Shore has a habit of making comebacks

Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish wears a black shirt and a headset while roaming the sidelines.

He could just as easily wear a tool belt. When it comes to coaching, Gravish has become a true Mr. Fix-It.

Wherever he has gone, Gravish has turned losing teams into winners. His latest, and maybe most impressive, reclamation project has come at Jersey Shore.

The Bulldogs won three games the previous four seasons but are now District 4 Class AAA champions for the first time in 16 years. Jersey Shore (6-6) has won four consecutive games and Friday, in DuBois, will play in the state tournament’s first round against Clearfield. A team that did not win a game a year ago now has a chance to win a state championship.

“Our coaching staff is one of the best around,” senior running back Utoa Agae-Naipo said. “They make us work hard and always have us studying films. That’s a big piece of us. He (Gravish) helps us win games. You have to give a lot of credit to him and all the coaches for getting this thing turned around.”

Gravish assembled one of the district’s premier coaching staffs after being hired during the 2012 offseason. They took over one of the district’s youngest teams last year and Jersey Shore went 0-10 but there was a lot of optimism among the staff.

Everyone is now seeing why Gravish and his staff were confident. Jersey Shore is playing as well on both sides of the ball as it has at any point in the 21st century. It has paid back two teams in the playoffs that beat it in the regular season and is excelling in all facets.

“We felt we had a chance,” Gravish said. “Our goal was to try and win the league and that’s hard with so many talented teams, but we thought we could be in the playoffs.”

Gravish has become quite familiar with comeback stories. He took over a Bellefonte team in 1999 that was coming off an 0-10 season. A few months later, the Raiders were District 6 Class AAA champions. Ironically that team played Clearfield in the opening round of states and won.

Williamsport was Gravish’s next stop. He started there in 2007 and took over a program which had not had a winning season since 2002. It took a few years this time, but Gravish again turned things around. Williamsport went 7-4 in his third year and returned to the playoffs for the first time in five years. The Millionaires won seven more games in 2009 and returned to the playoffs. In the last 11 years, Gravish is the only Williamsport coach to lead the Millionaires to a winning record.

While the turnaround was impressive, the parallels between this year’s team and that 1999 Bellefonte squad stand out more. As quickly as he and his coaches improved offense, defense and special teams, they also changed cultures. Jersey Shore has shaken its shaky past and now plays like a team expecting to win rather than one waiting for the proverbial sky to fall.

Jersey Shore has come from behind to win in the fourth quarter four times, including three on the road and in both playoff games. The Bulldogs earned their district title by making a game-winning, late-game drive and beating defending champion Selinsgrove, 20-16 in last week’s final.

“This is very similar. We got hot down the stretch and had a group of seniors that was strong-willed and determined and would not take no for an answer, and that is very similar to this group of players,” Gravish said. “We have young men of great character. That’s key. We have players who have great character. A true test of character is when you get your back against the wall and things don’t look good how you come out and these guys have stepped up to the plate.”

A trademark of Gravish teams has been balance and creativity. This Jersey Shore group has shown both qualities. While the offense has been run-heavy down the stretch with Agae-Naipo and Jordan Tawney excelling, quarterback Logan English also has thrown for 1,221 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Tawney opened the season at quarterback but was injured in Week 2. English then came in and played well. Tawney, though, can be a game-changer, so when he could play offense again, Gravish and his staff evolved further and started utilizing him out of the Wildcat. It is about putting players in the best position to produce winning results and Gravish has been skilled at that at each of his stops.

And this might be Mr. Fix-It’s best work yet.

“He is a great man, an absolutely terrific person. He’s a great coach and he’s a great guy overall,” senior wide receiver Troy Rowan said. “Bringing him in really started turning the program around. That’s his thing.”