Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers defensive coordinator/assistant coach Jake Grande (standing applauding) has led the Pioneers to the No. 1 defense in af2 the last two years and has served as head coach Rich Ingold’s right-hand man since joining the staff four years ago. On Grande’s left is quarterback Ryan Vena (No. 5), assistant coach Les Moss and Ingold. On Grande’s right is backup quarterback Joe DeLuise (No. 15), lineman Eugene Newsome and wide receiver Rich Musinski.Photo courtesy of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers
PLAINS TWP. – In the last two seasons, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers have registered the best scoring defense in af2.
Sure the team has brought in some of the best talent available to bolster the squad, but the biggest acquisition was in the organization all along.
Since 2005, Jake Grande has been a part of the organization as a defensive helper. He began as an intern from Wilkes University and has gradually worked his way up to current title of defensive coordinator/assistant coach.
Since Grande, a New Jersey native, has been a part of the coaching staff as manning the defensive backs in 2007, the Pioneers have had some of the best success in team history, racking up a 14-2 record in 2007 and 2008 including an appearance in ArenaCup VIII in 2007.
He was also an intricate reason why Chris Royal claimed Rookie of the Year honors in 2007 with 117 tackles and 14 interceptions and decided to return to the team a few weeks ago.
“He’s got a great relationship with him,” Pioneers coach Rich Ingold said. “I’m hard on guys and very hands-on, Chris doesn’t respond well to that and Jake’s into correcting and that’s why him and Chris get along so well.”
That shouldn’t be surprising that Royal has excelled under Grande since the coach was an All-MAC defensive back playing for Wilkes his senior year. That same year, Grande helped the Colonels claim their first MAC title since 1993.
It’s not only Royal who has performed outstanding with Grande having a hand in the defense.
Defensive back Micheaux Robinson tied a team-record last year with 14 interceptions and has tacked on a league-leading eight more this season. Defensive lineman Royce Morgan leads the af2 in sacks with 10.
The overall defensive unit has only allowed 36.8 points per game to top the league in lowest average and is second in the league in pass defense only giving up an average of 215.5 yards through the air. The unit also leads the league in sacks with 28.
“All I do is put them in the right spot and hope they make the right plays and these guys do a great job making plays,” said Grande, who was offered a job by Ingold as a coach or to battle for a starting spot as a player once his internship ended. “These guys are all hell of athletes. These guys just work their butts off so it’s mostly them.”
As a fulltime employee with the organization, Grande does much more than study film and get his players ready for upcoming opponents.
He also deals with housing issues and sets up meals for the players, while working in the front office during the offseason.
“I call him a prodigy,” Ingold noted. “For his age, he’s so far ahead of his game. I want to be selfish and keep him around as long as I can, but he’s a guy that knows what he wants to do.
“I want to help him get into the NFL. He’s a quick-learner. I used to do everything on my own, but he’s picked everything up. This guy should be a head coach in this league because he knows how to get it done.”
The 25-year-old Grande is now ready for the next challenge, hoping for a head coaching gig with dreams of someday leading a team in the NFL.
“The sky’s the limit,” said Grande, a 2006 grad from Wilkes. “Me and coach (Rich) Ingold talk about it all the time and how he’s going to try to get me to the next level. The AFL would have been great, but obviously it’s in hiatus right now.
“I’ve always thought about being a head coach in college, but as we go on I really love arena football. For right now, I’m happy to be here and just excited to be here and keep the winning here and be ready to take it if something comes along.”
It seems like a matter of time before Grande is manning his own team, but for now his main goal is to lead the Pioneers to an af2 championship. And if Grande’s defense keeps playing the way it has, a title can be coming to the Wyoming Valley sooner rather than later.