WEST HAVEN — Ken Strong Stadium may not be where Derrick Lewis and Desmond Lymon spend their time these days, but it’s still home. The two football coaches may not actually be brothers, but they’re family.
On Saturday morning at Kennedy Stadium in Bridgeport, Lewis’ Central Hilltoppers meet Lymon’s Bassick Lions. But don’t call it a rivalry. Heck, pose them facing each other for a photo, and Lymon can’t even fake a frown.
Former teammates at West Haven and Southern Connecticut, members of the same coaching staff twice, they’re trying to work together for the players at both Central and Bassick.
“He’s been my role model since I was 7-years old,” Lymon said. When he left UMass, he said, his first call was to Lewis, who encouraged him to come to Southern, a move Lewis had made from UConn.
How long do they know each other? Both, at the same time, let out a “pfft.”
“We grew up in the same apartment complex,” Lymon said; Rolling Ridge, down the block from the VA hospital in West Haven. “He used to bring out this basketball hoop. And basketball was our love. So he would put it in a parking lot like this,” next to the concession stand at Ken Strong Stadium.
“He’d be lugging the hoop up the hill. All the kids in the neighborhood are playing. Imagine a parking lot, two regular hoops, he brings them out. Everybody’s knocking on his door, ‘Derrick, come on, let’s go! Let’s go!’”
They both grew up to play football for coach Ed McCarthy at West Haven early last decade.
“I was a little older,” Lewis said. “That kind of carried us through here. When I was a senior, Desmond was a freshman. I was personally blessed, had a great career here. The younger guys saw how we did it, saw our mistakes. That’s the great thing about West Haven. We come from lineage.
“Before me, there was Ulish Booker. Then I guess it was me, Brian Pratt, Joe Vaughn. Then it was these guys, Levi Jordan, Rob Jackson, Desmond. Then it was James Alford, who’s actually on my staff. Then it was Ervin Phillips. It’s amazing, the lineage that we have here.”
Lymon said his coaching staff at Bassick includes a lot of teammates from West Haven’s 2002 championship team.
Lewis stood near the gate to the field complex, looking across the crosswalk to the door to the locker room. He talked about walking through that door, crossing the street, smoke rising from the concession stand, little kids playing without a thought to what the big boys were doing, a crowd ringing the field and filling the bleachers.
It’s a feeling he would love to recreate in Bridgeport.
“You go to a beautiful stadium like Kennedy,” Lewis said, “and, whew, there may be 50 (people) there.”
“I played my championship football game at Kennedy Stadium (2002 vs. Greenwich),” Lymon said.
“And it was packed,” said Lewis, who’d already graduated.
“It ends up being our home field,” Lymon said. “It’s crazy not seeing (it crowded). That’s where Bridgeport’s got to help Bridgeport.”
Lewis’ first head coaching job was at Bassick in 2011. Lymon was on his staff, and Lewis helped get him a job at the school, where Lymon remains today. They stayed together when Lewis became head coach at Law.
Lewis took over the Hilltoppers last year. Lymon got the Bassick job this year. They understand the challenges they face, parental involvement, making do with less (though people have been very generous with money and other programs have been very generous with equipment, the coaches said). Lymon said three of his players have children. The real world encroaches on the football field in ways it might not in some other places in the FCIAC or SCC.
“We know we’ve both got uphill battles, but we love the game too much,” Lymon said.
“I want to see a young man strive and make it. You can get a lot from this game.”
Both teams will be 0-6 when they kick off Saturday at 11 a.m. at Kennedy Stadium. The Hilltoppers lost a heartbreaker to Westhill last weekend, 14-8.
One will end a long losing streak, 17 games for Central, 28 for Bassick. For the Lions, that streak began the last time the teams met, Nov. 17, 2016, a 22-14 Hilltoppers victory.
This time will be a little different. The coaches are family.
“(Lewis) is really the orchestrator of my life, honestly,” Lymon said.
“Of course I’m trying to win a game,” he said a little later. “But if there’s anybody I would want to win, it’s him.”
“He’s got me at a loss for words,” Lewis said.
Lymon shrugged. “It’s the truth.”