Being a head football coach was something always burning inside John Applebee.
A passionate lifelong fan of the game, running his own program was something that was always Applebee’s most ardent desire.
“I’ve wanted to be a head coach for a long time, ever since I was a kid,” said Applebee, the 27-year old, first-year head coach at Clinton. “I love football and I love coaching, and the kids here are great.”
Applebee, a native of Syracuse, moved to the Bronx five years ago to chase that coaching dream. For the past four seasons, he was an assistant coach at Fordham Prep. But when he saw a tweet on social media about Clinton head coach Howard Langley stepping down, Applebee pursued the opportunity with vigor, starting with a call to Clinton athletic director Bob Finkelstein.
“That was back in February,” Applebee said. “I didn’t officially get named head coach until a couple of weeks ago, but I knew I was going to get the job.”
Being a first-time coach, one would think Applebee would be consumed with piling up victories to impress his new bosses and other coaches around the Public School Athletic League. And while wins are as important to Applebee as they are to his coaching colleagues, he’s also here to help his kids in life.
“So far the team has been looking pretty good, so we’ll see what we can do this year on the football field,” Applebee said during a recent scrimmage against Midwood. “But we’re really focused on taking these guys in the program and building them as men. We’re focused on football, but we’re also focused on making sure they’re doing the right thing in school, outside school, and on the football field.”
As the conversation continued with Applebee, one could see him mentally counting the minutes until his scrimmage would start. But one also got the feeling that molding his players into young men was also right there on the first page of his playbook.
“I’m worried about getting the kids ready to play,” Applebee said. “I got a lot more work to do now, that’s without a doubt. But as far as pressure to win, I don’t feel that. What we’re trying to do is when these guys are done here, we want to make sure that they have an opportunity to go to college. Making sure they are doing the right thing, both in school and outside of school. Make sure that they’re going to class and that they are doing the right things away from school. Being leaders in the community really is what we’re trying to aim for.”
Any success on the football field will most likely come from a trio of Clinton’s seniors.
“Jaron Johnson will be our halfback and our receiver at the same time,” Applebee said. “We also have Angel Peralta coming back, and he’ll be solidifying the line at left guard. And the guy next to him at left tackle will be David Nwaogwugwu, and David is looking to be a big recruit this year.
A lot of coaches are calling about Nwaogwugwu, who stands at 6-foot-6 and someone Applebee describes as “a phenomenal kid” who hopefully will “end up getting a few college scholarship offers.”
It will be baptism under fire for Applebee as he opens his inaugural campaign at Clinton with three straight road games to open the season — at New Utrecht on Sept. 9, at Port Richmond on Sept. 16, and at archrival Kennedy on Sept. 22. In fact, most of the Governors’ games this season will be on the road.
“We only have three home games all year,” Applebee said — vs. Campus Magnet on Oct. 1, vs. Boys & Girls on Oct. 14, and vs. Truman on Nov. 3. “But no matter what, you got to win. Football fields are all the same size at the other schools, so you just play to win no matter if you’re home or away.”
The Applebee Era will commence Sept. 9, but is the coach counting the days until he runs out on the field leading his team for the first time?
“I’m excited without a doubt,” Applebee said. “But as far as being nervous and worrying about things, I haven’t had the opportunity, because there has been so much work that has had to get done (with) the players and coaches.
“Basically, I can’t worry about things. But the goal is to build a football program that wins, and builds men, and good men at that.”