A year ago at this time, Joe Licata was an undrafted rookie quarterback in Cincinnati Bengals training camp trying to earn a job for a team that's a member of the shield.
The NFL didn't quite work out for the former Williamsville South and University at Buffalo star quarterback. Perhaps that was for the best as a year later, Licata finds himself living out a different dream.
It's as a first-time head coach for Bishop Timon-St. Jude's football program.
"I think I was put on this Earth to influence kids," said Licata, after the team's pre-practice walk-through Monday night. "I'm right where I should be I believe."
That's at cozy Pierce Field at Mulroy Park, where the 24-year-old record-setting passer put the eager-to-learn Tigers through their paces in hopes of leading the program to future success.
Although he wasn't the center of attention in the huddle, Licata was in his element – calling out plays and explaining to the 24 players who showed up exactly what he wanted them to do on the field. The team was missing a couple players due to job obligations.
"I'm trying to help them out and getting these players to see this through a quarterback's perspective and put them in position to have success," he said. "It's no longer about me. It's about them."
A recap of how Licata, who also runs his own football business, landed the job as coach and athletic director at one of the Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association's flagship members:
In late June, Timon sports legend Charlie Comerford stepped down from those roles because he was unhappy with the school's decision to not retain Michele Battin as principal. The resignation prompted speculation regarding the program's future, which led to the transfer of several key players, including league player of the year and star quarterback Matt Myers – a first team All-Western New York selection.
All of that's in the past as far as Licata and his players are concerned, as the T-shirts they wore Monday perhaps best explains the team's goal. On the back of the threads was a one-word motto: "W.I.N."
It means "what's important now."
"We're not worried about what happened in the past," Licata said. "We're not worried about what's going to happen in the future. We're worried about every rep at practice, every little thing that's right in front of us that's all we're worried about now."
While there are believed to be seven freshmen on the roster, there are experienced holdovers from last year's 5-6 team that lost in the Monsignor Martin semifinals to eventual state Catholic champion Canisius.
One of them is 6-foot-4, 300-pound senior tackle Jonathan Stachowski, who was confident the Tigers would be among the 71 Western New York football programs to gather on the first official day teams are allowed to practice.
"I always believed that we'd get back." Stachowski said. "Joe coming in was a great improvement. He's done fabulous, fabulous things so far to bring the program back … and getting guys out here just so we can make this day happen."
Added junior lineman Connor Dean: "I know a lot of guys left but there's still guys here who have faith, pride in the paw ... and have faith in the team. We're looking to keep that secure for all the guys that want to finish out what they started and have more football success in their career. ... We're trying to help all our brothers around the community keep this together."
Licata reiterated Monday that the team will play a varsity schedule. As of now the Tigers' first game is Sept. 16 at Canisius.
Monday was just a step for the Tigers, the first of many.
But it was a huge one, and more importantly a positive experience for all.
"I thought it was great" first day of practice. "I thought the kids worked hard," Licata said. "It proves there are a lot of people who have 'Pride in the Paw.' It's a great place to be. … We have a ton of work to put in but I'm excited. I'm encouraged."