As the hot and humid days of August are about to turn over to the cooler and drier days of September, Jeff Bevino’s thoughts have been driven towards football.
This year it will be different for the 62-year old Bevino. Football will be there, but it will not be constantly in the forefront as in years past. For the first time in 43 years, he will be taking a less-consumed approach.
Driven to the point of near exhaustion while coaching Foran High through a 4-6 season in 2017, Bevino announced to his team following a loss to Hillhouse in November that the upcoming game against Jonathan Law would be his last. He was reluctantly stepping down after 12 seasons with the Lions, where he compiled a 61-62 record.
“It was, without question, the hardest decision that I had made in my life,” Bevino said. “There were many times during last season when I struggled. I was tired, really tired, just mentally exhausted. But I kept plugging on. I simply wouldn’t give in to it. I wasn’t about to let these kids down.”
It did come to a spectacular conclusion, however, not necessarily as Bevino had hoped.
Law went on to a 34-28 instant classic win when Michael Plaskon scored from 14 yards out with 57 seconds left in regulation. Law would go on to make the Class M playoffs, losing a quarterfinal game to eventual champion Killingly, 57-21.
All Bevino could do was look back over a very tough season, but it was more than that. It was a year in which he he lost the index finger on his left hand to a snow-blowing accident. A heart condition and the deeply saddening death of Danni Kemp, a former Foran High and Stony Brook University softball standout each took both a physical and mental toll on Bevino.
During surgery (for the amputation) Bevino’s heart stopped twice. He had to have it shocked back. Once he began to heal, Bevino charged on. He was heading for his third season as the softball coach at Notre Dame-Fairfield, which came on the heels of a softball career at Foran where his teams won a state title in 2011, then reached the championship game in both 2012 and 2013. During that time, he coached both his daughter, Fallon, now playing at Sacred Heart University, and her best friend, Danni Kemp.
One week before practice was to start at ND, Kemp died after fighting a courageous battle with brain cancer.
“It seemed like one terrible incident after another,” Bevino said. “I never had time to recover. My daughter is still struggling to even come close to getting over Danni’s death.”
In July, Bevino approached the Milford Board of Education. He wanted to take a one year leave of absence, then he would plan to come back for the 2018 season.
“It wasn’t allowed and I understand that,” Bevino said about the Board’s decision. So he trudged on. It’s really all part of the fabric of Bevino’s life.
In 1973, he lost a his 23-year-old brother Michael to a car accident on the Merritt Parkway. Two years later, his mother, Kitty (Kathleen) died after complications from pneumonia.
“She never got over Michael’s death,” Bevino said.
As a 15 year old, Bevino dodged death himself. He was with his girlfriend and two other friends at Gulliver’s, a bowling alley in Port Chester, N.Y., which was intentionally set on fire. “I was the only one of the four of us that made it out alive,” Bevino said. Through all of that that happened, I gained a much greater appreciation for life and what it’s about.”
Growing up in Stamford, Bevino became much better known as a baseball rather than a football player. He has played in and coached in two Babe Ruth World Series.
“If you ask just about anybody that knew me back then in Stamford, they’d tell you that I had a greater love for baseball,” he said.
Yet it was football which he turned to, first as an 18-year old assistant coach at Westhill in Stamford before he moved on to his first head coaching job at Roger Ludlowe in Fairfield. It only lasted one year. In 1986, the town consolidated its two high schools into one.
Bevino journeyed from there to Joel Barlow in Redding, before becoming the head coach at St. Thomas More School in Colchester and later Milford Academy. Then it was on to Notre Dame-Fairfield, where he served as both football coach and athletic director.
“I liked being back around kids all the time and for four years,” Bevino said. “At St. Thomas More and at Milford Academy, kids would be there for one year, perhaps two. That isn’t a lot of time to spend in their lives.”
When the Foran job opened up in 2006, Bevino, a town resident, jumped at the chance.
“I’ve always wanted to be part of a community,” Bevino said. “I didn’t have that anywhere else where I’ve coached except here in Milford. I’ve always needed to be part of something. I know I got that from my parents.”
Bevino inherited a program that was struggling. In the beginning, his biggest obstacle was changing the culture.
“We lost our first 17 games,” Bevino said. “You’re can’t expect to win every game, but what you have to instill in your players is a winning attitude.”
His teams have always featured and revolved around a quarterback. He had record-setters in Jake White, Matt Aspinwall. Tucker Schumitz, Jake Kasuba and Lance DiNatale.
Then, last year, along came Jared Hubler.
“We probably would’ve thrown the ball more last year if Jared hadn’t been such a great athlete and a tough and intelligent runner,” Bevino said. “He had a terrific arm and he was also one of the best defensive players I’ve coached.”
Bevino faced a challenging final season at Foran. Injuries decimated the team at times and the Lions were confronted with a monster schedule. The six teams that they lost to — North Haven, Wilbur Cross, Law, Sheehan, Hillhouse and Daniel Hand — won a total of 42 games.
“Jared added another dimension to our offense,” Bevino said. “We worked off of the run-pass option and changed plays often at the line of scrimmage. If the backside linebacker committed to cut inside expecting a run, Jared would look to get a pass receiver in that space he vacated. It worked to our advantage to always try and get our best athletes into those open spaces.”
Bevino admits that he’s never measured a season solely on wins and losses.
“You can’t win every game,” he said. “What it really comes down to is what your players get out of it and what all of the hard work means. You work 365 days of the game to play 10 games.”
Now, he’s had a little time to reflect.
“In many ways, I’ve felt like I’ve cheated the world,” he said. “To be a coach is one of the greatest things that people could have allowed me to do. I was very lucky.”
Bevino still finds himself doodling plays while at home and he often visits football strategy websites.
“There’s something about this game, trying to out-think an opponent, to outmaneuvering him,” he said. “It’s all about strategy. The X’s and O’s. Then there’s the other side, the kids. It’s deeper than the sport. It’s really about teaching boys and helping them become men.”
Bevino isn’t about to rule out the possibility of becoming a head coach again. “I still need some time to process what has taken place in my life over the last twenty months,” he said.
Bevino will assist West Haven High head coach Rich Boshea this season. He’ll also spend time making trips around the East Coast with his wife Carol and watch their son Mike play for Colgate.