Taylor aims to turn Canterbury into football power - again

NEW MILFORD — Nobody had to twist Tom Taylor’s arm to convince him to come back and coach the Canterbury School football team again.

After all, he had been Canterbury’s head coach from 2002-08, a period during which the Saints posted the best record out of all 70 teams in the New England Prep School Athletic Conference, reached the Prep Bowl three times and featured a roster dotted with prized college recruits.

Plus, the home he has lived in for the last two decades is literally right next to Canterbury’s picturesque campus, separated only by a row of trees. The football field is so close, you could practically kick a field goal from Taylor’s driveway.

For any football coach, it’s a little slice of gridiron heaven.

New Canterbury football coach Tom Taylor, back center, with players, from left, Seamus Oeser, Ryan Johannes, Isaiah D'Haiti and Dan Romanello.
New Canterbury football coach Tom Taylor, back center, with players, from left, Seamus Oeser, Ryan Johannes, Isaiah D'Haiti and Dan Romanello.Rich Gregory / Hearst Connecticut Media

So, when Canterbury headmaster Thomas Sheehy III called in April and offered the job to the 69-year-old coach, who was coaching at Seminole High School in Florida at the time, he didn’t even need a big sales pitch. It was an offer Taylor wasn’t about to refuse.

And, he’s happy to be back.

“I was here from 2002 to 2008, and I had a ball,” Taylor said Wednesday after practice as he sat behind the desk in his home office, surrounded by shelves full of football souvenirs a coaching career that has included stops at Brookfield, New Milford and Immaculate high schools and Marist College. “The football field is across the street from here. I have to walk 100 feet to get to the football field and 150 to walk to the weight room. No one goes on the football field except the football team year-round, and our facilities will just knock your eyes out.

“To tell the truth, I loved coaching in Florida, but I was away from my family,” added Taylor, who also has a place in Florida. “I’ve been pretty lucky in my life. The phone has always rung. So, it rang that day and (Sheehy) asked me and I said ‘You know, you called me on exactly the right day, because I just can’t be away from my family any more like this.’ So I said yes. I came up in April and I’ve been working away ever since.”

Taylor inherited a team that went 1-6 last year. His roster this year, much like his previous years at Canterbury, features several Division I college prospects.

“We’ve got a lot of good athletes. It’s among the best groups of athletes I’ve ever had,” Taylor said. And that’s saying a lot, considering he’s coached the likes of NFL linebacker Trevardo Williams, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds and weighed 240 pounds when he played at Canterbury in 2008.

“We still have to come together as a team. We’ve got kids here from Florida, California, Southbury, near and far away. And we’re getting there. They’ve got to get to know each other. I mean, 10 days ago was our first practice. They didn’t even know each other’s names back then.”

The Saints opened the season on Sept. 19 with a 34-0 victory over the Capital Prep Harbor School. Senior running back Isaiah D’Haiti (5-foot-10, 210 pounds) of Naples, Fla., rushed for 177 yards and a touchdown and senior quarterback Jake Gigliotti (5-10, 180) of Palo Alto, Calif., threw three touchdown passes. Seniors Ryan Johannes (6-5, 220) of Southbury, Dan Romanello (6-2, 190) of Stamford and Mathias Smith (6-0, 180) of Newington each caught a touchdown pass and senior Seamus Oeser (6-0, 190) of Brookfield ran for a score.

“The first game was a big test,” Johannes said. “We all played really well, and we gelled really quickly, but I think we still have room for improvement.”

Other seniors to keep an eye on this fall include offensive/defensive lineman Ben Austin (6-5, 275) of Newington; running back/linebacker Kharon Daniels (5-11, 195) of Manchester; his twin brother Hasson Daniels (6-2, 217), an offensive lineman/linebacker; receiver/linebacker Chris Carolei (6-5, 205) of Millbrook, N.Y.; receiver/linebacker Tyler Serrichio (5-11, 185) of Stamford; offensive/defensive lineman Harry Tubbs (6-6, 290) of London, England; offensive lineman/linebacker Keith Lachance (5-10, 185); and center/defensive lineman Zach McGovern (5-10, 240).

“The one thing we have is our kids are giving 100 percent every day. That’s really important,” Taylor said. “I always tell them ‘If you do exactly what we tell you and go 100 percent on every single play, we’ll probably win a lot of games.’

“We’ve got the ‘100 percent’ part, now we’re trying to get the ‘what we tell you’ part,” Taylor added with a laugh.

And Taylor’s message is backed up by plenty of championship credentials. His teams at Brookfield High School won three straight Western Connecticut Conference championships and the 1995 Class M state title. He guided New Milford High to the 2001 South-West Conference championship game. In his previous stint at Canterbury, the Saints won the Prep Bowl in 2002. He has sent dozens of players on to play college football, and even served as the recruiting coordinator at Marist College.

“It’s a very special group we have here,” said Romanello, who caught 19 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns at the King Low Heywood Thomas School in Stamford last season. “The camaraderie we have already is incredible. It seems like I’ve known these kids for more than just three weeks. We’re looking forward to a great season.”

Taylor is, too.

rgregory@newstimes.com; Twitter: @DanburySports