Originally created 09/20/96

Caputo's fires still burn



The images of his star quarterback are as clear as they were 23 years ago, back when Tony Napolet was a second-year as head football coach in a blue collar Northern town.

"He was a great competitor, with a great work ethic and tremendous athletic ability," says Napolet, the longtime head coach at John F. Kennedy High in Warren, Ohio. "He was a fine young guy who grew up to be a fine man, and everyone here knew he'd be a success. It makes sense he's a success in football because that's what he loved most. He has all the heart in the world. That's probably his greatest asset."

Frank Caputo, as always, brought those qualities his former coach so fondly remembers to the football field last Friday night. The night, it began no differently than the previous 58 Friday nights did for Caputo as Richmond Academy's head coach.

In the waning moments of ARC's battle with archrival Josey as the emotional and competitive fire came boiling to a head, Caputo knew this ending would be different.

"I knew I was in trouble because I had a real strange feeling," Caputo says. "I've been in a lot of doggone big games but nothing like this has ever happened. I sat to down to talk to (Josey coach) John (Starr) after the game, and I told him something ain't right. I slumped down and thought I was in big trouble. I didn't know what the hell was happening."

The Musketeers battled the defending Class AAA champions tooth and nail, coming away with only a near upset - an 18-10 loss to Josey. As the final gun sounded, though, the fear was that ARC was about to lose much more.

"It looked real bad at first, I think everyone thought Frank was having a heart attack," says Starr, who grew close to Caputo in the early days of his coaching career, when Starr was an ARC assistant. "I couldn't believe what was going on."

JOSEPHINE CAPUTO gave her son his sense of humor. To his only boy, John Caputo handed down his intensity and work ethic.

"My parents are the biggest influence on my career and my life," says the 41-year-old. "My mom is sweet as gold, and I think she's where I got my big heart for kids. My dad, he was intense and taught me to strive to be the best I could be. I used to pick him up from work at the mill, and I'd see guys sprinting so fast to get out of that place. It must have been terrible going to work each day busting your [filtered word] doing something you hate. That's probably what got me into coaching and teaching. I couldn't imagine having to do something I hated for 50 years."

Caputo's father, a heavy smoker who battled cancer and emphysema, died several years ago. Despite several heart attacks and a stroke last May, Mrs. Caputo's as funny and spunky as ever at 83.

"Physically, I take after my mom's side of the family, and they all lived to their 80s and 90s," Caputo says. "Hopefully, I'll live to be a very old man. All I know is I'm too doggone young to fall out now."

THE TEST results were in last Saturday morning. The paramedics who attended to Caputo on the sidelines at ARC stadium told Caputo and his wife, Donna, he might be having a heart attack. But the stress test, the EKGs, all came back OK. Doctors recommended a complete physical and perhaps further testing, but discharged Caputo from University Hospital less than 12 hours after he was admitted. Clean bill of health.

"According to what they said, I was on the verge of having one (heart attack), but I never did," Caputo says. "I was tickled. ... No, I wasn't tickled, damn, I was tickled pink. It was a relief for me and my wife, and I couldn't wait to get back to business as usual on Monday. I don't know what the hell it was, but I know I didn't like it. I guess it's just another page in the Josey-Richmond rivalry. They're all classic battles. They're all so intense. I guess it got the better of me this time. God help me, there won't be a next time."

DONNA CAPUTO knew what she was in for when she married the head football coach last year, the second marriage for both. Nothing was going to slow her husband down, not even all the concern and worrying in the world .

"He would have been out of the house right after we got home if I let him," she says last Saturday afternoon. "He was chomping at the bit to get back to it. He loves football and loves his kids. Nothing would ever keep him away from that."

"Once I knew I was gonna be OK, I started thinking about getting back to work and getting ready for next week's game," says Caputo, who leads the Musketeers back to ARC Stadium tonight for a Region 3-AAA showdown with Burke County. "Yesterday (Wednesday), the guys probably hated me, cause I worked them harder than I probably ever worked them before. I was more wound up yesterday than I've been in a long time. I know I get high strung, but that's my job. I love it. I like to work hard. When they don't play well, it hurts me personally, because I feel like maybe I didn't do my job. I owe it to my players to give it my all, no matter what."

JOHN STARR finds himself wondering if Caputo is making a mistake. Maybe the stress and long hours and his intense nature are catching up with him.

"Sure, I'm worried about him," Starr says. "Frank takes everything to heart, but he's probably taking this thing too lightly. Maybe he needs to get things checked out further, but I guess he knows what he's doing."

"I don't think I need to worry," says Caputo, who has been coaching for 18 years, and is 28-31 in his sixth year at ARC. "I don't have any bad habits. I don't eat meat, my cholesterol is good, I exercise and lift, and all the tests came back OK. Everyone has been so good to me as far as far as expressing their concern and I thank everyone for all the calls and cards.

"But I'm fine now. This is what I do, coaching football is what I love. John and everyone who knows me he knows I'm not gonna slow down. They can try to talk me into it, but I still have too much to do."

THE IMPACT Napolet had on Caputo, he says now, is immeasurable. Caputo quarterbacked JFK High to a 28-1-1 record in two seasons, and went on to play at Tennessee Tech in the mid 1970s.

"I coach the way he coaches," Caputo says of his football mentor. "He took special care of his players, and that's the most important thing to me. Helping out kids is important to me because every day I come to school, I see young girls pregnant. I see young men, not my guys, but young men in school having a hard time. They really concern me. There's a lot of bad stuff out there and bad influences in music and on TV. Young people are killing themselves. Football is more than just winning and losing. Just being a role model for them is a greater responsibility."

There was never a doubt in Napolet's mind that Frank Caputo would make something of himself. The veteran coach's confidence in his former star was reinforced last spring, when Caputo paid his alma mater a visit and sat in on a JFK practice.

"He hasn't changed that much, except he's probably 10 or 20 pounds heavier than he was he was," Napolet says. "Same old Frank. He's still dynamite. he was our leader then, and he's obviously a great leader for his kids now. His confidence and self esteem must mean a lot to his kids."

For some reason, somehow, Caputo doubts himself.

"One day, I'd like to have my name on that stadium," Caputo says. "I hope to be here at Richmond for life. I want to have a big impact. Philosophically, I can't change the way I think because of what happened last Friday. I guess if I'm gonna go, if God takes me on the football field, that's all I can ask. I've spent 31 years of my life on the football field, and I'm doing what I love. But I'm not gonna fall out just yet. I've just got too much left to do."