Broward High Schools

St. Thomas Aquinas’ defense gets a spark

Bill Tierney has been Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas’ defensive coordinator less than a year, but he has already made a big impact on a defense that has the potential to be one of the school’s best.

“In practice when we get an interception or pick up a fumble and run with it, Coach [Tierney] tells us it’s a thing of beauty watching the whole team run side by side to you to the end zone,” senior defensive end Anthony Moten said. “I watched the film of Jake Stewart’s interception in the Northwestern game, and I said the same thing to myself.”

With the addition of Tierney, who coached at national powerhouse Don Bosco Prep (New Jersey) until 2011, Aquinas is hoping to make a few more such highlights this season as it competes for what would be an eighth state championship, potentially giving the Raiders the most of any South Florida program.

“Everything I’ve asked of these kids, they’ve done 10-fold, starting with the weight room in January until now,” Tierney said. “These guys were successful long before I got here. I didn’t need to change much. [Aquinas coach] Rocco [Casullo] and I sat down, and I incorporated some of what I did and I ran a similar system to what they did here.”

During Tierney’s tenure at Don Bosco Prep, he helped it win a pair of national championships in 2009 and 2011. Tierney hopes to help Aquinas win its third national title since 2008 this season.

“I’ve known Rocco and George Smith for many years and it was always kind of a joke among us,” Tierney said. “They’d say we have to find a way to coach together. The opportunity presented itself and it worked out for me to come down in January.”

The Raiders were making a little more history for their school Friday night when they took on Louisiana’s John Curtis Christian at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome as part of the Sugar Bowl Prep Showcase.

Aquinas (1-0) entered the game hoping to notch what would be a crucial victory in its bid to compete for a potential third national championship for the school. The Raiders entered the game ranked No. 3 in the country by MaxPreps. John Curtis (1-0) entered the contest ranked No. 4 nationally by USA Today.

“Northern football is a little more run-oriented than you see in South Florida, where you see a lot more spread offenses,” Casullo said. “Having Coach Tierney’s experience against those teams has been huge.”

Tierney, a retired police officer in New Jersey, was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Park Ridge, N.J. A 25-year coaching veteran, Tierney also coached at Hoboken High School before his stint at Don Bosco Prep.

Tierney took last season off for personal reasons but was contacted by Aquinas and accepted the job at the start of this year.

“I feel really blessed to be here,” said Tierney, 47. “I love it here and the kids are great and are passionate about what they do. There are guys that would give their right arm to be in this position. I couldn’t be happier.”

Moten, who has been a part of previous St. Thomas Aquinas road trips to Ohio, Alabama and Texas — all of which ended with victories, said Tierney brought a lot of discipline that melded perfectly with the coaching style Aquinas has had for years.

“The defense is more exciting for us this season, and I think we have a chance to be one of the great defenses the school has ever had,” Moten said. “Coach Tierney came in real tough at first, but after a while he’s like a big teddy bear to us.”

Casullo, who was the team’s defensive coordinator as well as head coach the past two seasons, welcomed the addition, which he said strengthened the defense from a strategic standpoint as well.

The Raiders’ defense looked like it in their first game two weeks ago when it dominated Miami Northwestern, allowing only three points in a 38-3 rout.

“It’s been great since he’s been here because being the head coach and defensive coordinator was a lot to handle,” Casullo said. “With his experience, I don’t have to worry about a thing. He’s been great for our kids and our staff.”