Aiming to make high-school athletes more resilient

Ambassadors of Compassion program


Jack Coan is one of the greatest football players to come out of Suffolk County.

But as the one-time Sayville High School star told a group of between 1,500 and 2,000 high school student-athletes from Suffolk County on a rainy Friday afternoon, the road to success can be long, frustrating at times, and require a lot of hard work.

Coan quarterbacked the Golden Flashes to a Long Island Championship in 2015 and was named Suffolk County’s top player in 2016, before heading to college at University of Wisconsin.

Coan enrolled expecting to be the starting quarterback his freshman year, but that role went to another player. He worked his way into the starting job, but broke his foot and lost his starting spot, which led him to transfer to Notre Dame.

He went unsigned in the 2022 N.F.L. Draft, but signed on as a free agent with the Indianapolis Colts. He played in the preseason, but was let go before the regular season.

But Coan didn’t quit.

Instead, he found a starting QB spot with the San Antonio Brahmas of the XFL and is hoping to make his way back to the NFL.

“Everyone wants the blessing of success, but not everyone wants the burden” of the hard work it takes to achieve success, Coan told the athletes assembled at East Islip High School.

Coan spoke to the students as part of the kickoff event for Ambassadors of Compassion, a character development program for high-school athletes.

The students came from more than 20 high schools including Bellport, Center Moriches, East Islip and Sayville.

Ambassadors of Compassion is a national program whose motto is “Building emotionally resilient youth.” It aims to help high school student-athletes develop the skills to deal with life’s inevitable frustrations and disappointments, and encourages them to become mentors to other students.

Among the other speakers at Friday’s kickoff were East Islip High School alumnus Boomer Esiason, who delivered a video message; Ambassadors of Compassion founders Eric and Judy Hannah; and Gregg “Gio” Giannotti, co-host with Esiason of WFAN radio’s “Boomer and Gio” show.

Giannotti, a Bellport High School alumnus, who now lives in Sayville, recounted his own athletic frustration as a 12-year-old pitcher.

He was on the mound in a playoff game when he hit five consecutive batters and was taken out of the game.
The experience rattled him and took him two years to regain his confidence, Giannotti said.

“I ended up screwing up the tryout the next year in sixth grade, middle school, screwing up the tryout in seventh grade and wanting to quit baseball,” he said. “And that was exactly the wrong thing to do.”

Giannotti eventually regained his confidence and went on to play high-school baseball and football.

“It’s not what happens to you,” he said. “It’s how you deal with it and deal with it in a positive way.’