Yesterday was a very difficult day for the entire St. John's Prep football team and their coaches.
Their thoughts were with junior Jared Coppola, who suffered a severe cervical injury in last Friday's scrimmage with Lynn English and is currently in the intensive care unit at Children's Hospital in Boston.
Coppola's long-term prognosis cannot be determined until the swelling and trauma subside following surgery to repair a fracture in the neck area.
Yesterday morning the Eagles returned to Manning Field in Lynn, where Coppola was injured after making a tackle at his cornerback position. Head coach and athletic director Jim O'Leary first met with his players, then with their parents, before scrimmaging Classical. Jared's brothers Tyler and Brandon (the latter of whom suffered a career-ending C-5 fracture in a junior varsity football game a year ago) came to watch yesterday's scrimmage along with their father.
"It was a long day," admitted O'Leary. "Emotionally, this reminded me of last year when we beat Everett on a Monday night, then went to play Brockton that Friday. We looked great against Everett, but weren't emotionally up for Brockton.
"Let me say up front that Classical performed very well (yesterday); that's a much improved team. We started out OK, but just weren't in it mentally. There were some bright points, but we should have been better."
The Coppola brothers are triplets. An older brother, former Prep football star Derek Coppola, is now playing at the University of New Hampshire.
Tyler Coppola is still recovering from a bout with mononucleosis and has been unable to participate in any contact drills. He may not be back for the Eagles' season opener with Peabody this Friday, but should return for Central Catholic next week.
"Jared's situation is with us every second; there wasn't a moment all weekend I wasn't thinking about it," O'Leary said. "This is not a football issue, and something like this really puts everything in perspective.
"I told the parents I don't care if you criticize me as a coach and question my decisions, but they should believe my staff is prepared to help the boys get through this terrible time. The game goes on, and long after I'm gone they'll still be playing."
Because both Gloucester and Woburn canceled planned scrimmages with the Eagles, they will come into Friday's season opener at Peabody with very limited game experience. They only ran 15 plays against English last Friday before Coppola went down.
"I'm a believer in scrimmages preparing the team for the season, and ours have been very condensed," said O'Leary. "We tried to look at the Peabody game films from last season, but we had all three Coppola brothers playing then — we just couldn't get through them. I told everyone to go home to their families.
"We'll start to get ready for Peabody (today). I really like this team. We may not be as strong as the '97 (Super Bowl championship) team, but it's a good group. We will find a way to get through this together."