Zito ready to turn around St. Mary’s
Having three head coaches in a five-year span is certainly not a situation that most football programs try to endure.
Neither is facing a mass exodus of talent when there is uncertainty at the top of the team’s hierarchy. So when Anthony Zito took on the challenge of being the new football coach at St. Mary’s of Lancaster after the resignation of Matt Ard, he knew what he was getting himself into and has welcomed it.
“I was originally hired about five years ago when Chris Dixon was there and Matt was the offensive coordinator,” Zito said. “When Chris resigned, Matt took over the program and he still wanted me to be on board. We didn't know much about each other, but there was a trust factor and Ryan Gallo was also there and I've known Ryan since I was like 10 years old.
“So it worked out, and my son also attended St. Mary's and he was on the football team. I took over the defensive coordinator position for four years and then during the season last year, Matt mentioned to me and Ryan that he felt that it might be his last year. Now my daughter's a junior there and my other daughter will be going through the school too, and when the job became available I was interested in taking it.”
Zito, a 1990 graduate of Lancaster High School where he was a first team All-State and first team-All Western New York selection at linebacker (along with being an All-American at Buffalo State University), took over a program that had won eight games two years ago and recorded just two victories last season. When Ard left, he knew it was going to be an uphill battle to stay competitive.
“We had a lot of our seniors transfer out because I wasn't hired until three days before April break,” Zito said. “By then we had pretty much anybody who was scoring points for us last year panicking and moving on – which I understand completely – so we are starting fresh.
“I have one senior who never started a position in any way shape or form. I have one returning starter, Isreal Wilson, who was a freshman last year and John Celeste is my only senior who decided to come back and is a leader for us at wide receiver and safety. I had about six or seven kids join us this week – we started with 18 kids on the roster and I think we're somewhere around 25 now.”
With such a green roster, Zito believes that his coaching staff – one that was meticulously constructed – will have to do the best they can with what they have to work with. Additionally, they know that to win you need to be a teacher first.
“I brought in three guys who I know graduated from St. Mary's, so the kids know that the bloodlines are in there and they love St. Mary's and they're not there for anything else,” Zito said. “I have Beck O'Connor as my offensive coordinator and I have Lloyd Gray, whose son Logan is a great athlete for us.
“When I coach, I don't scream at the kids. There's no reason to – you lose them when you yell at them. I wanted a bunch of guys on my staff who wanted to love the kids, teach them about football and relate to them. That's how you grow a program and that’s how you get guys to come back the next year and play for us.”
While Zito and his staff have come up with a long-term method for the St. Mary’s program, their short-term goals aren’t exactly going according to plan. The Lancers haven’t put a ‘W’ in the win column yet but there's a couple of positive things that they can take out of their slow start to 2023.
“No matter what the score has been, the kids have kept going,” Zito said. “They’re still hitting and tackling and doing a lot of good things.
“I love the fact that I am getting to teach them. They're coming in and they're listening. They really want to learn and I'm loving it right now.”