CUMBERLAND â The keys to the Clippersâ football program have been handed to a 27-year-old first-time varsity head coach.
The lack of experience when it comes to leading young men, or his age, should not yield shrugs of disbelief. Thereâs plenty of pigskin knowledge tucked inside the mind of Josh Lima, the choice to replace departed Cumberland mentor Chris Skurka, who in January accepted a coaching position that specifically entails overseeing the linebackers and special teams at Dean College.
âI believe Iâm going to be the youngest head football coach in the state of Rhode Island,â said Lima about the badge of honor he will keep in mind as he takes on this new challenge.
Limaâs appointment was confirmed at last Thursdayâs school committee meeting after he was recommended by a five-person selection panel. Previously the offensive coordinator at La Salle Academy, Lima was one of four finalists brought before a committee that included administrators, a parent and a Clipper football player.
During his formal interview, Lima made sure to stress that heâs no stranger to the Division I landscape. With Cumberland transitioning to the stateâs top tier during the upcoming two-year realignment period that commences this fall, it would appear that finding someone with institutional knowledge of scheming against the Hendrickens, Barringtons, etc. would rate high on the requirement list.
According to Cumberland Athletic Director Frank Geiselman, the fact that Lima has been around the Division I block a few times was something that worked in his favor, but it wasnât a deal-breaker. As the committee dug deeper into Limaâs background, they found plenty of glowing and complimentary reviews.
âWe knew we were replacing a top-notch person [in Skurka] and wanted to bring someone in with a fresh set of eyes,â stated Geiselman, who was part of the search committee. âJosh is very energetic and enthusiastic. The recommendations we received from a couple of coaches were positive and that his rapport with the kids is very good.â
Geiselman noted that Lima has already started to immerse himself in the high school and is determined to learn all he can about its student-athletes, the Pop Warner program and Cumberland in general. Reached over the weekend, Lima admits that in preparation for his appearance before the selection group, he studied past videos of the Cumberland gridders on hudl.com, a site that some coaches use when it comes to swapping game footage.
âHe wants the community to be on board with the football program so we can get that Cumberland Clipper Big Blue Pride,â Geiselman remarked.
Referencing the turf surface that was installed at Tucker Field last summer, Lima saw the head-coaching job as one that featured numerous perks.
âWith the new facilities, you can tell that theyâre dedicated to the athletic program. Thatâs something I want to be a part of and build on the tradition thatâs already been established,â he remarked. âWatching them a little bit on film, they do some nice things offensively and defensively. Scheme-wise, it also gave me ideas of how to change some areas.â
For a person a few years shy of his 30th birthday, Lima possesses an extensive football background. He played football at La Salle (Class of 2004) before heading off to Saint Anselm (N.H.) College. A wide receiver, Lima transferred to Sacred Heart (Conn.) University, where he finished his collegiate career and received an undergraduate degree in business sports management.
It was during his time at Sacred Heart when Limaâs interest in coaching was piqued. Since he transferred from a Division II to an I-AA school, Lima had to sit out a year. His high school head coach, Tim Coen, called to see if he had any interest in joining La Salleâs coaching staff as a volunteer.
âI actually changed my college schedule so I would go to classes on Monday and Tuesday and take another one online. Then I would drive home and coach Tuesday night, Wednesday, Thursday and be at the games on Friday,â Lima shared. âCoaching was something I loved and had a passion for.â
A native of Cranston who is employed as a long-term substitute teacher in the Warwick School Department, Limaâs coaching apprenticeship continued at Portsmouth. Working once again under Coen, he was assigned the defensive backs and wideouts. Upon Coenâs retirement, Lima hooked on with Cranston East. Besides working with the same position groups he had dealt with while at Portsmouth, Lima called plays as the defensive coordinator for the Thunderboltsâ freshmen contingent.
As he prepared for his second season at Cranston East, Lima was contacted by Geoff Marcone, the head coach who succeeded Coen at La Salle. Needless to say, the proud alumnus jumped at the chance to return to familiar surroundings.
âOriginally Geoff brought me in to run the pass game, but then it transitioned to the fulltime offensive coordinator,â shared Lima, who re-branded himself as a La Salle coach in 2009. âThat second year, I would call the plays and Geoff would have a lot of say to what was going on. By the third year, I had 100 percent control.â
In Limaâs tenure at La Salle, the Rams posted two undefeated regular seasons, two runner-up finishes and produced back-to-back winners of the R.I. Gatorade Player of the Year award â running back Josh Morris in 2011 and quarterback Alex Francis in 2012.
âIn the five years I was at La Salle, I got a lot of great experience in installing a system that I wanted to run in game-time situations,â Lima pointed out. âWhen I first got there, Geoff wanted to run the spread offense and become very good with the zone read. Thanks to a kid like Anthony, who could run and throw, we succeeded.
âIn high school, you can have an offensive system, but you need to adapt,â stated Lima. âIf we have athletic, tough-nosed kids, weâll run an attack-style defense. If weâre small, then weâll run what we did at La Salle, which is more of a read-and-react. Itâs all going to depend on the personnel.â
Lima inherits some nice pieces from a Cumberland outfit that lost to West Warwick in the Division II Super Bowl this past December after winning the big game the previous season. He mentioned quarterback Tyler Calabro, who will be a senior next year, as well as fellow classmates Mike Stock and Jared Talbert, both running backs.
Now that he has officially been named head coach, Lima can turn his attention to forming a coaching staff that figures to include a strong voice on the defensive side of the ball. He also plans to address the returning Cumberland players this week.
âI want Cumberland High to be a place where people go to on Friday nights,â said Lima, who vows to market the program through social media. âIn Division I, you have to give 100 percent effort on every single play because youâre playing the best of the best. The kids are going to get excited to play those big-time schools and thatâs why we need to get the fans and community excited.
âI think Cumberland belongs in Division I and I want to keep it in Division I,â Lima delved further. âI donât want to be the Division II program that goes to I, doesnât have success and drops backs to II and wins again. I want to be a team that comes up and stays there.â
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