New football manager aims to bring family culture to Manchester

MANCHESTER, NJ – Tom Farrell Jr. has apparently spent his entire life on a football pitch.

“I can’t remember life without football,” Farrell said earlier this summer. There were games at Monmouth University where his father, Tom Farrell Sr., was an assistant coach. He would join his father on the sidelines at Monsignor Donovan High School, draped in a Donovan jersey that hung from his ankles, when Farrell Sr. was the head coach there.

Farrell, who later played football at Donovan Catholic and college at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, will be sidelined again on Saturday. This time it’s different. Saturday will be his first official match as head coach of Manchester Township’s football programme. Manchester play at Lakewood at 1 p.m.

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Farrell, 27, is one of New Jersey’s youngest head football coaches and has embarked on a football program that has struggled to be consistent over the years. But he has spent the summer working to create an atmosphere that attracts players and brings with it success.

It starts, Farrell said, with creating a sense of family and community, with discipline and having the right priorities.

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“Coming from a family that’s all about education, we’re going to focus on academics,” he said. Her father is the superintendent of schools in Brick Township and her mother is a kindergarten teacher, also in Brick.

At the start of summer training, Farrell told the players he expected them to work hard on and off the pitch, with their families and grades coming first before football.
“I think you could see the weight coming off their shoulders,” he said. Although he was strict, demanding players must be on time and ready to go when practices have started, working to help those with family difficulties that affect them.

The team’s motto is DIG: Discipline, Intellect, Grit, a motto he picked up from Stonehill. “I tell them to keep digging.”

The players, he said, paid him back with a commitment to the team. After working as an assistant coach in programs with less than 50 players, Farrell brought in almost 90 players for the Manchester football team, including 30 sophomores.

“I couldn’t ask for better players, they bought,” Farrell said, with the players training by any means necessary. When he learned that a player was walking for practice every day, Farrell asked the team to present that player with a bike.

“I’m trying to flip the script,” he said.

“He was strict in a good way,” said Tyrone Benjamin, one of the few seniors in the Manchester squad. He didn’t know much about Farrell before the coach first met the players, but there was one thing clear from the start, he said:

“He was ready to get to work. He was just as excited as we were,” Benjamin said.

However, Farrell isn’t just standing on the pitch with a whistle; he runs sprints and drills with the players.

“I wouldn’t ask them to do anything that I wouldn’t do,” Farrell said.

“When he does that, I feel like he wants to be here,” Benjamin said. Farrell’s energy instills enthusiasm in the players and the whole team is looking forward to the season, he said.

“There’s a completely different perspective from previous years,” said Benjamin, who plays wide receiver and cornerback. “It’s going to be a special year. It won’t be the Manchester of the past.

It will be special in another way, Benjamin said, as it will be the first football season that feels normal since the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020.

“It’s something to look forward to,” he said.

Farrell, who lives in Manchester with his wife, Sophie, teaches in the Manchester Communications Career Group. He received his teaching certificate through New Jersey’s Alternate Route Program, after realizing the classroom was where he wanted to be.

Farrell, who has a communications degree from Stonehill and a master’s degree from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications, worked for a time at NFL Films and was an assistant coach at New Egypt High. School. Later, he was associate producer at Chasing News, a New Jersey newscast. When the show was canceled, he focused entirely on teaching.

This teaching involves ensuring that his players are respectful and work hard off the pitch as well as on it.

“I want people to look at us and see gentlemen,” Farrell said. “It’s how hard you work when no one is watching. How hard can you work in front of the class.

“It’s really the core values,” Farrell said. “If you take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.”

Farrell didn’t take the challenge of coaching lightly, surrounding himself with experienced coaches to help bring out the best in the team.

Gerard O’Donnell, who is Farrell’s uncle and his father’s best friend, will serve as offensive co-coordinator with Jeff Brown, who played and coached at Jackson Memorial and won a state championship there. Dimitrius Smith, who will be his defensive line coach, “was a stalwart” when he played at Monmouth University, Farrell said. Chris Blaine and Alex Lunn, who played at Manchester (Lunn also played at Ursinus), coach junior college, and Alex Zulewski, who played at Toms River East and Montclair State, is the freshman coach.

Bob Mussari, who coached at Monsignor Donovan and the now closed Admiral Farragut Academy, is also back from Florida to coach inside linebackers.

“He was my dad’s head coach,” Farrell said. ‘He’s the perfect coach for linebackers’ because he brings a tough, fearless attitude to the field born of his time in the military: Mussari is a Purple Heart recipient, who survived after being been hit by a live mortar shell.

Farrell also credits the lessons he learned from watching his father, who was 29 when he took over as head coach at Monsignor Donovan.

“I wouldn’t be where I am from a football perspective and from a men’s perspective if it wasn’t for him,” Farrell said. “I couldn’t be more blessed.”

He hopes the lessons and culture he worked to pass on during summer training and efforts to build player confidence will pay off.

“I don’t want people to make excuses for me because of my age,” he said. “Just judge me on wins and losses.”

“I just want to see these kids succeed,” he said.

The Manchester football schedule is as follows:

  • September 3 at Lakewood, 1 p.m.
  • Sept. 9 at Toms River East, 6 p.m.
  • Sept. 16 c. Matawan, 6:30 p.m.
  • Sept. 23 vs. Jackson Liberty, 6:30 p.m.
  • Sept. 30 c. Manasquan, 6:30 p.m.
  • Oct. 7 at Barnegat, 7 p.m.
  • Oct. 14 vs. Freehold Township, 6:30 p.m.
  • Oct. 21 at Pinelands, 7 p.m.

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