Jacksonville Sharks coach Les Moss isn't sure how much longer his defensive coordinator will be with the Arena Football League team.
Jake Grande, a 27-year-old Somers Point resident, has excelled in everything Moss has given him.
Jacksonville's defense is one of the best in a league known for high-scoring games.
The Sharks are sixth among 18 teams in scoring defense, third in rushing defense and fourth in passing defense.
Moss also gave Grande, who is in his second year with the Sharks, control of special teams this season.
Grande, the youngest coordinator in the AFL, has the Sharks at the top of the league in nearly every special-teams category, as well.
"I keep giving him things to do and he keeps getting them done," said Moss, the 2010 AFL Coach of the Year. "There hasn't been anything he hasn't been able to do for us and that's great. I used to have meetings about the defense and see where things were, but now I just let him go."
With Moss not worrying about the defense, he has focused on Jacksonville's top-ranking scoring offense and has lead the Sharks to ArenaBowl XXIV.
The title game is hosted by the Arizona Rattlers at 8:30 tonight (TV: NFL Network).
"Age is something people look at, but when you're coaching with a group of guys and all have the same common goal, it doesn't matter," said Grande, a 2003 Mainland graduate. "Guys took the point that we have a common goal. We are here trying to win a championship."
Grande has been a defensive specialist throughout his football career. In 2002, he helped Mainland Regional High School to a South Jersey Group III championship.
Then he moved on to Division III Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and was a stalwart defensive back. As a sophomore, he led the Colonels with three interceptions and added 46 tackles.
As a junior, he was fifth on the team with 48 tackles and two interceptions. That season he was named to 2006 Mid-Atlantic Conference second team.
After graduating from Wilkes in 2007, he had to choose between playing and coaching. Grande was offered a chance to extend his playing career in Arena football or coach for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers, which were part of ArenaFootball2, a minor league system for the AFL that has since folded.
Grande felt he could play for several more years and that urge to compete doesn't go away. However, the opportunity to coach doesn't come too often and not for many as young as he was at the time - just a college graduate.
"I knew I wanted to coach football," Grande said. "When I graduated, the head coach of the (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) team said, 'I had to let a defensive guy go. You can try to make the team, or do you want an opportunity to take defensive backs coach.' I thought about it. It's hard to get into coaching and it's all about who you know. This door opened and I never looked back."
Moss, who coached with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton team, learned about Grande when he was an intern assistant during his sophomore year in college. When Grande graduated from Wilkes, he became defensive-backs coach and helped the Rookie of the Year that season, Chris Royal, who had 14 interceptions. Moss got to see more of Grande.
The next year, Grande became the defensive coordinator and lead the best scoring defense in AF2. In his four years with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Pioneers compiled a 62-15 record.
When Moss became the head coach with the newly formed Jacksonville Sharks, Moss knew exactly whom he wanted on his staff.
Grande had been able to take control of a defense, but what he did behind the scenes was arguably more important. Football operations personnel watch film, but they also find housing, cars, gyms, food, furnishings and take care of every little request a player has.
"You have to wear a lot of hats in a small organization like this," Moss said. "It takes a lot of time management. I'll watch film until 2 a.m. I don't know many coaches who don't mind working like that."
Since the players only make around $400 a week, making them happy is nearly as vital as making sure a particular coverage is set in a game.
"It helps that he doesn't need sleep," Moss added.
Grande is good with this part of the game - the part fans don't realize when they're watching the wild, high-scoring football action.
Moss doesn't think Grande will deal with this his whole life. He thinks Grande is eventually headed for life beyond the AFL, perhaps college and maybe even the NFL.
But it will take adjustments if Grande wants to go back to the outdoor game where there is less man-to-man coverage and more defensive schemes.
"I think he is headed for greener pastures - not that the AFL isn't good, I love the AFL. I'm a lifer," Moss said. "I just think if he wants it, he can go somewhere else. I wouldn't be surprised he had an interview or two this year."
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