CENTRAL FALLS — Jeff Lapierre spent 11 years working with Central Falls High grid head coach Mo Jackson, and enjoyed virtually every minute.
The only ones he didn't? Watching the kids fail to execute in games after excelling at the same plays in practice.
He learned a great deal from Jackson, who retired from his longtime position in grand style with two impressive victories at the end of the 2012 season. Now, Lapierre owns that title outright, but admits teaching this new crop of players will be a shared workload.
“We're going to do this just like Mo did,” Lapierre, 43, indicated Thursday afternoon while watching his players train at its practice field beside the Warriors' new home, the Francis L. Corrigan Sports Complex. “Mo mentioned he was considering stepping down after we went to the (Division IV) Super Bowl at the end of the 2011 season.
“We lost that game (to Mount Pleasant, 22-13), and he said, 'This might be it.' Then he decided to try it one more time. What happened was myself, Mo and Anthony Ficocelli (for the previous 10 years Jackson's offensive coordinator) were in constant contact throughout last season. We talked about our roles.
“We knew Anthony was going to be the new (CFHS) athletic director, and we asked Mo weekly, 'Are you sure this is going to be it?'” he added. “Fic and I always had an agreement that, when Mo stepped down, and with him being the AD, I'd take the head coaching position. Still, that's pretty much in name only.
“Since the beginning, we decided it would be a partnership; Fic and I would be co-coaches. Mo had that same philosophy. He may have been the head coach, but he gave us free reign both offensively and defensively. He would certainly have his opinions, and he'd voice them. If he wanted something changed, we'd do it because we respected his decisions. We knew he knew what he was doing.”
Lapierre also noted how glad he was Jackson – not to mention the School District – gave him a chance to coach 11 years ago.
“I noticed there was an assistant's opening back in 2003, and it was posted, so I applied for it,” he recalled. “I called Mo, and he told me what he was looking for in an assistant. He said Mike Goodson had been his defensive coordinator, but he was stepping down. He laid out the style of offense he ran, and asked me what styles of defense I was familiar with, and what I'd run.
“I have to be honest with you; there wasn't a long line of people trying to fill the slot,” he added with a laugh. “The district hired me, and that's when Mo and I went to work. We got along great. He brought me in and introduced me to his staff, and we all had the same goals.”
Fact is, Lapierre will bring a wealth of knowledge to the Warriors' squad, which concluded the 2012 campaign with a 4-8 overall mark (3-5 record in D-IV). He played four years of football at Woonsocket High before graduating in 1987, then spent four years in the Marine Corps before choosing to attend Rhode Island College.
He earned a Bachelor's in Education in 1999, and took his first job as a physical education/health teacher at the high school in 2002, the year before he hitched on with Jackson and Co. as defensive coordinator.
“I had always wanted to teach and coach, and I've been doing that,” he said. “This is a dream come true.”
One of his first goals: Bring back Wayne Gardner, who had been an assistant under Jackson when Lapierre initially started with the grid program.
“He was with us my first two years in 2003-04, but he left for personal reasons,” he offered. “He later took an assistant's job at Mount Hope, but I asked him to come back, probably in July. He told me he had to talk to his wife, but – the next day – he called me back and said, 'Jeff, I'm in!'
“He also played here at CF, so I knew this was where he wanted to be,” he added. “Now I have Fic as the offensive coordinator, and I will continue to serve as the (defensive coordinator). Wayne (who serves as an unpaid volunteer) will be the offensive and defensive line coach, and Noel Grant will work with the receivers and defensive backs.”
There's good and bad news facing Central Falls as it prepares for the upcoming season: First, the Warriors finished last year with a thrilling 8-7 win over postseason-bound North Smithfield, then rallied for a 27-22 decision over Lincoln on Thanksgiving eve.
“If there had been a line on that game against North Smithfield, we'd have been three-touchdown underdogs,” he claimed. “They had already qualified for the playoffs, but we wanted to win it for Mo; it was his last home game (at Macomber).
“The only deciding factor for (the Northmen) was where it would be seeded; they ended up as the fourth seed, and lost to Mount Pleasant in the Super Bowl. That was like a mini-Bowl game for us, and we ended up pulling it out late.
“We had been jelling the previous couple of weeks, so we hoped the guys would rise to the challenge, especially with Mo leaving,” he added. “We closed with two great wins, and it was because they played with more emotion. They wanted to do it for Mo.”
On the down side, however, Lapierre will return only two senior starters, and four on offense, a trio on defense. Gone are talented graduates Brandon Canuto (quarterback/defensive back), Kenny Lopez (FB/LB); Raven Roque (OL/DL) and Matthew DePina (G/DT).
“We're going to miss those guys,” he sighed. “They had so much talent and experience. They're going to be tough gaps to fill.”
The two senior starters include Alex Gonzalez (center/defensive tackle) and Erico Nobre, a fullback/linebacker who split time between the varsity and JV a season ago. Among the other starters: Sophomore Luis Gracia, a running back, and junior Danny Teixeira, an offensive tackle/linebacker.
“Still, we have some guys who have impressed us this preseason,” Lapierre claimed. “Julian Soares is a first-year senior, and he'll be at tight end and free safety, and we have Erik Mateo, who's a two-time Rhode Island indoor and outdoor high jump champion. He'll play at wide receiver and defensive back.
“Then there's a sophomore, Marcelino DaVeiga, who will probably play corner and receiver, and Jorge Vasquez is another first-year senior who will be an offensive tackle and our kicker. He's got a good foot, no doubt; we actually just discovered him. Erico had been kicking for us, but Jorgie is showing a little more leg.
“The thing I love about this team is their youth and enthusiasm, and desire to learn,” he continued. “What's killing me is their youth; that is, their inexperience. We just don't have a lot of guys coming back. We have some first-year seniors who are going to play and will be relied upon to contribute, but they're probably going to see some action before they may be comfortable.
“This year will be a stepping stone for a lot of them, and a lot of the younger kids, we hope, will step it up and learn quickly.”
He noted that, during most seasons at CF, it seems the varsity club is rebuilding, and this may be yet another one.
“With Fic and myself, Wayne and Noel, we'll find some way to put a competitive product on the field,” he grinned. “That's not boasting. It's a testament to the kids. They're working hard, and that's always the first thing you need.”