Stephen Schulze was a standout defensive end as a sophomore for the Mount Saint Joseph football team that claimed the MIAA A Conference championship in 2019.
This season, the Gaels’ first since winning the title, Schulze is the team’s starting center on offense as well.
“There is a lot going on there,” the 6-foot-2, 240-pound senior said of his new position. “I don’t think I ever truly realized how difficult [snapping the ball and then blocking] is until I did it.”
Playing on both sides of the ball used to be a rarity at Mount Saint Joseph, which boasts a roster large enough in most seasons that provides skill and depth at nearly every position.
But that has changed partly by necessity under new coach Dom Damico, who was hired in 2020 after 25 years and more than 200 wins at McDonogh.
The Gaels are more inexperienced than usual at many positions, particularly along the offensive and defensive lines, forcing players like Schulze into double duty. There are only 10 seniors on the roster.
“I only had two [returning] offensive lineman and eight others to pick from,” Damico said. “I met with the other eight and said, ‘Listen, I know some of you are not thinking about playing O-line. But we need you to. You can play one way and we can win two games or you can play both ways and hopefully we can win nine or 10.'”
Damico continued, “They listened to my spiel and, obviously, they were more interested in winning nine or 10 games than two.”
Despite their youth, the Gaels are 7-3 (4-1 MIAA A) and gearing up for a conference semifinal against visiting Calvert Hall (7-2) on Saturday, Nov. 13. When the teams met in the regular season at Mount Saint Joseph Oct. 23, the Gaels prevailed, 24-14.
“If I am being honest, the season has gone a little better than expected, partially because we are a young team with a new coach,” Schulze said.
Damico said he doesn’t feel like a new coach anymore since he has been on the job for almost two years. He coached Mount Saint Joseph for one scrimmage and one game against conference rival Pallotti last year before the season was abruptly halted due to the fall wave of COVID-19.
“What Coach Damico has really brought, along with his experience as a coach, is a different culture,” senior fullback and linebacker Connor Roman said. “People are held accountable for things. No one is going to get away with anything.”
There is a strong emphasis on being disciplined, being on time, being respectful of others, working hard and having fun, all messages that tend to resonate more with a young team.
“It’s not things we haven’t done before [under former coach Rich Holzer]. But [Damico] is really putting emphasis on those things,” Schulze said.
The 57-year-old Damico took the Mount Saint Joseph job because it challenged him in different way.
“It’s totally a different place than McDonogh, where you had 20, 25 kids on the roster that were mostly recruited players or multi-sport recruits,” he said. “[Mount Saint Joseph] basically has 800 kids from the general area that come here and you’ve got to make the team up.”
Damico pointed out there is not one recruited player on the Gaels’ roster.
“It’s truly developing kids that come to Mount Saint Joseph,” he said. “It’s a different approach and something I wanted to try.”
If the Gaels beat Calvert Hall in the conference semifinals, they will take on the winner of the game between Archbishop Spalding and McDonogh for the championship.
Spalding is the top seed in the conference, having just completed a 10-0 regular season with a 41-0 home win against Mount Saint Joseph Nov. 5.
“I am happy for our kids. I am happy for our school that we have gotten this far,” Damico said. “When you have a good football team, the whole spirit of the school changes. … These are great kids, scrappy, young kids that just want to play football. So, hopefully we can keep things rolling, keep winning, St. Joe’s has me till I am 62. Then, I’ll go play golf.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mount Saint Joseph