The Evolution of East Football

The Evolution of East Football

Cherry Hill High School East football has seen many changes over the years. This package will take a look at the past and present of the Cherry Hill East football team, exploring the success of a player going off to play in college, diving into a Q&A with a past head coach, and examining how the team’s training and mentality to succeed has evolved since the team’s beginnings in the late 1960s.
East football: a game that lasts a lifetime

Bright lights, big crowds, and a whole lot of hard work. Athletes, who only a few months prior, removed their Cherry Hill East Cougars jerseys for the last time, stand in the center of a stadium, experiencing the exhilaration of playing in a college football game.

“I remember this like it was yesterday,” said John Coen (‘90), a player on East’s football team from 1986-1989. For Coen, football truly was everything. “I just loved it so much from the first time I put the pads on to when I finally took them off,” said Coen.

Although Coen’s love for football started long before high school, East became his outlet for expressing this passion. Football practice, no matter how long or exhausting, was easily his favorite part of the day. Whether they watched film, walked through plays, or had an intense day of conditioning, Coen was still there, playing the sport he loved.

Surrounded by coaches and teammates who carried the same growing passion for football as him only made the team stronger. With hours spent together, it wasn’t long before the team built their own brotherhood. “There are half a dozen games I could talk about where some amazing play happened, but it was really the bond that we formed,” said Coen.

With this brotherhood, Coen felt East was unstoppable. In 1988, during Coen’s junior year, East had a 11-0 record, as well as a triumph at the State Championship game against Brick Township High School.

For Coen, reminiscing on his high school years doesn’t just bring him back to the wins but also the losses and the tough days they were able to overcome with the commitment of each and every player. “I learned how to love [football] through playing in high school. It was all I thought about,” said Coen. “Playing with other people that loved the game just as much as I did at East was what it took to play at the college level.”

After four years with East, Coen packed his bags, bringing his devotion and athleticism all the way to the University of Connecticut (UConn), where he would get the opportunity to play at a D1 collegiate level. There, he was able to meet new people from all different walks of life, brought together by their shared love of football. Known as #46 on the field, and one of UConn’s skilled linebackers, Coen devoted his college years to the team he quickly called family.

Though Coen was understandably heartbroken to have to leave behind his college football years after injuring his neck during his senior year, he will always cherish the memories he made, the lessons he learned, and the friendships he formed through the sport. He explained how he will never forget how East football led him to this important chapter of his life.

As of now, Coen continues to cheer on East football and looks forward to seeing their legacy unfold. To him, it’s amazing to see the kids of his fellow East alumni, or those he coached in youth recreation football, giving it their all on the field. “Seeing them have the opportunity to play these games on these stages; I just know they are special memories that will stick with them forever,” Coen said.

Pictures of Coen throughout his high school and college football career (Pictures received from John Coen)
A look into the team through the years
Q&A with former Cherry Hill East football coach, Bo Wood

For over 20 years, the name Bo Wood was associated with the title of head coach of the Cherry Hill High School East football team. Raised in South Jersey, he attended Haddon Heights High School where he played football, track, and swam, continuing that into his collegiate career at the University of North Carolina on a football scholarship. This was only the beginning of what led to be a successful career in the world of football.

After graduating college, Wood was drafted into the National Football League (NFL) by the New Orleans Saints, where he played for one year before getting traded to the Atlanta Falcons. Despite his professional career in playing football, it came to an end in 1968 when he was cut from the Falcons. However, this led him to go back to college and gain his masters degree in physical education. He used this degree years later when he was brought back to South Jersey to teach as a P.E. teacher at East.

Three years into Wood’s teaching, East football head coach, Dick Curl, left the team, opening up the spot for Wood. Bringing the team to many victories, emerging professionals, and a legacy, Wood left his mark on the team, considered to be one of the most successful periods of East football.

(This interview has been edited for readability)

Q: What made you want to coach at East?
A: When I was younger, up until about fifth or sixth grade. I lived in at that time, Delaware Township. It wasn’t Cherry Hill yet. And I lived on Kings Highway in Delaware Township. But I’m the youngest of three kids and my two sisters had to go to Haddonfield High School because they didn’t have a high school in Cherry Hill. And so as a young kid, I played little league baseball in Cherry Hill. And that’s where I kind of grew up, I knew that whole area. And I had a lot of friends that were the kids I grew up with when I was young. I knew a lot of kids in Cherry Hill. At that time it was called Delaware Township back then. Anyway, that’s where it came from. And when I got to East, East was a brand new school, all the teachers were new, the school was new. And it was kind of a unique situation because all of the teachers were about the same age, honestly. And, you know, we started as a group and went through all those years. The school was actually larger than it is now as far as the population of the school was concerned. Yeah, we actually almost had to go on double sessions to fit everybody in for a little while there. We got over about 3,500 kids.

Q: What was your time at East like?
A: I really enjoyed it. I had a great time. But, you know, I coached three sports. Pretty much all the time I was the head football coach, and I coached swimming. And in the spring, I coached track, I coached girls softball, girls volleyball, and whatever coach they needed, I did it. But back, one year, I went in, of course I was the football coach. And I went into the guy who was the superintendent at the time, Dr. Shine. And I was complaining because nobody did anything for the fields over the summer. And I came in and they were terrible. They never watered the field, everything was all messed up. And what he did was that the next summer, he got me a job. And they put me in charge of the grounds. I hired a bunch of kids that work for me. And we took care of that stuff. For the rest of the time I was there, I was the groundskeeper in the summertime, for the school, basically, what I was doing was getting the fields all ready and the classrooms already over the summer to get the place ready for the fall. So I couldn’t complain anymore.

Q: During your time as a coach, what do you believe made the team so successful?
A: We had a very diverse group of kids. And it was very popular. I mean, I had, at some points, we had 100 kids involved in football. And I came from playing professional football. And when I played, having only 40 guys on a team, I was the backup player. I wasn’t a great player. I was good in college. But when I went to the pros I found out those guys were really good. But because I was a backup I had a couple of spots on defense. I was a backup tight end on offense, and I played on all the special teams. So I learned a lot about it. And I understood the game, I think more than most people because I did it and I did all aspects of the game. So when I came there, I was a little bit ahead of most of the high school coaches as far as knowledge of the game was concerned. I think that probably helped me a little bit to get started. And plus, we really had a lot of very good athletes. I actually had four kids from East that went on to play in the NFL. Now you can imagine how good they were in high school. So we had a really very good team. And it was fun. Once you get good, everybody wants to be there. It just flowed that way. We had a good bunch of guys, and they went on and on.

Q: Did you use a lot of the skills that you learned during your time in professional football to bring to the team?
A: I did, I did. And we ran a pro offense on defense and, you know, as time went on, everybody else started doing it too. But we were a little ahead of everybody else because we started that way. And again, I had a lot of good players, real good guys.

Q: What were some memorable moments during your time coaching at East?
A: We won the state championships in 1980. We had a really good team. Obviously, we were undefeated, state champs, and the team I had was basically a senior oriented team, which most of your really good teams there’s a big difference between sophomores and seniors and their physical ability. And we had basically a senior team. So, we won all our games. The next year, of course, all my seniors graduated. And so the next year, we were like three and six, I think. But I had basically a sophomore team. And that team went on the next year, they only lost two games. And the following year, they lost a game. You know, we went with the state playoffs as well, we didn’t win at all, but we were in the playoffs and did well, and you could see the kids developing. And we used a pro offense, like I said, and it was really a good time for football in high school. I started a seven on seven program. I think it’s probably the first one we did in the summertime. And nobody else did it. We started it. I know it’s big now but back then, nobody did it. We all did it when I was playing pro football. They did it all the time. I brought that down to the high school and started doing that.

Q: Four of the players you coached at East went to the NFL, could you tell me who they were?
A: The very first one I had was back on my very first team and his sophomore year, Dick Curl was the coach and he was a really tall, thin, kid, and he was a quarterback, and he was cut. The kid was devastated because he loved football. But, he came out the next year as a junior, and I could see he was a great thrower, so he became my quarterback. His name was Ken Daly and Ken went on, made All South Jersey as a senior, got a scholarship to Wake Forest, and when he graduated Wake Forest, he got drafted in the NFL. And he was always a backup, he never really played much, but he had a couple of years playing in the NFL. The next one was a tackle, but he went to Penn State, Pete Kugler. At the time, when Pete was getting recruited, he was being recruited heavily by Alabama and Penn State. And one night they had a basketball game at East, and Pete was going to go watch the basketball game. Joe Paterno, who was the coach at Penn State and Bear Bryant, for Alabama, both came in to see me and talk to Pete during that game. And they were both at East in the gym watching the East basketball game while Pete was just there as a spectator, but they wanted to come see him and try to get him to go, and he ended up going to Penn State. The next player we had was named Stan Clayton. Stanley was just a natural athlete, he was a big kid. He was also a tackle. And he went to Penn State as well. He started as a tackle for Penn State when they won the National Championship. And he went on and played 11 years in the NFL and after he got out, he coached at Princeton and now he’s down in Florida coaching in Jacksonville, but he’s a college coach. And that’s what he’s doing now. And then the fourth one was Glenn Foley. He was our quarterback in ‘88. He went to Boston College and got drafted and he played seven years in the NFL for the Jets.

Q: How do you think the player’s experience at East helped prepare them for the professional world?
A: I think they all understood that they learned a lot. But they did the work. I guess that’s the way I see it. They worked hard and made it but all of them appreciated that we got them started in the right direction. Taught them in the right way. We tried everything. But they put in the work.

Q: How do you think you’ve left a legacy on the east football team?
A: We played hard and we worked really hard. We developed rivalries and sportsmanship and everything. It was just, I think the kids really enjoyed playing. And we really had a good time and had some really good teams. We got the team started. Like I said, when I first started the school was relatively young. When I started teaching, it was the first year they had a school full of a senior class. And so it was there we were, and we were all young, and I was only a few years out of playing myself, so I felt like some of the kids.

Q: Is there anything else you can tell me in relation to your time at East or your journey through football?
A: We never played a home game at East because our field was over West. We just shared the field. So we had to basically get on a bus at East and go to West to play our home games. And I always thought it would be great to have the feeling that now you guys play back there, with a home field. But, you know, the stadium was at West before since we didn’t have a stadium. And so I always felt like we played virtually every game away.

How East’s football team training has evolved over the years
2012 Cherry Hill East yearbook

In the late 1960s, when the East football team was officially established, the rules around training were less stringet than they are now. For instance, back then, it was much more common for the team stay outside for prolonged periods of time. However, as years went by and more became known about player health and safety, more rules began to be set in place. Another significant example is around wearing pads. According to East boys soccer head coach and former East student, Coach Mike Melograna (‘01), back then, pads were worn much more often during practice.

If players are wearing pads that likely means there will be contact during practice. Now, to avoid inury, for the first two practices, players wear helmets, but not pads. Then adding on, they play wearing shoulder pads for the next three practices. By practice six, they are able to wear full gear, meaning they are able to have full contact.

According to current head coach of the East football team, Coach Tyler Drob, many players in recent years have built accumulative knowledge and practice of football, with it being the only sport they play duing the school year (some players participate in two sports). However, according Coach Drob, “most athletes played a [different] sport almost every season.” Coach Drob explained, that may have helped them gain better strength and agility, but it also meant they could be lacking in the specifics of the individual sports. With players now focusing on a single sport it allows the players to get bigger, stronger, and faster in relation to their designated position because they’re spending more time training for the one in which they specialize.

Coach Drob offered another example of how training has evolved: “Training has definitely improved in terms of even the equipment we have. In the weight room, we do a lot more [position]-specific training now–more of sprinting and agility training that relates to football. Previously, it was really just certain lifts and the main lifts that people think of like bench press and squats.”

Despite the differences in training, Coach Drob explained the similar goals as a whole team that have consistently been in place since the beginning of the team, “you always want to get faster, you want to get stronger overall, finding different ways to do that and easier ways to do that and more productive.”

While the team may have evolved in that of safety, uniform, and training, the overall goal of the team has remained the same, to win. To win entails working hard in training, mentality, and stamina to reach that goal. And as the work ethic has changed as time goes on, the team still implements that goal into their routine, working hard to make it pay off in the long run. The work of training, safety, and health, the team put in 50 years ago is the same as today, only improving in their methods to grow the team and make them that much safer and better built to head on to the field.

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    Jenifer AtlasFeb 7, 2024 at 8:45 am

    Great article. Very interesting to look back at the evolution of East football.