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STS Coach of the Month August 2022

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August 30th, 2022 | Josh Adelman

Soldiers To Sidelines is proud to honor Joseph Nerney as the August 2022 Coach of the Month.

U.S. Marine Corps Veteran Joseph Nerney is the current Defensive Coordinator for North Stafford High School Varsity Boys Lacrosse team. Coach Nerney has an incredible story about overcoming adversity and living life to serve others in his community. He beat Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which he developed serving around burn pits on deployment. His experience and advocacy were instrumental in passing the recent PACT Act, which provides VA benefits to combat cancer among Veterans. Despite hardships in life, in the Marine Corps, and during his transition, Joseph has consistently focused on his passion to coach. We asked a few questions and his responses inspired us to be more like Coach Nerney.

STS: How long have you been coaching?

Coach Nerney: On and off since I was 16. In high school, I would do youth camps. While in the Marine Corps, I did some youth camps in Fallbrook, California. I also coached/played for the Camp Pendleton team while on active duty. Once I separated, I coached freshmen lacrosse and 7th-grade football for one year at my high school & middle school in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. After that, I moved to San Antonio, Texas, where I refereed lacrosse for one spring & summer. At the end of 2015, I moved my family to Evans, Georgia, where I was a founding member of the Evans High School lacrosse program as their Defensive coordinator.

When my job moved me to Virginia, I sadly had to leave the program I loved and the kids I helped mentor. Luckily, I left them in great hands with a foundation built on hard work, grit, and strong upperclassmen leadership. (They won the county & their first playoff game in 2021) While here in Virginia, I took two years off from coaching and in that time beat Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. In the fall of 2020, I had a neighbor ask me if I was still interested in coaching. I was, and thanks to my wonderfully supportive wife Kayla, I became the new Defensive Coordinator of the North Stafford Wolverines boys program. 2021 was a challenging year with a shortened and late season due to Virginia’s COVID protocols. However, we were able to start a lot of freshmen and get some great real-world experience. Those freshmen experienced vast improvements, and we had some additions thanks to a full school year of sports. At the conclusion of the 2022 season, the head coach Brian Becton resigned and asked that I pick up the mantel. I am interviewing to be, for the first time in my life, the head coach of my very own program. I am excited for the opportunity to organize a staff and a team the way I know to work. We will prepare kids not just for the sport of lacrosse but for life after high school.

Coach Nerney at practice with some of his players

STS: Tell your story about how and why you go into coaching. Discuss how coaching has impacted you as a person.

Coach Nerney: I was blessed to have my father coach my first youth lacrosse team when I was about eight or nine years old. His love for the game and his competitive nature was infectious on us “bobbleheads.” I knew from that first season lacrosse would be a part of my life from that point forward. Later in high school, I had a football coach, Aaron Finch. His leadership style and genuine love for his players were just as infectious as my father’s. I knew after four years of playing for him, I was going to coach something at some time in my life. While in high school, my middle school lacrosse coach, Neil Redfern, ran clinics and camps for youth players, and I volunteered for a couple of them. While I enjoyed that, it wasn’t until after the Marine Corps that my good friend Kevin Bertrand asked if I could help with the freshmen at our high school. That season Kevin and I were given free rein of the 9th graders to mold them as we saw fit. It was a mixed bag of wins and losses. I was hooked once I saw 14 & 15-year-old kids realize that shooting overhand will actually score you more goals, or when they learn the perfect timing on slide packages. When I moved to San Antonio, I knew it wasn’t my final destination, so I stuck to officiating. While it paid well, my heart wasn’t in it like coaching was. When we moved to Georgia, I saw a kid in a t-shirt that read “inaugural season EVHS Lacrosse.” The following Monday, I called the Athletic director and asked if they needed officials in the area (assuming it was too late in the school year to be hired as a coach). He told me they really needed a Defensive Coordinator. Luckily for both of us, I’ve been a long pole since my Junior year of high school. Everywhere I’ve been, lacrosse has just fallen into my lap, and I couldn’t be happier.

You can ask anyone who knows me; I am a happier person when I am coaching. I become invested completely. The more I learn about the kids I coach, the more I want to help mold them into the men our communities deserve. Coaching has made me more patient. When you find that kid whose desire is there but his talent just isn’t or the kid who’s being a pain in practice but you know his homelife is trash, you can’t just quit on him. You find new ways to work with him, or you pull him aside for a solid meal for the first time in a month.

STS: How has your military experience influenced you as a coach?

Coach Nerney: Just like most folks, I had great leaders, and I had horrible leaders while I was in the Marine Corps. I saw on multiple occasions what “just do what you’re told” can do for morale. I saw what it was like when your leadership saw you as a stepping stone in their career, a way to garner more ribbons and look better for their command & staff photos. I also saw guys who genuinely loved the job and the responsibility of leadership. The guys who were in the gym at 4am before our 5am workouts because they knew they had to work harder just to stick with the young pups. The guys who had a family but knew that if their Lance Corporal needed them, they could bring them to their home and give them an ear. Those guys kept the standards high but not in a demoralizing way. They saw your potential and wanted you to give every ounce of effort to achieve it. They knew how to balance a team evenly distributing the strengths and weaknesses across the seven or so teams headed forward. They knew how to mentor, but more importantly, they knew how to teach people to mentor so that the next generation would be better off than the last.

STS: Describe a coaching interaction with a player, or group of players, that has a special place in your heart?

Coach Nerney: I’ll never forget back in Georgia, we would have the entire defense over every Monday for film and dinner. We would watch some of our game films and a college game on ESPN. I paid entirely out of my own pocket. Nothing crazy just a giant pot of pasta and giant jars of cheap sauce from Costco, or maybe $5 pizzas from Little Caesars. Eventually it became quite costly, and I was considering stopping. My wife, Kayla, told me we must continue dinners. She had overheard one of the kids say that it was the highlight of their week & the best meal they got all week. Kayla said, “I don’t care what it costs; we’ll make it work.” So, it’s a family affair regarding coaching in my house. We have continued that tradition in Virginia for the last two seasons. If I become the Head Coach, I will have to modify it not to exclude any particular group; but I will keep the tradition going.

This short interview highlights many of the reasons why U.S. Marine Corps Veteran, Joseph Nerney, is the STS August 2022 Coach of the Month. He is inclusive to everyone he coaches. He sets a high standard of character. He has committed to improving his coaching craft since high school. He feeds others even when he doesn’t have enough. Our country is fortunate to have Coach Nerney on the sidelines and in the community. Congratulations to Coach Nerney!

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