Coaching threads tie Amherst and Northampton football teams together

  • Amherst Regional coach Chris Ehorn Jr., center left, gathers with his team during the first practice of the season. Amherst hosts Northampton on Friday at 7 p.m. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Thursday, October 31, 2019

AMHERST — Cenai Collins gripped the blocking pad with both hands, a white Northampton jersey pressed between his fingers. After finishing the block, he pushed the pad out of Josh Vecchio’s hands to the muddy ground.

“Pick that up, it’s a nice jersey,” said Amherst coach Daniel McCarthy, a 2014 Northampton graduate.

“No it’s not,” Collins said with a laugh.

While the Amherst football team bears little love for the Blue Devils ahead of Friday’s clash, the Hurricanes coaching staff features strong connections to their rivals across the Calvin Coolidge Bridge.

McCarthy, who coaches the Amherst offensive line, played at Northampton from 2010-2014 and coached Northampton’s youth programs under former coach Pat Sledzieski. He joined Chris Ehorn Jr.’s staff last season along with fellow former Blue Devil John Grimaldi.

“I’ve been called a traitor a couple of times, but I’m just here to help the guys and help the game of football as best I can,” said Grimaldi, who coaches linebackers and running backs for the Hurricanes.

Crossing the bridge to coach former rivals didn’t faze either Grimaldi or McCarthy.

“I’m loyal to the game of football man, that’s what I love and that’s why I’m passionate,” McCarthy said.

They both followed in their head coach’s footsteps. Ehorn, now in his fourth year, started his career as a defensive backs coach at Northampton in 2013. He was on the Blue Devils’ staff for two years before coaching in California, where he grew up, for a season before taking the lead job at Amherst. The Hurricanes’ seniors that year were skeptical of Ehorn because he came from Northampton. Ehorn’s former Blue Devils were happy he got a head coaching job but upset he was going to Amherst.

“It was a big deal to both groups,” said Ehorn, whose wife Tara Henson grew up in Williamsburg and graduated from Northampton. “I’ll always remember my first opportunity to coach came from Northampton. But now it’s time to beat Northampton.”

Amherst hasn’t beaten Northampton — which leads the all-time series 42-30-3 — since 2014 when they played on Thanksgiving. Both teams combined for four wins entering that game at McGuirk Alumni Stadium. They’ll meet Friday with potentially hosting a first-round playoff game on the line. The Hurricanes (7-0) are undefeated and seeded second in the Western Massachusetts Division 5 playoff ratings. Northampton (5-2) is No. 3 and close enough in the ratings that a win could vault the Blue Devils to the No. 2 slot.

“This is the biggest Hamp-Amherst game I’ve ever been a part of,” Grimaldi said. “We’re preparing for Northampton to be probably the best team we’ve played all year.”

McCarthy wore his “Hamp football” long sleeve T-shirt at practice Tuesday to keep the Hurricanes focused on their opponent. There won’t be any question who he and Grimaldi want to win the Battle of the Bridge.

“I hope Hamp’s ready. I know we’re firing them (Amherst) up all week,” McCarthy said. “I hope Hamp’s doing the same thing.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.