LYNN — There’s no shortage of similarities between English football coach Chris Carroll and Tech’s James Runner. Both Lynn natives and former football players themselves, Carroll and Runner have coached their programs into state tournament contenders over recent seasons.
Tonight (7 p.m.) at Manning Field, Carroll and Runner will coach against one another in the 57th Agganis Football All-Star Game. Carroll will man the South all-star sideline, while Runner will direct the North squad.
“We’ve had a lot of competitive teams in our North Shore area,” Runner, who was named The Item’s Coach of the Year this past season, said. “This game is loaded with talent. We have kids going Division I, II and III. I’m ecstatic to be coaching these players. You never know what’ll happen in four or five years. It’ll be cool to say, ‘hey, I coached that player.'”
“I think the game should be very exciting,” Carroll, who was named the Northeastern Conference Coach of the Year, said. “A lot of local teams had great years. All those local teams are put into two teams playing against each other. The game should be very exciting and a lot of fun.”
Both Carroll and Runner will coach five of their recent graduates, seniors from their 2017 squads, in tonight’s game. Carroll will coach defensive back Tyshawn Anderson, running back Ski Gaston, linebacker Jacob Miller, offensive/defensive lineman Alex Rodriguez and offensive/defensive lineman Emil Rossi on the South all-star team.
“It’s very special for me,” Carroll said. “It was a very special senior class. They worked tirelessly and they were tremendous leaders. They were a huge part of the turnaround, going 10-1 last season. Coaching those guys one last time is a very good feeling and something I’m looking forward to.”
On the North sideline, Runner will coach defensive back Jamie James, running back Steffan Gravely, running back Keoni Gaskin, offensive/defensive lineman Joshua Pena and defensive back Marcus Taylor. Each of the five played an integral part in the Tigers 2017 season, which included winning the MVADA Small Championship.
“They were all part of our championship run,” Runner said. “I’m excited that they’ll be playing. It’s a lot of fun. This is four years of experience on the field for three of them. Josh and Jamie turned it up their junior year. It’s humbling because they’re all over the field. They’re helping out the other guys on the team. It’s really humbling.”
Runner, coaching his first Agganis game, has vivid memories of competing in the all-star tilt shortly after graduating from Classical in 1998. From playing in the all-star game, Runner took away an important message in regards to the Agganis legacy.
“I was lucky to be selected as an Agganis all-star in 1998,” Runner said. “I played defensive line and I scored a touchdown in the game. Harry Agganis was the biggest athlete to come out of Lynn. He wasn’t just an athlete but a great humanitarian. That’s what I try to be and that’s what I try to teach my players.
Runner added, “When the players see how many people come to the game and they see the tradition that’s involved with it, it’ll hit them once the lights come on.”
Also coaching in his first Agganis game, Carroll competed in 2006 when he represented the Bulldogs. Coaching in the all-star game, Carroll noted, is an opportunity he takes a lot of pride in.
“It’s a very special week,” Carroll said. “It’s a great tradition. From a historical standpoint, Harry Agganis is somebody you grow up learning about. Being able to play in the game in 2006, attending it and now coaching in it, it’s an honor that I’m very proud of.”
Practices for the game began last week and have run since then. Both coaches say they’re focused on letting their players make the most of their final game as high school student-athletes and things look good on both sides thus far.
“You keep things to a minimum because you don’t want guys to get hurt,” Runner said. “As far as execution and having the right reads, we’ve been working on that a lot in practice. We’re making sure players know where to be. I told them ‘win or lose, just execute. Just do your job right every single down on the field.’ They’ve already won because they were nominated as all-stars.”
“Things look good,” Carroll said. “It’s a collection of all-stars from the North Shore. We have many talented players. The one cool thing is seeing how kids from different schools approach the game. It’s nice getting to know the kids and seeing them all work together.”
And both coaches, who’ve developed a friendship outside of football over the years, are looking forward to coaching against one another tonight.
“Me and Chris are friends outside of football,” Runner said. “When I first got the call to be the coach, I wanted to call Chris and ask him to coach with me. Then I was told he’ll be coaching the other team. I’m proud of Chris and everything he’s accomplished. I respect everything he’s done with his program.”
“I have a lot of respect and admiration for James,” Carroll said. “He does a tremendous job at Tech. It’s bittersweet coaching against him. If he wasn’t coaching the North team, I’m sure we would’ve linked up to coach together. Looking across the field and seeing him on the other sideline, it’s good for the city of Lynn having two coaches from Lynn coaching against each other in such a prestigious game.”