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Long-time football coach continues his turnaround of high school football programs

Long-time football coach continues his turnaround of high school football programs
Dale Caparaso, right, coached NFL wide receiver Geronimo Allison, left, when the two were at Spoto High School in Riverview, Fla. (Courtesy: Dale Caparaso)

BELLINGHAM, Mass (BVM) — Dale Caparaso was once the head coach of a football program that had three winning seasons in 35 years. He continues to do what he did at Bellingham High School close to two decades ago — get the best out of whoever he coaches.

Caparaso took over the Blackhawks’ football program in 1991. After 12 seasons at the helm, Caparaso was able to build the team into an annual playoff contender. During his tenure with the Blackhawks, his teams combined to win 86 games and were winners of four Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association state titles.

After finishing at Bellingham in 2003, Caparaso moved to Florida where he has spent the last 16 years. While in Florida, he’s held three different head coaching positions. Caparaso believes relationships are one of the most important parts of his coaching career. Whether he has succeeded somewhere or not, the long-time coach has created life-long connections during his time coaching football.

“I think the thing that stands out most to me is relationships with players,” Caparaso said. “Sometimes you’re fortunate enough to hit it with pretty good athletes and you have success immediately, sometimes you don’t have good athletes and you don’t have the success right away, but it’s the kids, whether they are great athletes or they’re not great athletes, kids are kids. You bond with them and develop relationships with them. I’m still very close with the kids from Bellingham from those first three years, I’ll go up there and see them and their kids.”

Caparaso has become close with so many over his coaching tenure, but most of his relationships are different than his connection with Detroit Lions receiver Geronimo Allison. Caparaso and his wife were at the beginning of Allison’s story, as the star wideout struggled with his grades during his time at Spoto High School in Riverview, Fla. The Caparasos took the initiative to get Allison back on track.

“When I first coached Geronimo, he started for me as a freshman, probably 6-foot-3, 165 pound kid that could just run and catch the football,” Caparaso said. “He became academically ineligible as a sophomore and again as a junior and it had nothing to do with intelligence, he just didn’t work in the classroom.

Him and his mom bumped into my wife who runs a summer tutoring program to get our kids eligible. She grabbed him and signed him up for four classes and he passed all four classes with A’s and he became academically eligible and had a fantastic senior year. The tutoring went on with him and my wife all the way through junior college and into college.”

In his most recent endeavor, Caparaso was brought in as Dixie Hollins’ head football coach in 2017. He was once again tasked with reviving another down and out football program. In the five years before Caparaso was coach of the St. Petersburg, Fla. high school, the Rebels had a record of 6-43. In his first year at the program, Caparaso labeled the season as “par for the course,” as the Rebels went 2-8. However, the program’s revamp took a step forward the next year as the team improved to 4-6 in 2018.

The biggest change for the Rebels was their roster. Dixie Hollins had struggled to keep the local talent in house.

“In Florida, a kid can go to any school, any time, for any reason, no questions asked,” Caparaso said. “Dixie Hollins was losing kids like wildfire. From the time the previous coach was fired, to the time I was hired, there was approximately a two month span that we lost 11 kids that ended up going to other schools as starters.

When I first got to Dixie, my No. 1 goal was to keep the Dixie kids home. I told every coach that I interviewed, every coach that I hired, our school personnel, our administration, that’s got to be our No. 1 goal. From the time that I got here, once we established who we are, we didn’t lose any kids, matter of fact we gained kids.”

After a tough training regiment in the offseason, the Rebels turnaround came to fruition as the team won its first district championship since 1995. The Rebels finished their miraculous 2019 season with an 8-2 record. Once again, Caparaso showed his ability to change the culture of a program.

“We got to the point where we said we want to do what no one else in the county is doing and we want to go above and beyond,” Caparaso said. “If you think somebody else is out working us, then we need to up our conditioning, or our offseason weight program, or whatever it is.”

It’s been a long time since the 63-year-old coach took his first head coaching gig and he still doesn’t know when he will be ready to walk away. His competitive nature is still a key driver in his coaching career.

“I would be a liar if I didn’t tell you that the competitive part, winning the district title, winning in the playoffs, was important to me and important to our program,” Caparaso said. “We’re in this business to win and if you don’t win, you might not have a job the next year. That fire is always burning. If I retire and I start to grow a garden, my garden better be bigger and better than my neighbors, and if I’m going fishing, then I better catch a bigger fish than the guy on my boat, that’s me by nature.

As far as coaching, I love it. I love the season, I love the offseason, I love being around these guys and I love watching the Geronimo Allison stories develop and seeing kids go off to college, who would have never dreamt about being a college student.”

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