O'Hara remembers football coach Danny Algeo as practice begins

Cardinal O'Hara starts its first football practice with interim coach Paul Strus leading a prayer service at a cross near Lions Stadium after the death of coach Dan Algeo. (David Swanson/Staff Photographer)

Before the start of their first official practice of the 2014 season, Cardinal O'Hara's football coaches and players gathered in front of the white cross that prominently stands on the school's athletic grounds.

There, they remembered Danny Algeo, the beloved O'Hara coach who died early last month after suffering a heart attack.

"I talked about what the cross represented and how important it was to Danny," said Paul Strus, the Lions' interim head coach, after the workout Monday afternoon in Springfield, Delaware County. "Without him, I don't know if it would be there."

Algeo, 49, was among leaders at the school who had the cross installed. He coached at O'Hara for 10 seasons. Before that, he was in charge at Phoenixville and Roman Catholic. He is remembered for his generousness, caring, and unique sense of humor.

Andrew Gallagher, a senior two-way lineman, recalled Algeo, while serving as lunchroom moderator, livening up the day by cranking out dance songs from his smartphone for all to hear.

"He had that kind of personality," Gallagher said. "He would try to lighten the mood when he could. People appreciated that."

Brandon Laughlin, a senior quarterback and defensive back, echoed that sentiment. "He would always brighten up someone's day," the 17-year-old said. "He would randomly go up and give a kid a fist bump."

Strus, previously the team's special-teams coach, and his assistants ran the players through drills on Monday.

"It really sank in today that Coach Algeo is gone," Gallagher said. "It's a sad thing, but we have to move on, play for O'Hara, and play for each other."

Gerry Feehery, who played center for the Eagles from 1983-88, is back at his alma mater and coaching the offensive linemen. He was the school's head coach in the early 1990s and his son, Jerry, also a center, played under Algeo.

"Danny just loved the kids, loved when the kids who played for him came back," said Feehery, a Wallingford resident who also played for the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots. "When they came back, he would always have them talk to the team."

Several other former Lions have joined the staff, including John Ward (offensive coordinator), Andrew Onimus (defensive backs), and Ryan Wolski (wide receivers).

"Danny was always good to my son," Feehery said. "With Danny gone, I wanted the kids to have some experienced guys as coaches."

Algeo's father, Jim, who spent 53 years coaching at Lansdale Catholic, has returned for his second year as an O'Hara assistant. After working with the defensive linemen last season, he is now an assistant head coach.

"We're glad to have him," Strus said. "With all his years of coaching, he's got a lot to offer. He's also a great mentor to me."

In honor of Danny Algeo, all Catholic League teams will wear a helmet decal with his initials during the 2014 campaign. A moment of silence will be held before Catholic League openers.

O'Hara is expected to form a search committee to name a permanent head coach. Strus says he is unsure about applying for the job. "I just want to make this team the best it can be for the next person, whoever that is," he said.

All agreed that Algeo - who guided Roman to a Catholic League crown in 1999 and did the same with O'Hara in 2004 - left behind a legacy far greater than wins and losses.

"I considered Coach Algeo a close friend, almost like a third parent," Gallagher said. "He treated the O'Hara players like the sons he never had."