By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 8/7/13
Avon Grove coach Eric Jackson had an inkling that his Red Devils could have a special year in 2013.
“We kind of knew as coaches that we had the potential to do well this year, but we weren’t going to shout it out,” said Jackson.
Instead the Red Devils did their talking on the field.
With Jackson at the helm, Avon Grove went 21-4 and won a share of its first league championship (Ches-Mont) and then won two one-goal games to claim its first District 1 championship before advancing to the state semifinals.
Jackson has been the architect behind the birth and growth of the program, which he launched in 2001 as a club team.
In recognition of these accomplishments, Jackson has been named the Boys’ Coach of the Year by Phillylacrosse.com.
“I think it’s important to build a strong foundation and I think we have done it the right way,” said Jackson. “We got good people involved, good youth coaches, and from alumni to youth players all have gotten involved in giving back. We also have great parents that are willing to do extra things.”
Jackson may have thought his team would be a power in 2013, but the rest of the Philly lax community had no idea that Avon Grove would be a district contender, or even a league contender.
The Devils had improved regularly until a 9-10 season in 2012 which ended with six straight losses. This year’s team had many freshmen playing starting or key roles and the Ches-Mont League had plenty of veteran-laden powers.
But Avon Grove opened with eight straight wins as the young players made significant contributions. The Red Devils finished the league season with four wins and forged a four-way tie with Downingtown East, Great Valley and Bishop Shanahan for the league title.
They entered the District 1 tournament as the No. 10 seed, but posted big wins over Ridley (11-4) and Downingtown East (11-5) to reach the semifinals. A clutch 6-5 victory over two-time defending District 1 and state champion Conestoga moved the Devils into the title game.
In the final, Avon Grove won, 5-4, over Garnet Valley, on a last-second goal by freshman Bryce Reid.
“We had a coach that was able to motivate us,” said junior All-Ches-Mont League goalie Will Schreiner. “We had a lot of new faces on opening day and he switched around a few positions and integrated some young kids. He deserves a lot of props for integrating these freshmen so well.”
One of the players that Jackson and his coaches moved was Matt King, who was shifted from long pole to midfield and emerged as a leader and mainstay on offense.
“Coach pushed us and gave us the confidence that we could go further and further,” said King. “He took a lot of young guys and mixed them with the veterans to make a winning atmosphere.”
Jackson played high school lacrosse at Arundel High (MD) and was a two-time All-American for West Chester when it was a Division II program. He began his coaching career as an assistant at Upper Darby. He was head coach at Westtown and also an assistant at Unionville before starting the Avon Grove program.
In 2002, Avon Grove moved to the varsity level. By 2007 Avon Grove was 9-7 and in 2010 it was 13-5, and then in 2011 the team went 17-4 and reached the District 1 quarterfinals.
This year, the team chemistry clicked, Jackson said.
“I think we set ourselves up with a good schedule that gave us confidence going into the playoffs,” said Jackson, an Avon Grove middle school Health and Physical Education teacher. “Our players felt they could hang with good teams and win close games.
“The kids just wanted it. They worked hard and played for each other. If one didn’t play well, others stepped up. They believed in each other.”
Jackson has tried to build character through numerous community service projects.
“Since Day 1, we’ve been doing many types of community service projects.” he said. “Getting kids out there is a big part of character building. I am a teacher first, and if you build character in kids they believe in what you do.”
Jackson says the team’s success was also a result of the tremendous community support the program has received at Avon Grove. When he started the Avon Grove youth program over a decade ago, he had just a few dozen players – now there are over 300.
“It certainly was something seeing the community rallying behind us,” he said. “We expect to keep building. It’s been awesome to be a part of it.
It takes a lot of people to make it work and we are definitely becoming a lacrosse community. I think all the pieces are there.”
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