The halls Howell High School history teacher Derek Reichenbecher walks on a daily basis are the same ones he walked through 20 years ago as a freshman at the school.
He knows all about what it takes to be a student athlete with the Rebels having been an all state player on the football field. Even before he was named the head coach of the football team Reichenbecher said being able to teach at his alma mater has been special. "I walk around the school all day and people ask me how I'm doing and I say I'm living the dream," he said. "This is something I wanted to do."
Reichenbecher said he did not know until recently that Coach Cory Davies, the same man he played for, had decided to retire from the coaching ranks. He said the two had joked about Reichenbecher being the successor to Davies but that there was no set plan in place. "I just knew that it was something where I'm at the age now where I need to prepare for that stuff," he said.
Even when Davies did decide to step down Reichenbecher said he was not in a rush to put his application in for the position. "I wasn't running around saying I'm going to be the next guy," he said. "I waited a day or two not because I wasn't sure but out of respect."
The new coach also knew there was plenty of competition for the job which made him want it that much more. "It meant Cory built the job into something people wanted," he said. "You be as honest as you can going through the process and you hope you're the person they pick for the job."
While he worked with Davies for more than a decade and played for him Reichenbecher said there will be some differences in the way they approach the game. "There are going to be some things that are going to be the same but there is some stuff that's new," he said. "I have to make sure that I have to be myself."
He said the two have worked well together which will help him going forward. "We got along very well but we're different people," he said. "That's the way it has to be. I can't be Cory Davies because I'm not." And with Davies having been at the helm of the program for two decades he knows the change at the top will take some getting used to. "That's going to be something everybody's going to have to feel their way through."
Taking over for someone as well known as Davies Reichenbecher said he knows there will be a level of expectations for him even before the team starts the season."I know I have big shoes to fill, but I also know I have big feet," he said. "I feel like I'm ready for it and it's a great opportunity."
As a member of the class of 1996, he said he never envisioned one day succeeding him. He knew he wanted to be a teacher but did not give coaching much of a thought until after he graduated from Boston University. "I started coaching and I was hooked," he said. "After a year I knew that was it."
This will not be Reichenbecher's first experience as a head coach at the varsity level which also makes the new position bittersweet in some ways. The Howell lacrosse team, which he has guided for 10 years now, has a few weeks left in its season at which time Reichenbecher will step down from that post to focus on football.
Leaving the lacrosse team which he helped lead to a division title in 2005 and the state tournament six of the past seven years was not an easy decision. "The hardest thing by far of taking the football job is giving up the lacrosse program," he said.
When he replaced Davies as the head coach of that team 10 years ago Reichenbecher said he knew very little about a sport he has grown to love. "I can't believe how much I've grown being around that game," he said. "It's going to be very hard for me to walk away from those kids and those families."
As if wrapping up lacrosse and getting ready for football wasn't enough Reichenbecher said his teaching duties make April a rough month to begin with. After all in addition to lacrosse practice and helping open the weight room for the football team two nights a week he also has night time reviews for the upcoming AP History exam. "This usually, historically is a pretty rough month," he said. Adding football preparations puts another level on the to do list but it is a challenge he said he welcomes.
Once lacrosse is over he said he will begin talking to the other coaches on the football staff to see who will be coming back and also start the process of finding his replacement at defensive coordinator.
In the end, no matter how the team does Reichenbecher said he is looking forward to being a part of everything that comes with being the head coach of the Rebel football program. "When you're the head coach of the football team you carry the banner for the school," he said. "It's the scoreboard but it's also the way we conduct ourselves. It means you have a lot of responsibility not just winning football games but also putting together an organization that the town can be proud of."
The Rebels will kick off their season Sept. 8 when they travel to take on the Mariners of Toms River North.