Nonnewaug graduate and former BL star Tyler Sheikh at home in Pennsylvania..Story by John Torsiello.
Tyler Sheikh found it somewhat difficult to believe that it has been a decade since he was part of the Nonnewaug High School boys soccer team’s state championship season.
Ten years later, Sheikh finds himself in a town in Pennsylvania that is somewhat similar to where he grew up, as he concludes his first season coaching the Mount Aloysius College men’s and women’s soccer teams and recalling fondly his years at the Woodbury high school.
“One of my best friends reminded me the other day that in a couple of weeks it will be a 10-year anniversary of our state championship,” Sheikh said this week. “I immediately thought about how time flies. I'm not trying to sound like an old-timer or anything, but with a little bit more experience you truly get to see just how great and privileged a college career can be.”
Sheikh said his own college experience was derailed by “transfers, poor grades and other personal issues.”
He added, “While at Nonnewaug I had no vision of my future. I think that is something that many young people feel. I try to take those experiences and understanding with me as well as the successes I've had. One of my recruits is a 17-year-old from the Bahamas. He had an up and down freshman campaign, but I am proud that he is doing well in the classroom and is just an overall great guy. The big lesson I took away from my playing days at Nonnewaug that I try to instill in my current players is that their college career is a gift. Their chance to study at an American, private institution is something that many people do not receive. I try to get them to love the game the way I absolutely loved the game playing with all of my best friends while at Nonnewaug.
Sheikh was hired as the head coach of the Mount Aloysius College (Division III) soccer teams in February of this year after serving as head boys soccer coach at Brookfield High School for one season, during which he led the Bobcats to the state quarterfinals, while defeating Top-20 nationally ranked Bunnell High School and playing nationally ranked Pomperaug High School to a draw. Before his appointment he was a high school alternative education and history teacher in Connecticut. He was also the head coach of a U-17 boys premiere soccer program.
Sheikh began his soccer coaching career as the assistant varsity and head junior varsity coach at Nonnewaug under Toby Denman for two seasons. Sheikh led the junior varsity team to an undefeated season. Before being named head coach at Brookfield, he also served there under older brother Jared.
As a high school player, Tyler led Nonnewaug to its first state championship and an undefeated senior season. He was named Most Valuable Player of the state tournament and was an All-New England selection. Sheikh also served as co-captain of Nonnewaug with newly appointed Mount Aloysius College assistant coach Ian Taff. Sheikh played Division II soccer at Stonehill College where he was second on the team in points as a freshman. The following year he played for a college prep/PDL team at a soccer academy in Florida, while attending college and earning a 4.0 GPA. He then transferred to Division I Quinnipiac University where he was a starting striker for his lone season at the Hamden school. He earned a bachelor’s degree in History from Quinnipiac and a master’s degree in Education from the University of Connecticut.
An NSCAA licensed coach, Sheikh also serves as a staff coach with the Pennsylvania-West Olympic Development Program. He has also been a professional tennis instructor for over a decade.
Sheikh said his arrival at Mount Aloysius College, which plays in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference, was “timing and circumstance.”
“I was bouncing around long-term substitute positions after getting my Masters from UConn in 2010. I was fortunate enough to be teaching high school history and social studies in New Haven when I came across the job online. I was actually searching for collegiate positions for my older brother, Jared, who had left Brookfield (after winning two state titles in three years) in hopes of moving on to the collegiate level. When I saw the job I brought it to his attention, but his circumstances had changed because he was in the midst of planning a summer wedding. So, when I got home from school that day I decided to write a letter of intent.”
Sheikh applied and was asked to come to the college for an interview.
“It was midweek but I made the leap and drove back to Woodbury after school let out, packed my bags and made the drive to Cresson. I got in around 11p.m. and was greeted by a captain of the team. They put me up in a suite on campus and I was in a whirlwind. I decided to wake up and play with the returning male players at 7 a.m.,” a sporting gesture that won over the school’s administration. “Athletic director, Ryan Smith, took a chance on me and saw my passion for sport and coaching.”
Sheikh admitted that coaching the men's and women's teams can be very tough.
“Fortunately, this past July, the school hired two assistants for me. I brought in my assistant at Brookfield, Ian Taff. And the school hired a fresh-out-of-college grad assistant, Matt Davis. Ian and Matt have been great in helping me get through this first season. We have hit the ground running with recruiting and they help with all the organization of day to day activities for both programs. I have coached women and girls as a tennis professional but never a girl's team.”
He relied on his brother Nick, who coaches the Nonnewaug girl's team, for advice and assumed an assistant coach position with an Olympic Development Program near Pittsburgh, Pa., where he was put on a U-16 girls staff, giving him valuable time coaching young women, this past spring and summer.
Sheikh said coaching at the collegiate level “is a blast because I get to focus on soccer along with the character development that comes with the collegiate years.”
Sheikh sees one of his key roles at Mount Aloysius to breed a winning culture on and off the field.
“Many of my players are internationals. The school is in a blue-collar neck of the woods and prides itself on scholastics and service to others. I know that I have great character kids and a great character staff, but I really have to push the year-round culture of winning. Whereas the community in Woodbury and Brookfield bred technical ability and fitness during the off-season, in college it is the coach's job to implement these programs and expectations. In college, from the recruiting process until the student graduates (I learned this on our Senior Day), parents entrust me to help their son or daughter where I can (often beyond the field).
He said his experiences playing and coaching at the high school level helped prepare him for his new post.
“My experiences as an assistant under my brother Jared at Brookfield and Toby Denman at Nonnewaug really prepared me for putting together a program. Both of these guys ran a program of junior varsity and varsity entwined. I think that is why you see success with these programs over the years. I know I can handle the soccer side of things. I can handle the pressure of taking over a top program like Brookfield after my brother and trying to emulate success.”
He added, “I pride myself on my knowledge and experiences in the sport. I've been like a sponge since I started playing and have been able to pick up many good coaching practices. There is certainly an adjustment, as college kids are older than high schoolers. There are other factors on a college campus that you might not have with a 14-year-old freshman. But in the end, a player is a player and it is up to a quality coach to find the appropriate way to motivate and teach. All of my experiences coaching at the high school level and even premiere players, U-14 to U-18, absolutely prepared me for the college game.”
Sheikh said the area in which Mount Aloysius College is located reminds him of the “towns of Warren, Morris and any of the more northwest ones in Connecticut.” He added, “I love it when my recruiting trips allow me to get back home. Whenever I get back, the memories of high school soccer; playing, coaching, watching, come racing back. My favorite time of the year is fall in New England but fall in Pennsylvania isn't too bad either. I look forward to bringing more Connecticut talent out here with me.”