On January 31st, Anna Maria College announced that AMCATS Assistant Coach and Offensive Coordinator Steve Croce will take over as the new Head Football Coach. Coach Croce joined the AMCATS in 2016 and his experience spans more than 30 years including head and offensive coaching roles at Coginchaug Regional High School in Durham, CT; Holy Cross High School in Waterbury, CT; Pomperaug Regional High School in Southbury, CT; Post University in Waterbury, CT; and Cheshire High School in Cheshire, CT. Croce has also been a full-time firefighter for the City of Waterbury, Conn. for 30 years.
1. The 2021 AMCATS set many new program records as a team and individual players. Your offense finished ranked eighth nationally in Division III. For a team that endured a pandemic-cancelled 2020, what was behind this success?
I believe any success is a result of the players hard work, buying into the philosophy and identity, and the coaches putting them in a position to succeed. The result for our 8th ranked offense was no different. Our players and coaches worked very hard every day in practices, meetings, and film study, which resulted in everyone being on the same page. And let’s not forget that the offense had some great players, and great players make great coaches. Having the 2020 season cancelled was bad for everyone across the country in the lower levels, but through the work of our Athletic Director Joe Brady and Coach Mul, and the support of President Retelle, we were able to still hold some practices which we used as a springboard for this past fall. All that extra work in the fall and then in the spring of 2021 (scrimmaging Endicott and playing them pretty even was a huge confidence booster) while most institutions weren’t allowed helped us to achieve some very lofty goals.
2. You and Coach Mulrooney go back a long way. Describe your football journey together.
Ha! Coach Mul and I do go back a very long way. I was Coach Mul’s first football coach when he was eight years old. He and my oldest son, Michael (Dan’s best friend), played for the Prospect-Naugatuck Redskins 89’ers team. I remained his coach in Pop Warner and then through his high school years at Holy Cross High School in Waterbury, CT (where I coached from 1989-2007). We won a state title in his and my son’s senior year of 2006. So I guess you can say that most of Coach Muls football life we have spent together, and in every way shape and form he is family. He is like my own son and I love him just as much as I do my own children. So as much as I am happy for him, it’s also very bittersweet because I won’t get to spend my time with him.
3. You’ve been a firefighter for 30 years as well as a football coach. Are there elements of one profession that you bring to the other or vice versa?
A very good question. Being a firefighter is a lot like being on a sports team except with a stronger bond because your life is on the line. Playing sports together creates a closeness of competition – it’s you against everyone else. As a firefighter, you’re close as a group because you’re trusting the person next to you with your life. We work together to not only make sure the civilians are saved, but so that each of our fellow firefighters goes home safely to their families. I guess to answer the question, I believe having to make decisions in a very high stress environment prepares me to make decisions during a game…and being as close to my fellow firefighters in the Waterbury FD helps me deal with a lot of relationships on the team as well.
4. The football AMCATS are often described as a family. Can you elaborate on that?
I don’t even use the word “team” when I talk to my players or recruits, I always say “Football Family,” because that is what we are. I am a coach who is going to love my players hard and not be afraid to tell them “I LOVE YOU!” I believe in family, and I am the father of the family, which means, while I love them, I am going to hold them accountable for their actions as a father should. But I will do anything for my players and I will always be there for them when they need me. Also one other point and this is about my assistant coaches. My new Offensive Coordinator Tanner Kingsley’s dad, Mike, and I have been friends since high school and coached basketball together at Woodland High School. Our Defensive Line Coach Michael Kennedy’s dad, Mike, and I graduated from Naugatuck High School together. It’s just one big family that supports each other.
5. What are your immediate plans as Head Football Coach?
My immediate plans for the program are to make sure we are the hardest working team we can be and always stay motivated to build upon the foundation that Coach Mul built for us and take this team to even newer heights. I am not the young coach looking for the next best head coaching job, this is my last place to be as a coach. When you find a great environment with great people at my tender age of 56….you stay as long as they will have you, and believe me I could not be happier being here with my guys; love going into games with all of them.