Coach Terrell Cunningham of Monroe High School in Section 5 has been named the Buffalo Bills nominee for the Don Shula NFL High School Football Coach of the Year award.
The award honors high school football coaches that "demonstrate the integrity, achievement and leadership exemplified by the winningest coach in NFL history, Don Shula," according to the NFL Foundation.
Cunningham led Monroe to an 11-1 record and to the Class B semifinals, where they lost 29-24 to Maine-Endwell. Earlier in the season, Monroe set a Section 5 playoff record by putting up 78 points in a shutout win over Rochester Prep in late October.
"For me, it was great to see the hard work that our boys put in year-round, so just to kind of see everything come full circle," Cunningham said. "It's a culture that we were building … basically, you have to get out of a situation what you put into it."
Cunningham sees football as a microcosm of real life and teaches his players to give their best efforts in both football and life.
"Though it is just a game, it cannot be cheated or shortchanged," Cunningham said. "You cannot commit to minimum effort and expect a full return."
Cunningham invests his time in the neighborhood he grew up in to show his players that they can make it in life if they focus on their academic careers as well as their athletic ones.
"Unfortunately, Rochester is a city of high poverty, crime and violence," Cunningham said. "Many of my players have to see and live with these things. I myself grew up in these same neighborhoods as many of my players … I want them to see that they too can make it out of this city and have opportunities to go to college and to make a decent wage."
The Buffalo Bills and ADPRO Sports are proud to recognize some of the best high school football coaches in Western New York through the 2023 Coach of the Week Program. Throughout the football season, the Bills and ADPRO Sports awarded varsity head tackle football coaches with the Coach of the Week Award to highlight not only their team's achievements on the field but also some of the work they are doing off the field in their communities.
As sports organizations across the country devote more attention to preventing and treating concussions, Cunningham is no exception to the growing number of coaches committed to player safety. Monroe invested in three new sets of helmets this past season and discontinued the use of older helmets. Their coaching staff also teaches the Hawk tackling method which allows players to keep their heads outside of the tackle as they use their shoulders to bring down their opponent.
"As a player who has suffered a few concussions of my own, I understand how important it is for concussion safety," Cunningham said. "We make sure that each and every coach in the program is Heads Up Concussion certified and aware of identifying any symptoms of a concussion. … We were fortunate that we only had two players in the whole program to suffer from a concussion during this past season."
As someone invested in the high school and youth athletes he coaches, one of the most satisfying feelings Cunningham has is hearing that a former player has become a coach themselves.
"Something that I take pride in is when I see my former players and they tell me that they went into coaching because of the impact that I had on their lives," Cunningham said. "Seeing a young person who has made something of themselves and give me a small amount of credit means more than any amount of wins or losses."
Cunningham had a full circle moment when he took the reins at Monroe. His former coach, Jason Muhammed, became the school's principal and thus could no longer serve as the program's head coach. Muhammed called in his former player to serve as the head coach while he became the team's offensive coordinator.
"He would always joke about how one day I'm going to come back and he's going to end up working for me," Cunningham said, saying that Muhammed served as a father figure who "just never really stopped being there for me."
In addition to being nominated for the Don Shula award, Cunningham is the Buffalo Bills Coach of the Year for Section 5, while Chad Bartoszek was named the Coach of the Year for Section 6. Bartoszek led Salamanca to a 10-3 overall record and a first place finish in the Section 6 C – South division.
Each coach, as well as all 22 coaches who earned Coach of the Week honors throughout the season, will be honored at halftime of the Buffalo Bill's Week 17 game against the New England Patriots.