Szychulski goes from coach to star player

Kevin Szychulski picked up tough yards for the Ryan football team this year. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Just because he couldn’t play didn’t mean Kevin Szychulski had to step away from the game he loves.

Szychulski is a senior at Archbishop Ryan High School, and this year he was back on the football field, but last year, a scary car accident kept him from starting at linebacker. But he wanted to be around football, so he took a spot coaching at Chalfont, where he lives.

The accident, which gave him a broken wrist and a nasty concussion, didn’t stop him from game planning and being a leader, two of the things he did best at Ryan, and it translated very well to the coaching game.

“I coached at Calvary Athletic Association, I was coaching the fifth- and sixth-grade teams, calling the plays and we won the championship,” Szychulski said. “I think because I’m a defensive player, I know what to call. If you know what the defense does, you know what plays to call, so I actually enjoyed it.

“It was hard not playing. Really hard. I got into the accident with two other guys from the baseball team, we were coming home from baseball. I got hurt my sophomore year with my neck, and then I got hurt at the end of my junior year, so I couldn’t play. It was really hard, but I wanted to stay around, so coaching was a great way to do it.”

Szychulski has always been a student of the game.

He now stands about 5 feet 6 and weighs about 190 pounds. He was smaller as a freshman, but he still earned a varsity letter. That wasn’t luck.

“When I was a freshman, I knew I had to do whatever I could to get on the field, so I spent a lot of time watching film and figuring things out,” Szychulski said. “So when I started coaching, I already knew how to do a lot of things because I knew I had to know the game because I was never the best out there. But I knew I could do things to help the team, so I tried to know everything I could. So I felt like I was pretty good at it.”

Szychulski didn’t get a chance to coach his team this year to defend the crown because six months ago, he was cleared to get back on the field, and this year he was the unquestioned leader of the Ryan football team.

He also picked up a new position.

Szychulski played on both sides of the ball this year, and on offense, he became one of the team’s primary ballcarriers.

“I liked playing offense a lot,” Szychulski said. “I had a pretty good year at running back. I averaged like six yards a carry. I didn’t score any touchdowns, but I had some big runs. We didn’t run as much because we were losing so we would have to throw a lot. But I had fun running the ball. I did play fullback for a few plays before (this year), but nothing like this season.”

Szychulski had a solid year on both sides of the ball, but it didn’t translate into much team success. They played only four games, but the Raiders lost all of them. However, the team did gain valuable experience this year that should pay dividends down the road. Szychulski won’t be playing, but it doesn’t mean he didn’t have an impact in future seasons.

“I loved that we had a season, and I loved that I was able to be sort of a coach on the field,” Szychulski said. “We had a really young team. They’re going to be a lot better. We knew this year was going to be tough because everyone was young and we didn’t really have the summer and offseason we needed. It was hard.

“This team has a lot of talent, though. Good leadership, too. Most guys were learning how to play, but Joey Mastrangelo and Arturo Brunelli are both really good players. And Rob McConnell, too. He didn’t play this year because he got hurt, but he’s coming back and he’s one of the hardest workers I know. I think they’re going to be very competitive next year.”

If they are, Szychulski had a hand in it.

This year, even though he had been away from the team for a year, he tried to mentor the younger guys and get them acclimated to playing varsity football. He was a good teacher, and they were good understudies.

“I definitely tried to learn everything fast so I could help them,” Szychulski said. “I’ve played for three coaches now, and all were great, so I tried to help them. All had different systems and wanted to do different things, but all were very good coaches and great people. I just tried to learn what they wanted to do and then help others do it, too.”

Szychulski has had great mentors his entire life. And he’s used to being a mentor himself.

His father was an All-Catholic linebacker at North Catholic, and now Szychulski is the second oldest of nine children. For him, being a football player is very similar to being a member of a family.

“My dad was a great football player, and he helped me a lot, he would coach whatever we needed, he’s always been there,” Szychulski said. “I think I learned how to be a leader from him. And as an older brother, you’re trying to set a good example. I’ve been doing that my whole life.”

Now he’s getting ready for the next step.

He had planned on being a captain on the wrestling team, but now it looks like that season will be, at best, shortened, if played at all, due to coronavirus. He is also eyeing a return to the baseball diamond while looking at figuring out his next step.

“I wrestled before, so I wanted to go back, but I have no idea if we’ll ever get started, it’s crazy,” Szychulski said. “And baseball, I really want to play because we missed last year. But you don’t know. I just hope we play.

“The plan is to hopefully play football in college. I plan on cutting some weight, working out and getting faster. Then I’ll see what happens. I don’t care what position. I’ll go to a college and if they have a role I can play, I’ll be happy to play it. Whatever the team needs.”

And then get back into coaching?

‘I definitely see myself coaching again,” Szychulski said. “I loved it. I definitely want to do it again.”