Jay Connolly and Dave Shepherd were both student athletes together at Cardinal Gibbons in the late 1960s, running track and playing on the football team.
After going their separate ways for college -- Connolly went to Florida, Shepherd attended Furman -- the two were reunited in the 1970s at St. Thomas Aquinas.
“Take it easy on the new guy,’’ Connolly joked.
On Tuesday morning in Davie, the two long-time Aquinas coaches were up on stage, honored with the annual Miami Herald Lifetime Achievement Award at the All-Broward breakfast at Signature Grand.
The two guys who spent their high school years together as well as countless hours at Aquinas together will leave together as well.
Both Connolly and Shepherd are retiring this year.
“It’s been a heck of a run and a real pleasure, too,’’ said Connolly, a 1970 graduate of Gibbons who joined Aquinas in 1976 and spent much of the past 40 years coaching football at the school.
“It feels like it just flew by, like I just started yesterday. I don’t know how I got this old.’’
Connolly started his career at Aquinas coaching the Raiders’ freshman team. After years with the freshmen and junior varsity teams, Connolly was promoted by George Smith and began his tenure as offensive line coach.
One of the large pictures in Smith’s office is from the Raiders’ first state title in 1992. The shot shows Smith with his headphones on pondering their next play; Connolly is nearby, yelling toward the field.
When Connolly and Shepherd joined Aquinas, there’s no way they could have envisioned the athletic powerhouse the school would become.
Aquinas’ football championship in 1992 was its first of nine -- with a couple of national titles thrown in.
“I look at it as perseverance,” said Connolly, who ended up being part of all nine championships including the past two.
“I spent a lot of years coaching freshman football and then the JV team. Then I get to the varsity staff and in our second year, we make the finals. And it seems like it has been nothing but going to the finals ever since. We’ve been to 16 finals in the past 27 years, won nine and could have had a few more in there. It’s been incredible. One of my greatest moments was when we won the first one, and again in 2007 when my son was a senior on the team and we won it again. That was special.”
Shepherd, who was two years behind Connolly at Gibbons, joined Aquinas in 1978 and was an assistant coach for four of the football championships and was part of 17 state track titles.
Not bad for a couple kids who grew up on the east side of what was then a very sleepy Fort Lauderdale.
“George Smith got in my van in 1978 and wouldn’t get out,” Shepherd said with a grin. “I told him I would give him one year.”
The two have a few more days left at school and will be honored at the annual Aquinas booster golf tournament on Thursday in Plantation.
“This is a little bittersweet,” Shepherd said. “I never thought I would leave St. Thomas. I loved it, every moment -- most of the time -- was great. There have been so many great memories over the years.”
For Connolly, a little traveling is in his future.
Shepherd hopes to stay involved in the track game by opening up an indoor pole vault and speed facility in Broward.
Next fall will be the first at Aquinas without either of them roaming the athletic fields in five decades.
Connolly, at least, sounds like he’ll be back before too long.
“I have a cottage in Cape Cod and I’m going to spend some time there in the fall, something I’ve never been able to do,’’ Connolly said.
“But I’ll probably end up roaming the sideline, walking around with coach Smith carrying some popcorn.’’