Jimmy Nguyen felt blessed late last summer when he landed the offensive coordinator’s job at a perennially strong New York high school.
He was just 28 at the time and it happened suddenly, just a few weeks before Carmel High School would report for preseason practice. Originally, he was going to be a position coach at Byram Hills, a rival school.
Six weeks ago, the Central Catholic graduate from Methuen was named the head coach at Carmel High (enrollment 1,448 students). He replaced legendary 25th-year head coach Todd Cayea, who was let go after being named New York Section 1 Coach of the Year last fall.
“It means a lot that the community trusts me. They have a really good thing going. I’m trying to continue in the right direction,” he said.
Coaching a high school with Carmel’s tradition will be a challenge.
“There is a lot of pressure,” said the 29-year-old. “It wasn’t something I envisioned. But it’s about the kids. Coach (Cayea) has been very supportive. He said I had his full support. That means a lot.”
Nguyen is the middle of three children with older brother Jason a three-sport athlete at Central and younger sister Judy a former Methuen cheerleader.
He moved out to Carmel, which is on the Connecticut border (90 minutes outside New York City), because that’s where his wife Sarah is from.
Nguyen has remained in close contact with his mentors: Central head coach Chuck Adamopoulos, Raider assistants Mike Grella, Bob Jowett and John Sexton; and Drew Canan, his wide receivers coach at Endicott College.
He was a player and an assistant coach at both schools.
“When I was interviewing, I asked Coach A for advice,” said Nguyen.
He said Adamopoulos told him, “Surround yourself with guys you trust.”
Canan told him: “Be you.”
Work ethic shouldn’t be an issue. Nguyen, who also was a wrestling captain and pole vaulter at Central, always prided himself at outworking anyone.
At Endicott, he warmed the bench his first two years and had just five catches as a junior. But that final season he had 37 catches for 404 yards.
Not bad for a kid who was 5-feet, 115 pounds as a high school freshman.
“It was a lot of perseverance,” said the 5-foot-7 Nguyen, who is in the process of getting certified as a teacher. “There were times I wanted to quit. Effort, effort, effort. I did whatever I could.”
That includes killing it in the weight room. At one point, he bench pressed 315 pounds while weighing 175 pounds.
During his junior season, Jimmy (that’s his birth name, not James) nearly did quit.
Nguyen approached head coach Tony Volpone and the coach could sense what was on his receiver’s mind.
Before Nguyen could get a word out of his mouth, Volpone said, “Think about it. Your time is going to come.”
It did. And Volpone showed what he thought of Nguyen by giving him the Coaches Award after his senior season.
Nguyen gave Olympics a shot
While watching the 2014 Winter Olympics skeleton competition, Jimmy Nguyen got an idea.
“I was talking to a friend and said, “I think I can be good at that.”
It wasn’t just an idle boast. It turns out, Nguyen was good at that.
He applied and was selected for training camp. He spent two years in Lake Placid in upstate New York. He placed ninth at 2016 US Nationals and competed in the 2018 Olympic Trials.
He didn’t make the Olympics, though, and the expenses were tough. The skeleton team is a long, long ways away from the Dream Team or a high-profile Olympic sport.
“For skeleton, there is no real government funding,” he said. “We had to pay for housing and meals and training and equipment. I’d work 3-4 jobs in the offseason. During the season, you can’t work.”
Football doesn’t seem quite so frightening when you are traveling 75-90 mph on a sled.
Once he crashed at 70 mph.
“It’s like a big thud,” he said. “You think keep rolling and keep spinning.”
But he has no regrets.
“It was a thrill. It was like nothing I ever experienced,” said Nguyen.