WATERTOWN — Kyle LaLonde was like a kid on Christmas as he put his Watertown High School football team through its initial paces on the first day of preseason camp Monday.
Not only was LaLonde anxious to get things started, as are all coaches on the first day, he was more than ready to place his imprint on the Cyclone program as its new head coach.
“It was a combination of a few nerves, and just trying to get a feel for the players and what’s ahead of us,” LaLonde said of his first few hours of practice. “We’ve got a young coaching staff with a lot of enthusiasm, but also a lot to learn. It’s going to be a process, and I’m not exactly sure what to expect this year. But I’m grateful for the opportunity.”
The WHS administration decided to move in a different direction when it replaced former coach Vince Williams with LaLonde. Williams had helped to resurrect a moribund WHS program when he took over in 2008. Watertown went 0-8 in Williams’s first season, but in two years the Cyclones were playing for a Section 3 Class A title and made the playoffs three times in his tenure.
But the last two seasons have been disappointing. WHS went just 4-12, including a woeful 1-7 season a year ago when it was outscored 326-82 and wasn’t really competitive in most games.
WHS athletic director Mike Lennox said the change “was what’s best for the program. We thank Vince for his years of service and dedication. But we think we have in Kyle a smart, young leader who will really help us move in the right direction.”
LaLonde, who coached the WHS modified team the past few seasons, actually played under Williams at Thousand Islands, as well as under current Vikings head man Joe Gilfus.
“I’m a product of both of those guys, and they’ve taught me a lot,” LaLonde said. “Coach Gilfus gave an inexperienced 18-year-old a modified job where I learned a ton. And coach Williams has always been and still is very gracious and willing to help me with questions.”
When LaLonde was approached about taking over the WHS varsity post, he was at first a bit apprehensive. “I was kind of taken aback. But I thought I’d regret it forever if I didn’t at least give it a shot.”
LaLonde said all the right things when talking about the program and the expectations. He especially preached patience.
“My job is to make sure we play 100 percent in practice and in games. If we do that, hopefully we can be compete at a high level,” he said. “If we’re working hard and are competitive here (pointing to the practice field), we’ll be competitive on Friday nights as well.”
To that end, LaLonde and his staff, which includes former JV head coach Chris Adams and a Williams assistant, Brandon Marston, are trying to simplify things as far as terminology in offensive and defensive schemes.
“We want the kids to react and not have to think too much,” LaLonde said. “We’ve got a lot of new kids and we just don’t want to give them too much too soon.”
As a high school social studies and psychology teacher at WHS, LaLonde is able to interact with many of his players on a daily basis. “I’ve had a lot of them either in class or at the modified level,” he said. “I think it’s important to be in the school and available for kids when they want to talk.”
Lennox also said that was one of the main criteria in hiring LaLonde. “We wanted someone in-house who’s around the kids every day,” he said. “We think Kyle is a good fit for our program.”
LaLonde, 27 and single, said he’s dreamed of running his own program since he was in high school. And he is “willing to make a total commitment to making WHS a success.”
Despite all the optimism, LaLonde knows the WHS program could be in for a rough ride in one of the toughest Class A conferences in the state. Watertown’s top two rivals, Carthage and Indian River, played for the Class A crown a year ago so reaching that level is the ultimate goal.
LaLonde said “almost every starting spot” is open as practice begins. “Hopefully, guys will step up and take them over the next three weeks.”
WHS opens the season against Class AA Corning in the Carrier Dome at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 6.