BALTIMORE, Md. -- Last year, the Johns Hopkins University football team did not make the top 25 national rankings in any NCAA Division III defensive statistical category.
But then came Frank Colaprete, a Poland native and a Cardinal Mooney High and John Carroll University graduate, who left the Allegheny College coaching staff to become defensive backs coach.
Under Colaprete's direction, the Blue Jays' defense ranked in the top 25 nationally in three categories -- No. 1 in pass efficiency defense, No. 12 in scoring defense, and tied for No. 15 in total defense.
Milestone: In the process, Johns Hopkins, along with Amherst College in Div. III, broke a 21-year drought by becoming the first teams in the nation in Divisions I, I-AA and III since 1980 to go the entire season without giving up a touchdown pass. This fact for Div. II could not be confirmed.
The Blue Jays achieved a 6-3 record, including 4-2 in the Centennial Conference, for 12th-year coach Jim Margraff, the school's winningest coach (66-50-3).
The week before last, Johns Hopkins upended ninth-ranked Western Maryland, 21-14, in its season finale.
Colaprete's role in the Blue Jays' defensive renaissance was to encourage the defensive backs to independent action, capitalize on their intelligence, build confidence and emphasize the importance of following the quarterback.
"We try to get the players to think about creating turnovers, about getting interceptions and causing fumbles," said Colaprete. "I tried to get them as physical and aggressive as they can to set the tone early."
He also took the strings off of his players while on the field to limit his control over them, and encouraged aggressiveness and bold risk-taking to prevent pass completions.
"I let them play," said Colaprete. "Before, they may have been afraid to make a mistake. They were more willing to take a chance to cause an interception without thinking about the consequences.
"This helped them to create confidence in themselves. But I believe we helped to give them confidence in themselves -- that was [my] biggest contribution."
Learning coverages: Colaprete also emphasized the importance of his players learning the various defensive coverages, which can put a defensive back closer to a receiver to make a play.
"You can't make a kid faster than he already is, but you can get him in the right position to make plays, by understanding the coverages that are available for him, and where their help is coming from, and by repetition and practice, and in the classroom," said Colaprete.
"It was more that these guys were in the right position, knowing the weakness and strength of each coverage, where the help was coming from.
"I allow them to look at the quarterback, which a lot of college coaches don't do, to see what he is going to do, to see what is going to happen on the play," said Colaprete. "He usually tells you where the ball goes."
Colaprete said he learned the effectiveness of this strategy from Jack Leipheimer, Allegheny's defensive coordinator in 2000 before becoming head coach at Thiel College.
Smart players: But overall, Colaprete credited the intelligence of the players for helping them to learn faster, and to be more successful.
"They are real intelligent. They picked up things quickly. They understand what has to be done," said Colaprete. "They take advantage of what the science of the game is. That's more a contributing factor over speed and quickness."
Colaprete played four years of football at Mooney, playing flanker and outside linebacker his senior year before graduating in 1992. At John Carroll, he was a strong safety for two years before graduating in 1996.
"I did not like the business world. I like being part of the team, I guess," said Colaprete, who began to realize his affinity for coaching while helping a friend coach a youth baseball team.
Called father: So he called his father, Dominic "Duke" Colaprete, a teacher at Struthers High and a former assistant football coach there and at Mooney, to tell him he was going to switch careers and go into coaching. He said his father was happy with his decision.
Frank then went to Kent State to get his master's degree in sports administration while also working as a graduate assistant in the department of recreational services.
In the meantime, he got his first taste of football coaching as an assistant at Akron Garfield High.
After obtaining his master's, he landed his first collegiate assignment at Allegheny, where he spent two years coaching the defensive backs.
Colaprete has found his career niche.
"I just enjoy what I'm doing. It doesn't seem like work, even though I am putting in two or three times as much hours as I did in the business world," said Colaprete, whose father and mother, Kathy, still live in Poland.