guy doesn’t win football games, however, as we’re going to have to really be aware of how else they can attack us,” cautioned Skurka.
The St. Raphael-Cumberland matchup is one of several notable “swing” games on this week’s dance card, that of featuring a 2-0 club going up against a 1-1 outfit. A win by the .500 team would force a tie in the standings and allow it to reap the head-to-head benefits should tiebreakers come into play down the road.
On the flip side, a win fashioned by the team sporting the perfect league record would create substantial separation in the form of a two-game difference that would shake out to a commanding three-game bulge based on capturing the head-to-head meeting.
The West Warwick-Shea and Woonsocket-Westerly contests fall into the aforementioned category. Friday will see the 2-0 Wizards venture to Max Read Field to face the 1-1 Raiders. On Saturday morning, the 1-1 Villa Novans take their longest ride of the season to the home of the II-A leading and 2-0 Bulldogs.
In other action Friday, Tolman heads to defending Division I champion Bishop Hendricken in search of its first league triumph. East Providence seeks its first win of any kind when it ventures to fellow East Bay neighbor Barrington. The Tigers are 1-2 overall and 0-3 in league play while the Townies are winless in three overall tries and 0-1 against Div. I foes.
Also Friday, Division IV Central Falls will step away from league play to face Division I contender Cranston East in a 7 o’clock game at Cranston Stadium. The game will be aired live on Ocean State Networks, which for Cox Cable subscribers is Channel 5.
Besides the Woonsocket-Westerly tilt, Saturday will also see 0-2 Lincoln play at Division III co-leader East Greenwich. The Avengers are 2-0. North Providence’s home field will be the site for a Division IV clash involving two 1-1 teams in North Smithfield and N.P.

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