Glory Days Magazine is launching its new “Talkin’ Football” series with a conversation with Cedar Creek senior defensive end Kevin Dougherty. He had a monster senior season, finishing with 48 tackles, including 17 for loss, while leading the Pirates to a perfect 13-0 record that included a regional championship. Dougherty began his high school career as a 132-pounder with no real football experience, and in just four short years he gained more than 100 pounds and became a college football recruit at multiple levels. He’s also one of the top lacrosse players in the Cape-Atlantic League and an outstanding student who carries a GPA well north of 3.0. Glory Days Publisher Dave O’Sullivan recently had a phone conversation with Dougherty to talk about his tremendous senior season and what it means to have made a name for himself as a football player and put himself in position to potentially earn a college scholarship.
Sully: Take me back to this summer and the offseason. What was the biggest turnaround for you guys? You guys had a really tough year last year (3-5) and I don’t think anybody saw 13-0 coming.
Dougherty: After last year, and all the bad feelings we had in the locker room (after losses), there was an energy that we had going into the offseason knowing we couldn’t do that again going into senior year. Winning a championship as sophomores, a lot of us played in those games, so we knew what it took. Really, we were just being lazy and feeling sorry for ourselves (in 2020). We made a lot of excuses — Covid, a new head coach (James Melody), a new offense. But we knew we couldn’t have that anymore and we all turned it around. We all showed up to offseason workouts, we put in a lot of extra work and we were locked in and held each other accountable. We all had the same goals, and it’s pretty special having a lot of kids on the same path, and that came from us. We had a great coaching staff guiding us, but we did a lot of extra work and bought in to try to make this last season special.
Sully: How excited were you guys that first day of summer practice? You’re looking around and you’ve got some dudes out there. Ja’Quan Howard, JoJo Bermudez — all those guys on the line, just some big, strong dudes. You guys had to have been so psyched to get going.
KD: JoJo is a stud and everyone knows that. We knew he was going to put up good numbers and help our offense out a lot. Quanie coming (from Pleasantville) opened up our running game, and when teams stacked the box that let our wide receivers run free. And J.C. (Landicini) was in a QB battle last year and he wasn’t happy (about his lack of playing time early). He could have used that as an excuse to stop playing but he worked extremely hard in the offseason. He was hitting me up to run routes, he was hitting the gym, getting right. He was all about the 7-on-7s with guys like Elijah Smalls and Zac Ricci. We all really stepped it up and got stronger and faster. One of our defensive ends, D.J. Martinez, he stepped it up a lot this year and surprised a lot of us. He was putting on a show out there. And Malik (Moore-Summers) stepped up, coming from his sophomore year when he didn’t get many reps, this year he went and did his thing and he’s going to have a big senior year. He’s already been working in the weight room. Looking around, we knew we had a lot of guys who had worked really hard in the offseason. We had to make sure the younger guys who hadn’t played much were juiced about the season.
Sully: You had 17 tackles for loss. Take me through what it’s like to just put the lumber on somebody, a quarterback or running back, you break through that line and just drill a guy into the turf. Explain what that’s like to somebody who has never played football.
KD: The adrenaline is huge. That’s what everyone wants to do on every play, you’re lined up in front of a guy and you want to beat him 100 percent of the time. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to make a lot of big plays this year against some pretty good players. It really is huge to have a good defensive end on your team — you see how important that is on the college level — so for me to step up and put in the work and perform on the field, to produce as much as I did was something that was surreal. I’m very blessed.
Sully: Fans can only get so close to the field, so take me inside your life as a defensive lineman. How much trash talking is going on throughout the course of a game and what kind of things are you saying to opposing offensive linemen?
KD: I never really got too chippy out there with my mouth, I like to have my actions speak. That’s just the kind of person I am. There’s a lot of trash talk going on back and forth and the intensity is very high out there on the field, but I just like to keep my head down and keep grinding because every rep is a new opportunity to make a big play. I never really got caught up in that hothead stuff. If it came down to it that you have to say a couple words, well, you have to say what you have to say — I’m not going to get ragdolled around. But, for the most part, I just have a head-down, next-play mentality.
Sully: What was the turning point of this season? I have to believe it was that Holy Spirit game. Not just winning that game but the way you guys won it. You went on an eight-minute drive to close it out (a 7-6 win on Oct. 1) and to me that really showed you guys were here to stay.
KD: That definitely showed we could compete with the best teams in the state. They were ranked No. 1 in South Jersey at the time, and the game we had last year with them (a 41-0 loss), we weren’t satisfied and it shouldn’t have been that way. There was some talking before the game — and there was talking the whole offseason. Once we saw them on our schedule again, we knew we had to get them back and take our pride back for Egg Harbor City. We couldn’t go out like that, knowing the kind of talent we had. It was a close game, but for me it didn’t feel like it was that close. Our defense was insane that game and it felt like we were going to win the whole time. We made some huge plays. Quanie converted that fourth down, I had a strip sack and fumble recovery with like two minutes left in the first half and that turned the momentum around. There were some big plays by some players who knew they had to step up. From that point, I feel like we knew we were going to go undefeated. We knew that game (against Spirit) was going to be our first really big challenge, and the way everybody stood in there and handled the adversity we faced, we knew it was going to be a special season.
Sully: You’re a big-time lacrosse player. How much do those skills translate into being a defensive end?
KD: A lot of it is elusiveness. I have my agility right and I know how to run in the open field (in lacrosse). And a lot of it is aggression. I’m a big guy who plays midfield, so I’m running up and down the field smashing people. Lacrosse is a big momentum game, so if you have momentum, you’re most likely going to win. It’s a possession game, too, like in a lot of sports. Lacrosse improves your athleticism and I feel like I’m a special type of player because I’m a big boy, but I move well for my size. I think that’s going to help me with college. The translation from lacrosse to football is huge, especially if you can be good at both sports.
Sully: How cool was it to make a name for yourself as a senior? I don’t think anybody knew who the heck Kevin Dougherty was (in 2020), but to close out your career the way you did and become sort of a household name in South Jersey football, that had to be pretty satisfying for you.
KD: It was definitely my goal, but that stuff is up to God and I’ve been blessed. I played offensive line my sophomore year and even into the Covid year. I played a little bit of defense (as a junior) as an outside linebacker. I got hurt a little bit, some minor stuff. But I knew I wanted to play Division I football, so I knew I had to step it up. I know I’ve been a good athlete, I wrestled eighth grade year and was undefeated, I’ve played street hockey, ice hockey, all that stuff, and I was pretty good at everything I did. So coming in and making a name for myself (in football) was huge. I had a chip on my shoulder when I was training, and I knew I had to make an impact for my team, and for me and my family, trying to get a degree (while on scholarship). That’s something that has been in the forefront of my mind. Having talks with coach (James) Melody at night, telling him what my goals are, and he held me accountable. I’m getting some amazing opportunities at the next level, Division I and Division II. I want to keep going.
Sully: How much are you going to miss high school football? Take me through a Friday night lights type of thing where after school you’re pacing around the locker room, all that anticipation. It has to be such a thrilling thing to be able to go through that every Friday night — or, in your case, Saturday afternoons — in the fall.
KD: It’s super emotional looking back when I think about the guys I’ve played with and battled with for such a long time. In those 100 degree workouts in the summer, just seeing all these guys pushing through. We were such a family, this senior class, and it’s something special that I may never have again. It’s something I’ll miss a lot, especially the coaching staff. I think this coaching staff is one of the best in the state. They gave me an opportunity to do what I do and put me in the right position to succeed. All these guys definitely had a huge impact on my life. They gave me the ability to perform and work my way up. Coming in freshman year, having not really ever played football, coming in at 6-foot, 132 pounds, and leaving at 6-3, 235 — it’s something I’m very proud of. It’s going to be hard missing these guys, but hopefully I can have a similar experience at the next level.
Sully: What team was the most fun for you to play against?
KD: I think it’s a tie between Spirit and Somerville. Somerville came in as one of the top dogs in North Jersey, they were getting a lot of hype up there, and we were able to completely shut them down (a 27-0 Cedar Creek win in the sectional semifinals). That was one of my best games. We held them to a shutout, and that was something that was a testament to the team. Holy Spirit, we had a couple guys who were close with me transfer over there. Going against them was emotional.
Sully: What is the best thing about high school football? What did it do for you as a young man?
KD: For me, it did so much. I came in to play football to make friends and have some people to talk to. I live in Galloway, so I didn’t really know many people going to Cedar Creek. I really just wanted to make some friends, and I’ve met some really awesome people in my life. Louie Barrios, Malachi Melton, Manny Reid — a lot of people who I look up to. Football really taught me accountability. “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard” is something that embodies me. Coming in and not having a lot of football experience or knowledge, it was literally just grinding and buying in, working out three times a day, seven days a week on a year-to-year basis trying to make a way for myself. That taught me how to work hard and hold myself accountable. And football gives you brothers you’ll have for the rest of your life.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays