By Gideon Rubin
Ever since San Diego Jewish Academy launched its groundbreaking football program 10 years ago, the Lions have had their share of ups and downs. There were the early growing pains. Then the transition from 8-man football to the 11-man game. Coaches have changed and offensive schemes have been redesigned along the way.
Few know more about all of that than Joseph Gurfinkiel.
Gurfinkiel played for SDJA back in the 8-man days, graduating in 2006, and has worked as an assistant coach for six years since then.
And so it’s fitting that when the Lions open their season on Sept. 6 with a nonleague game against Calipatria High — a game that will mark the 10-year milestone of what’s believed to be the nation’s first Jewish school to field a varsity football program — Gurfinkiel will have a prominent role. Earlier this year, SDJA named Gurfinkiel its varsity coach.
He is the first Lions alumni to be named to a head coaching position in any sport.
“It’s really an honor being that I played for the school and now I’m coaching,” Gurfinkiel said. “To me it’s a great honor that they can trust me and believe in me to lead the program the right way.”
Gurfinkiel inherits a team that was 4-3 last season. The Lions haven’t made the playoffs since 2009, when they were 6-3.
He cited player safety and instilling a strong work ethic in his players to be among his top priorities in his new role.
“I expect my players to give me their best effort,” he said.
Gurfinkiel played offensive line and defensive end during his playing days at SDJA, and he’ll bring the same blue collar mentality to his coaching that he developed playing in the trenches.
Gurfinkiel has been a defensive coach at SDJA and said he’ll continue to emphasize the importance of playing a hard-nosed defensive game.
He said the Lions will continue running a modern spread offense, a system that was designed by returning offensive coordinator Matt Moran.
Gurfinkiel believes the Lions have a lot to be excited about this season.
Among the team’s key returnees are quarterback Micah Weinstein, running back Jeremy Danzig, wide receiver Adam Sloan, and two-way lineman Jake Posnock.
Weinstein, will be a fourth year varsity player and third year starter (he started several games as a freshman too).
Gurfinkiel said he expects big things this season from Weinstein, a proficient passer with excellent aptitude who has thrived in the spread offense. Last year Weinstein threw for 1,063 yards and 10 touchdowns in four games.
“This should be his coming out year,” Gurfinkiel said of Weinstein.
Danzig, a powerful and swift running back with aspirations to play at the college level, rushed for 552 yards and five touchdowns on 69 carries last season.
Sloan is a talented receiver who figures to be Weinstein’s favorite passing target this year. The 6-foot-2 205-pounder led the team last season with 30 receptions for 346 yards and five touchdowns.
The combination of Weinstein, Danzig and Sloan should give the Lions a balanced offense that’s capable of putting up some big numbers.
“It should be a very dynamic offense,” Gurfinkiel said.
Posnock, a 6-1 210-pounder, is a hard-nosed defender who played half of last season with a broken arm.
“He’s a run stopper,” Gurfinkiel said of Posnock. “Nobody goes through the middle when he’s out there.”
As a SDJA alum, Gurfinkiel is uniquely in tune with the experience of his players attending a small school that heavily emphasizes academics.
He has had years to develop a rapport with most of his players as a longtime assistant, and a middle school coach before that.
Gurfinkiel said he’ll emphasize the simple but important philosophies that have guided his experience as a player and coach.
“Follow the rules, do it right, and keep it clean,” he said.
Gurfinkiel had a chance to play college ball at Whittier College after graduating from SDJA, but declined because of family reasons.
He is currently pursuing a degree in business management at San Diego State.
Gurfinkiel acknowledged that for him, taking a head coaching job at his alma mater is personal, and that he hopes to impart what it means to wear a Lions uniform to his players.
“I really try to emphasize that it’s a special program and that wearing those colors to me was very special,” Gurfinkiel said. “The friends you play with now are going to be your friends for the rest of your life.”