Across the country, football factories billow with young talent. They consistently send kids off to major college programs and eventually to the NFL.
That hasn’t happened around these parts with any regularity.
St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., had nine alums on opening-day NFL rosters this season. Mater Dei in Southern California is known as “Quarterback High.” Canton McKinley in Ohio, Pearland in Texas and Woodland Hills in Pittsburgh are legendary for manufacturing football men.
Perhaps it’s time to add St. Francis High to the list.
The Red Raiders haven’t churned out many NFL players, but they have produced several coaches and administrators.
In the span of 24 hours, and in the same week a St. Francis alum was named a Division I college head coach, two former St. Francis classmates will have been named NFL general managers.
The San Diego Chargers introduced Tom Telesco as their general manager Wednesday. The Jacksonville Jaguars are scheduled to announce David Caldwell as their next general manager this afternoon.
“This is something special,” St. Francis football coach Jerry Smith said. “You’re talking 32 jobs in the world like this, and one little school just happens to have two of those positions. I wonder if that’s happened in the NFL ever.”
The NFL couldn’t address Smith’s rumination because it doesn’t keep track of executive backgrounds.
Bill Polian, the former Buffalo Bills general manager, began his NFL career as a scout in 1978. He couldn’t recall two GMs from the same high school.
“It’s wild,” St. Francis athletics director Steve Otremba said. “The phone has been ringing off the hook.”
Caldwell and Telesco have close ties to Polian, but the explosion of St. Francis grads in the NFL isn’t limited to that connection.
Brian Daboll won three Super Bowls as an assistant coach for the New England Patriots and has been an offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs.
“For this little school in Athol Springs to have so many guys in the NFL is remarkable,” Daboll said. “It’s a testament to the school. It’s an excellent academic place, and the relationships that we built with the teachers and the priests and with two great coaches – Jerry Smith and John Scibetta – helped us along the way a great deal.”
But there’s no doubt Polian has been influential in helping St. Francis send more alumni to the NFL.
When he was with the Bills, his sons attended St. Francis. Brian Polian was a classmate of Caldwell and Telesco.
All three went to John Carroll University in suburban Cleveland together.
Telesco got his start as an entry-level scout with the Carolina Panthers in 1995, when Bill Polian became general manager, and worked with the Indianapolis Colts, where Bill Polian was president until a year ago. Telesco climbed through the Colts organization and was named vice president of football operations last year.
Caldwell also served as a scout with the Panthers and Colts before joining the Atlanta Falcons as college scouting director. He eventually was promoted to director of player personnel.
Brian Polian was named University of Nevada’s head coach this week.
Chris Polian, a scout with the Falcons, is expected to join Caldwell with the Jaguars.
“Without a doubt, the kudos go to Bill Polian,” Smith said. “He gave Tommy Telesco and Dave Caldwell and his son, Chris, their starts.
“Yes, we all know in every job, everybody needs a hand to get an interview, and nobody should apologize for knowing somebody. But to get the job and, more importantly, to keep the job, you have to do the job.
“No matter who you know, if you don’t do the job, you’re going to get fired. These guys got an opportunity, and they’ve run with it.”
The Polian boys, Telesco, Caldwell and Daboll all graduated between 1989 and 1993.
Former Bills executive A.J. Smith’s son, Kyle Smith, is a 2002 St. Francis graduate now working as a regional scout for the Washington Redskins.
“It’s an excellent academic institution,” Daboll said. “They really prep you to be a well-rounded guy. And they have two coaches there in Jerry Smith and John Scibetta that are outstanding. They taught you the right way.”
Otremba said Jerry Smith, who has been head coach since 1988, has had over 100 of his kids go on to play in college and a few to the NFL, including current Redskins defensive lineman Doug Worthington.
But more impressive are the St. Francis kids who are making things happen in NFL front offices.
“We’re not a powerhouse, don’t have 1,000 kids, not ranked in the nation every year with 150 kids on the team,” Jerry Smith said.
“I mean, we have only about 475 kids in the school, 30 kids on the varsity roster.
“Little Athol Springs, you know?”