This offseason, Wesleyan football added to its coaching staff with the hiring of new running backs coach John Capodice. Capodice, the former head coach of nearby Berlin High School’s football program, was dismissed from his position this past December amidst allegations of illegal recruitment practices. This ended a tenure of 12 years that was highlighted by Berlin’s first state championship in 2009.
On Nov. 18, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) handed down serious sanctions to Berlin High that included the forfeiture of seven victories and a harsh $4,000 fine. The Redcoats had qualified for the state tournament by finishing 8-2, but their postseason berth was rescinded upon having their wins vacated. Capodice was suspended the following day, and ultimately fired less than a month later.
A self-report of potential recruiting violations from Berlin High launched a CIAC investigation that led to an official report on Oct. 30. After giving Capodice and other members of the Berlin football program a chance to respond, the CIAC concluded that the coach had been attempting to secure housing in Berlin for four athletes from other towns, so that they would be eligible to play on the Berlin High team. Additionally, they asserted that one player had never actually lived in his Berlin residence.
Capodice initially pushed back against the allegations and filed an appeal of the investigation. However, one day before the CIAC was set to appraise the appeal, Capodice withdrew his complaint and accepted the punishment, essentially bringing an end to his career as head coach. He was also dismissed from his position as coach of the freshman boys basketball team.
Despite what seemed to be an admission that he would not win his case, Capodice has made no such admission of guilt. Since being dismissed, he has directed his focus entirely toward his new position at Wesleyan, rather than either continuing to fight the allegations or admitting to them.
Capodice’s hiring came at a highly opportune time in a clearly strategic move by Athletic Director and former Head Coach Mike Whalen as shown by the addition to the Wesleyan backfield, Dario Highsmith ’20, who attended Middletown High School and competed against the Redcoats on multiple occasions. As running back coach, Capodice will work closely with Highsmith, who is listed as “athlete” on the depth chart but is sure to take some snaps at tailback. The Berlin and Middletown football programs have had friction in the past, but this should be inconsequential, especially when compared to the value of adding someone who has had to gameplan against Highsmith in the past.
Capodice’s resume at Berlin also indicates that he brings value to the Wesleyan program. Other than winning a state championship, his accomplishments include five state championship appearances, an undefeated season, and an overall record of 107-31. This marked the fourth-highest winning percentage among active coaches in Connecticut. This track record of success should be crucial for a Cardinal program that is beginning to break a long history of inferiority in the Little Three.
Whalen spoke to the hiring.
“I do not have any comment on the circumstances that led to John not returning as head coach at Berlin High School,” Whalen wrote in an email to The Argus. “What I can confirm is that John is starting his 19th year as a teacher at Berlin High School and we have hired him to be a part-time coach on our football staff.”
State Representative Joe Aresimowicz, Capodice’s successor as head coach, declined to comment.
Another strategic advantage of the hiring is that it may aide Wesleyan’s ability to recruit nearby players, particularly Capodice’s former athletes. Despite the strength of Berlin’s program, no member of the 2015 Cardinal roster was a Berlin High graduate, a curious absence given that Wesleyan boasts many talented players from other nearby, demographically similar high schools. Wesleyan may now have the upper hand trying to recruit Redcoats, especially those who played under Capodice.
Capodice will hope to leave his controversy behind and unleash the full potential of Highsmith, Jaylen Berry ’18, Lou Stevens ’17, and the rest of the backfield come opening day. The Cardinals open their season on Sept. 24 at Tufts, followed by an Oct. 1 home game against Hamilton. They will look to improve upon the 5-3 mark they set in 2015 and make a serious run at the Little Three and NESCAC championships.