By Mark Jaffee, Republican-American
The playing career of one of the elite three-sport athletes in Greater Waterbury in recent memory is over these days, but the former Woodland High standout’s days on the gridiron are far from being done.
Tanner Kingsley, 23, of Beacon Falls, is finishing his psychology degree online at Anna Maria College in Worcester, Mass., and will begin a master’s program in education in the fall while serving as a volunteer football coach on Prospect native and ex-Holy Cross standout Dan Mulrooney’s staff.
Kingsley quarterbacked the Anna Maria football team last fall for four games before injuries ended his senior season following his transfer from Central Connecticut State University. His career with the Blue Devils was also derailed by injuries.
He noted that he never missed a high school football or baseball game and only one basketball game, when he was elbowed by an opposing player and needed stitches in his chin.
“I was very lucky until I got to college,” he said.
But that is behind him now.
“My long-term goal is to be a high school teacher and coach football, basketball and baseball,” said Kingsley. “Getting a start here is my focus now and I’ll see how far that takes me. I never coached football before, but I did help my dad (Mike) with the baseball team at the freshman level at Woodland.”
Mulrooney is entrusting Kingsley with guiding the running backs, although he never played the position in his youth days with the Junior Hawks, or at Woodland and throughout college.
“I want to be a mentor to the guys and lead by example,” Kingsley said. “I’m going to stress to the kids that their career does go by quickly and for them to make the most of it.”
Kingsley did have eight rushing touchdowns in his high school career, including one on a quarterback sneak on a 2-yard run in a 2013 Class S semifinal 30-26 win over Bloomfield. The Hawks were up 18-16 at the time.
“I was surprised Coach (Tim) Phipps called that play and I’m still not sure how I got into the end zone,” Kingsley recalled. “I was hit as soon as I crossed the line.”
It wasn’t his legs or speed that Kingsley was known for, but rather his strong left arm.
He’s still the state’s high school football all-time career leader with 113 touchdown passes, ahead New London and Masuk QB Casey Cochran (112) and St. Paul High QB Logan Marchi of Winsted (111).
Among Kingsley’s other state records are a single-season best 51 touchdowns in 2012 and single-game marks with 615 passing yards and eight passing touchdowns against Seymour on Nov. 21 of that year.
He also tossed eight TDs against Naugatuck on Oct. 26, 2012.
His 8,393 career passing yards is third all-time behind Cochran (10,767) and Marchi (9,702).
He also scored 1,312 career points (the all-time leader) for the Hawks’ basketball team and was a four-year starter on the baseball diamond.
“I had such a great time playing at Woodland on Friday nights,” he said. “We were such a close group.”
Kingsley still keeps in close contact with several of his high school teammates, including Jack Pinho, Chris Slavin and Taylor Tucciarone.
As a senior, Kingsley engineered the Hawks to a 12-3 overall record and a berth in the CIAC Class S final, where they ultimately lost to Ansonia, 51-12.
“We were overmatched in that game, but I was proud of our season,” Kingsley said. “We had a great run. There were people on the NVL blogs predicting we’d win only four games.”
Among the most memorable games was 2013 Senior Night when Kingsley rallied the Hawks to a 32-27 win over Derby, tossing a 60-yard TD pass to Mike Kenney on a fourth-and-35 in the final minutes. Kenney got behind two defenders and caught the ball near the Red Raiders’ 20 and sprinted into the end zone.
“It brought me back to when we were playing in the Junior Wee level and down a touchdown to Derby late in the game,” Kingsley said. “I threw nearly the same play to Mike this time and he made a great catch. When we were in the huddle, I looked at everyone and said that we were going to get it done. There was no time to be nervous or to panic.”
Kingsley credited then-Hawks’ head coach Tim Shea, now at Plainville, and Phipps, an ex-Ansonia quarterback, now the head coach at Hopkins School in New Haven.
“They gave me the confidence,” he said. “Coach Phipps helped me with my footwork and reading coverages. A lot of my success goes to him because he liked airing the ball out. That was cool.”
Phipps said that Kingsley is “an excellent communicator with a deep analytical mind. He stays cool in every situation and makes everyone around believe that they can succeed.”
“It doesn’t matter what position he coaches,” Phipps added. “He’s used to being an on-field coach already and he’ll be a great one. His players will know he cares. He is also not a ‘moral victory’ guy and his players will find that out quickly.”