O’Bryan Cartagena served as an assistant cross-country coach at Edison High School for the past two seasons.
But during both fall campaigns, Edison’s head coach, Patrick McCaffery, saw that his assistant possessed the material to serve as a head coach.
Cartagena expressed a holistic theory about the “total athlete,” which included a running program, a lifting program and an approach to a healthy lifestyle. In 2018, McCaffery even put him in charge of Edison’s workout schedule.
Naturally, when McCaffery decided to step down as cross-country head coach in 2019, he wanted Cartagena to replace him. The Edison Board of Education approved Cartagena to serve as Edison’s new cross-country coach at its June 17 public meeting.
The Eagles’ cross-country program includes both male and female athletes, though they run in separate races. Cartagena is excited about his new role.
“Patrick offered it to me and I said, ‘Yes,'” Cartagena said. “He said I know what I’m doing and I’ll do a really good job.”
McCaffery, who has been coaching track and field in various capacities for 12 years, is looking to scale back his coaching responsibilities. He was an assistant girls’ coach at Edison this past spring. He will also continue on as Cartagena’s assistant this fall.
“He is definitely capable,” McCaffery said. “I think he’ll do a good job.”
Edison is not a cross-country powerhouse. Between the Greater Middlesex Conference championship meet and the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional title meet last fall, the Eagles had one runner earn a top 10 finish, and she finished 10th.
McCaffery mainly used the cross-country season to strengthen his runners for middle distance races in the winter indoor and spring outdoor seasons. The approach worked fairly well, too. In the spring, Edison junior Cynthia Boryeskne got all the way to the New Balance Nationals Outdoor meet in Greensboro, N.C. from June 13-16.
“We had a lot of runners set personal records too,” Cartagena said.
As head coach, Cartagena will continue this approach. He plans on having his cross-country athletes run 65 miles a week. He believes this heavy load will make the middle distance races seem easier in the winter and spring.
“Since we don’t have a great team, we have to do base for winter and outdoor,” he said. “We have to keep learning with experience and moving forward.”
Cartagena is talking long-term because, if Edison will have him, he wants to stay long-term.
The 26 year old grew up in Puerto Rico. In 2015, he tried out for the territory’s Olympic team in the 800-meter run, but missed the cut by five seconds.
After missing the cut, Cartagena decided to become a coach. He came to the United States shortly thereafter, applied for jobs at a bunch of different schools and finally landed as a paraprofessional at Edison High School.
He took the paraprofessional job to coach track after school. But as it turns out, he likes the day job too.
“It’s something new. I never had it in my mind. But I love it,” he said. “The kids are nice and I feel I’m doing something nice for them.”
Cartagena is in a good place. He has a day job he likes and an afternoon job he loves.
“Now that I have the head position I can see what is real pressure,” he said. “I’m very excited.”