Dunkirk Dialed 9-1-1. Officer Gomez reporting for duty
In many high schools across the country, football takes the cake as the most popular sport. Seemingly half the student population will flock to the field each Friday night to watch their classmates battle on the gridiron.
But, with great popularity comes great pressure.
Understandably, when a team is struggling the pressure is amplified, maybe more so in football than other sports.
That’s been the case for the Dunkirk Marauders, who entered the 2023 season with a record of 3-21 over the previous three seasons.
The Marauders also entered the season searching for their first win since Nov. 4, 2021, a 20-8 win over Burgard.
New head coach Edwin Gomez sought to rewrite the script in his first season.
Gomez, a 2014 graduate of Dunkirk, played for the Marauders from modified all the way up through his senior year.
He had been an assistant coach for the school for the past three years, as well as the head coach of the junior varsity team.
But Gomez isn’t just the high school varsity football coach in Dunkirk.
He also works as an officer for the Dunkirk Police Department, a position he has held for the last five years.
Despite the challenges and headaches that came from juggling both jobs, Gomez makes it work..
In order to work around their coach’s work schedule, the Marauders hold practice in the late afternoon and early evening.
“I’m able to move stuff around during the day, but I’m able to coach in the evening and still work,” Gomez said.
Even if it may cost him some a little sleep, Gomez said he is proud to coach the team he once played for.
“I feel honored to be able to [coach] because, you know, it comes full circle,” he said. “I graduated from here, I played here, and now to be able to come back and give back to the school I played for. It’s a great sense of pride.”
Pride, according to Gomez, is something that has been lacking in the recent past.
“A lot of people count out Dunkirk football after the last three years,” he said. “Dunkirk football kind of lost a little bit of respect.”
As many coaches would agree, one of the most important steps in turning around a program is improving the locker room culture.
“[Gomez] had to assemble a staff that brought together that family, brought together that culture,” said offensive coordinator and assistant coach Evon Hernandez. “He’s done an amazing job, I think.”
Hernandez has been coaching with Gomez for the past three years. Last year, the two of them ran the junior varsity program together.
“He’s real big on structure,” Hernandez said of Gomez. “Structure and togetherness.”
Hernandez also said that by his estimate, 99% of the team has bought in to Gomez’s coaching model.
“We’ve still got people that we wish would buy in, but 99% is very good in his first year,” he said.
To help the players come together and subscribe to the coaches’ messages, Gomez and Hernandez have captains, or as Hernandez described them, “coaches on the field.”
One such captain is running back Mike Hanlon, a senior who also takes defensive snaps as an outside linebacker.
“He’s a dog,” Gomez said of Hanlon. “He’s the type of guy that’s going to leave it all on the field.”
In just three games so far this season, Hanlon has rushed for 625 yards and six touchdowns. According to Gomez, Hanlon is a source of inspiration for many of his teammates.
“That leadership that he provides by actions, not just the way he carries himself … It creates a spark,” Gomez said of his team captain. “Not only that, but when one of his teammates goes and lays a big hit or does something crazy, he’s one of the first ones to pick them up and celebrate them too.”
In Week 2, Hanlon gashed the Albion defense for 242 yards and three touchdowns, another dominant game in the senior’s career.
When the final whistle blew, the score read Dunkirk 40, Albion 26.
The drought was finally over.
“It was a great feeling,” Hanlon said of the victory. “[We] haven’t felt that in a while, but we’ve all been putting in the work … [We] finally got to it.”
“After going almost two years without the varsity winning, I think it was something that they all knew they had,” Gomez said. “I think that they all had the heart and the ability to win, and it was a matter of just putting everything together.”
Gomez admits that, with this group of seniors, it means slightly more to him, as they are the first group of seniors that he has been able to coach.
“To see them work for it and fight, claw and scratch to get that win … You can just tell that they were really excited,” he said.
However, Gomez and the Marauders don’t plan to be content with just the one victory. He says the team’s biggest goals for the rest of the season are to take things one game at a time and “prove the naysayers wrong.”
It seems like he’s off to a pretty good start.