Danny Verpaele keeps talking about his football journey and it comes back to Army more times than not.
Verpaele was recruited by Army and the other service academies Navy and Air Force out of Merritt Island (Fla.). A high school option quarterback and defensive back, Verpaele decided to stay in-state at South Florida where his brother played with the thought of becoming a football coach after college.
Verpaele’s introduction to Army football came in the fifth game of his freshman season in 2004. Carlton Jones rushed for 225 yards and five touchdowns with fullback Mike Viti leading the way in the Black Knights’ win.
“They were running toss sweep and me and him (Viti, now Army’s offensive line coach) are butting heads,” said Verpaele, a Sporting News freshman all-American safety for South Florida. “He still talks trash to me now.”
It was Viti’s house that Verpaele stayed at when he arrived on post at 10 p.m. on Sunday night to start his second stint on Army football’s staff in February. Verpaele was up for Fourth Quarter Warrior (mat) drills the next morning as the Black Knights’ new safeties coach.
“West Point and the service academies are a very special unique place,” Verpaele said. “I always said, ‘If I have a chance to go back, I’m going to go back there. If it’s the right situation, I’d like to go back.’ How college football is nowadays with the NIL (name, image, likeness) and the transfer portal and watching it all unfold, a place like West Point and the academies, it’s always recruiting a certain way and certain type of kid. You don’t deal with that as much. I always had my eye on this.”
Verpaele was a member of Jeff Monken’s first Army staff as an offensive quality control coach in 2014. He was moved to tight ends coach during that season. Verpaele would spend one more season at West Point before leaving to become Valdosta State defensive coordinator in 2016 and winning a Division II national championship with an undefeated 14-0 record in 2018. He spent the previous four seasons at Division I-AA Kennesaw State, the last three as defensive coordinator. Verpaele opted to return to West Point over staying at Kennesaw State, which is moving up to Division I-A and Conference USA.
“When this opportunity came about, coach (Jeff) Monken spoke to me and (defensive coordinator Nate) Woody, it was something that I couldn’t turn down and it was meant to be. I know Kennesaw is going to Conference USA and making that jump up with a transition year. But, there’s something about being at an academy. It’s a special place.”
Verpaele remembers sitting in the Michie Stadium press box in his first season as a full-time assistant for VMI in 2009. Verpaele was trying to come up with way to stop a 6-foot-9 Army wide receiver named Ali Villanueva. He also met his fiancée during his first coaching stint at West Point.
“We got engaged in 2015,” Verpaele said. “Old Bear Mountain. It’s funny how it all came full circle.”
Verpaele said he knew that he wanted to be a coach in 10th grade. He heard Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden speak at a Central Florida banquet.
“I said, ‘I want to be like that guy, I want to coach football,'” Verpaele said. “Football was something that I loved. It was something that came easy to me. My dad was a Little League coach. But I didn’t grow up in necessarily a coaching family. I just love the game and how it brought people together and the life lessons that it taught you.
“Everybody asked me what I’m going to college for, ‘Are you going for academics?’ I said, ‘I’m going to be a football coach.’ I always knew that. Bobby Bowden was the biggest inspiration. My high school coach. I had some Hall of Fame high school coaches that were very good and poured into my life and a track coach that was very unique and changed people’s lives being a coach.”
This time around at West Point, Verpaele wants to embrace to players that he’s coaching and the program he’s representing.
“The first two years, I was going so fast trying to learn everything,” Verpaele said. “The kids, you are dealing with are the future leaders of America. These kids are some of the brightest, smartest kids. I said, ‘I want to go back and I want to really dive into the type of character and who these kids are, welcome and embrace that more and understand that more. I’m excited.”
Here’s our full podcast with Verpaele: https://www.youtube.com/live/P_6Mghiicbk