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Holy Cross Connection To NFL Playoffs
The NFL’s Patriots have a local connection in their coaching staff: he originated from Worcester, Mass.
Duffner, Cesaire, Spagnuolo are playing key roles
FOXBORO— It’s been almost 17 years since Mark Duffner left Holy Cross, but a football season on the Hill doesn’t go by without some reference to the “Duffner-coached teams” of the late 1980s and early ’90s.
Duffner certainly left his mark at HC, going 60-5-1, including unbeaten seasons in 1987 and 1991, during his six years as the Crusaders’ head coach.
Duffner, who departed for the University of Maryland after the 1991 season, was back in the area — sort of — last night, roaming the visiting sidelines at Gillette Stadium. Duffner is in his second season as Jacksonville’s linebackers coach. The Patriots defeated the Jaguars, 31-20, in a divisional playoff game to advance to next weekend’s AFC Championship game.
After five years at Maryland, Duffner left for the NFL. He spent six seasons with the Bengals and three in Green Bay under Northboro native and former Holy Cross assistant Mike Sherman. Sherman was fired following the 2005 season. He ended up in Houston for two seasons before being named the coach of Texas A&M in November.
Duffner headed south, where he’s working with a mostly young linebacking corps.
“Coach Duffner’s done a nice job for us,” Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said this week. “He’s got a wealth of experience. He works his guys very hard and brings a lot of energy every day to the job.”
During last night’s pregame stretch, Duffner went up and down, over and through, each row of Jaguars players, shaking every one of their hands, before moving off to the side of the field for a couple of drills with the linebackers.
The Jaguars lost starting middle linebacker Mike Peterson to a broken hand Nov. 18 against San Diego. He said after last week’s wild-card win over Pittsburgh that he hoped to play against the Patriots, but Del Rio ruled him out early this week. Peterson has missed eight straight games.
Without Peterson, a nine-year veteran, none of the Jaguars’ starting linebackers are older than 25. Daryl Smith, in his fourth year, moved to the middle when Peterson went down and rookie Justin Durant took over at weak-side linebacker for Smith. Second-year man Clint Ingram is at the other outside spot.
Durant, a second-round pick out of Hampton, recorded double-digit tackles in five of the Jaguars’ last seven games. He had a team-high 17 tackles in last week’s win over Pittsburgh, and helped the Jaguars hold the Steelers to a 1.7-yard rushing average.
The Patriots’ Dan Koppen put a nice block on Durant during Laurence Maroney’s 32-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter last night.
Duffner isn’t the only one with Central Mass. ties involved in this weekend’s divisional playoffs.
In today’s AFC matchup, Jacques Cesaire, the former Gardner High star, and his San Diego Chargers go up against the Colts at 1 p.m. in what could be the final game at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.
Cesaire, a fifth-year defensive end out of Southern Connecticut State, had three tackles and a sack of Titans quarterback Vince Young in the Chargers’ 17-6 wild-card win over Tennessee last week.
And in Dallas, Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will be trying to find a way to slow down Tony Romo and Terrell Owens. Spagnuolo, a Grafton native and member of Grafton High’s Athletic Hall of Fame, is in his first year in New York after eight seasons with the Eagles.
NFC East foes Dallas and New York kick off at 4:30.
This week, the Falcons asked the Giants for permission to speak with Spagnuolo about their head coaching vacancy, but it was denied.
“In our opinion, and in Steve’s as well, this is not the time,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “Steve’s focus and concentration, as it should be, is right on this game (against the Cowboys), just like we all are.”
The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported the Falcons could ask for permission again once the Giants’ season is complete.
Local flavor in the playoffs
By Jennifer Toland TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF