WOODBRIDGE — No matter the championships he had won in two years in two sports or the titles he might yet win in two more years, Jack Coughlin had made up his mind.
It wasn’t all that hard, either, he said. He left St. Joseph, where he was part of two CIAC football champions and the 2019 Class S boys lacrosse champions. His brother was at Amity. They had to play together again, just like they had growing up in Orange.
“Easy. I knew what I wanted to do,” Jack Coughlin said, standing next to his younger but taller brother. “I’ll miss those state championships, but it’s all worth it in the end. I’m having a lot of fun here.”
They’ve helped the Spartans to a perfect regular season. Amity’s football and lacrosse coaches are delighted to have Jack, a junior midfielder in the spring and safety/receiver in the fall, as they’re delighted to have Patrick, a freshman attackman and quarterback. The boys’ father, John, says he’s proud of the decision.
“For him to come back to Amity and play with me, to give up everything at St. Joe’s,” Pat said, “it means the world for me. I love him so much for that, the sacrifice he took to play with me. It means so much.”
It’d be a sweet enough family connection, brothers reuniting on two fields, one committed to play college lacrosse at Navy, another whose high school career is off to a phenomenal start. But they couldn’t reunite at Navy, and that’s why this had to happen here and now.
“I was diagnosed with epilepsy in seventh grade,” Pat says. “I missed a lot of school, but I bounced back.”
Treatment at first was elusive, John Coughlin said. Doctors weren’t initially sure he’d had a seizure that first day, at school, in September 2017.
“(They said) ‘it might’ve been nerves.’ They dismissed us,” John said. “We got home, and in 10 minutes there was another grand mal seizure.”
All told over the next year, Patrick spent about four months in hospitals. He was at Yale until December, returned on an emergency in early 2018 and then spent about two weeks at Boston Children’s Hospital. He went back to Boston for more treatment in 2019.
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And of course while Pat suffered, so did Jack and sister Kaitlyn, and Kathy and John with him.
“It took a long time to get right medication for me. I was tired. I felt very drowsy,” Pat Coughlin said.
But they’ve hit on the right meds now. He takes them three times a day, sometimes needing to time them correctly around a game.
“I get tired sometimes. I have emergency medication I have to take with me everywhere I go,” he said. “Those are challenges, but I’ve learned to overcome them.”
Pat admitted he was down when he was first diagnosed, had no idea what might be next. But he said he feels back to his old self now.
And John has seen Patrick grow. They talked about authenticity and being open about what he has been through. They talked about watching Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields talk about his own epilepsy diagnosis before the Chicago Bears drafted him, how Patrick can be an example for another young athlete going through similar battles.
Still, with epilepsy, Pat wouldn’t be a candidate for the Naval Academy.
“To have Jack come support me while I play for Amity, it means so much to me,” Pat said. “I know I can’t play with him in college. It’s impossible now. For him to give everything up to come play with me, it means so much to me.”
They’ve been major contributors to a Spartans team that finished the regular season 14-0, is the top seed in the upcoming SCC Division II tournament and will be a top seed in Class L.
“They’re changing the culture. They’re two of the most coachable guys I’ve had in my life,” Amity coach A.J. Raccio said. “They love going through scouting reports. They find extra scouting reports. They study game film. My whole career, I can count the guys who really understand the game like that.”
They come from a family better known for their other love, football.
Their grandfather, another Jack, coached at Amity — John was the waterboy for the 1978 team that won the school’s only CIAC football championship — before becoming coach at Andrew Warde in Fairfield. John played at Ansonia and then at Columbia for West Haven’s Ray Tellier Jr.
John’s brother, the 1995 New Haven Register State Player of the Year, you may know better as ESPN’s Stanford Steve.
When Jack was about 4 years old — right around when he helped out as a waterboy at Bunnell games for a coach named Craig Bruno, at least when they weren’t at Ansonia games — Uncle Steve brought the family to a Stanford game at Navy. “I fell asleep at halftime,” Jack said, but Annapolis and the idea of serving his country had already made a lifelong impression.
When the young family moved to Orange, Kathy and John had the kids try several different sports: football, basketball, “they dabbled in baseball,” John said. They thought about putting them on skates, but John said Ansonia football coach Tom Brockett, a onetime Lyman Hall goalie, told him the Coughlins were not a hockey family.
They wound up taking to lacrosse in the Amity youth program, and Patrick usually played up in age with his brother. He’d do the same in football, and once, John remembered, came out of a huddle upset because he’d expected to be the first quarterback.
“The confidence, right? But that’s Patrick,” John said.
With CIAC tackle football canceled this past fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Jack played three independent-league games with players from St. Joseph — he arrived at Amity soon after, after an emotional day of informing his Cadets coaches — while Patrick got to practice with the Spartans for a coach named Craig Bruno.
“He’s got a lot of ability. I’m very, very excited to coach him,” Bruno said. “I’ve seen film on Jack. I’m fully aware of his talent and ability. Mostly, I know the type of family, the pedigree. I’ve seen the dedication. Both boys work extremely hard.
“It’s been a pleasure getting to know them as they grow up,” he added. “Certainly their abilities are pretty obvious, but what’s so amazing about both is their ability to work hard. They don’t take anything for granted.”
A new turfed-field stadium project is underway, bringing some excitement. And in the meantime, this has been a special spring.
“A lot of these guys worked really hard in the offseason. These guys have a lot of heart,” Jack said. “We battle when we get on the field, a lot of energy. I think we’re a force to be reckoned with.”