Faith-driven Donovan Catholic strength coach Mark Deppen named NJ Coach of the Year

March 20, 2024 at 4:05 p.m.
Mark Deppen of Donovan Catholic, Toms River, was recently named the National High School Strength Coaches Association’s 2024 New Jersey State Coach of the Year. Courtesy photo
Mark Deppen of Donovan Catholic, Toms River, was recently named the National High School Strength Coaches Association’s 2024 New Jersey State Coach of the Year. Courtesy photo

By RICH FISHER
Contributing Editor

Donovan Catholic’s Mark Deppen has received one the highest accolades one can earn in his profession, being named the National High School Strength Coaches Association’s 2024 New Jersey State Coach of the Year.

The award, which went to Red Bank Catholic’s Joe McAuliffe last year, is given annually to a high school strength and conditioning coach in recognition of their coaching achievements and passion for the profession.

“This means the world to me, and I’m blessed,” the Toms River coach said. “I’ve been doing this for 31 years. It’s voted on nation-wide, so I’m very honored people outside of New Jersey along with a handful of New Jersey strength and conditioning coaches felt enough to honor me with this. It goes beyond the Shore Conference and encompasses the entire state.”

Deppen is quick to credit his student-athletes for assisting in the award, saying, “they believe in my coaching and my philosophy. Either we go up and down the state with our sports teams or I sometimes venture out of state with my power lifting team. It validates what we’re doing because people see the work that’s going on here.

“They’ll see what our football and softball teams have done in recent years,” he continued, “or see how much a guy or girl lifted. It catches people’s attention.”

The coach feels his religious beliefs have helped fuel his achievements.

“My strong faith in God has pulled me through a lot of stuff,” he said. “I’ve had some tragedies in life I’ve had to overcome. If it wasn’t for my faith in God, I don’t know if I’d be able to do the work I do here. I really feel he’s got a hand in it all when things are rough. We all pray and look to God and things work themselves out.”

Deppen arrived at Donovan Catholic in September of 2000 after getting his start at Glen Mills School for Boys in Pennsylvania. He was drawn to powerlifting in the mid-90s while visiting a small Ohio gym that featured the late Louie Simmons, widely known as the Godfather of Strength and Conditioning. Simmons made a huge impact.

“We came back and put what he did toward the athletes at the school, and everything just excelled,” Deppen said. “I embedded myself in this kind of training – a practice-what-you-preach kind of thing. I saw what it did for character, commitment and overall health and strength, and how it would relate to athletes getting better.”

Deppen brought that philosophy to Donovan Catholic, where he works to improve the physique of athletes in all sports while also coaching a successful powerlifting program.

His powerlifters won a national tournament in Connecticut in the early 2000s and claimed back-to-back state titles in 2009-10. They have won the last three North Atlantic Championships.

Deppen has benefited from the addition of assistant coach Paxton Titus and a state-of-the-art strength and conditioning facility that opened in 2020.

“With the room I have now I can teach and train more teams, more athletes throughout the day,” he said. “Having an assistant, we have two guys with eyes on the athletes making sure things are done correctly and safely. It’s a blessing I was able to pick out my equipment, the training devices. I’m fortunate the administration trusted me with this.”

Some of Deppen’s prize pupils include shot putter Alyssa Wilson, who earned a scholarship to UCLA, Danielle Ross and Johnna Andiorio, who became powerlifters in Texas, and Julia Apostolakos, now playing softball for South Florida.

The coach has an “All-Time Board” for both male and female powerlifters. Currently, Tara Geldhauser sits atop the girls’ board by hoisting 835 total pounds and surpassing Ross. Chris Andrews heads the boys board with a 1,600-pound total.

Also on the boys’ board are Thomas Weigle and Kade Kulpinski, who are competing in nationals next month. Emily Kurtz recently replaced Apostolakos on the girls’ board.

And while Deppen’s coaching achievements are award-worthy, even more notable is what he does to represent Catholic values. A parishioner at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Toms River, Deppen encourages Donovan Catholic students to partake in charity work.

The coach is founder and fundraising president for the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Christmas Gift Drive (Operation Snowflake), done in honor of CHOP saving the life of his son, Nicholas. He has provided workers for soup kitchens and aided Habitat for Humanity and the J Foundation in Pennsylvania.

Deppen feels his environment helps make it all possible.

“Being at a Catholic school means I’m always being overseen by the almighty God himself,” he said. “It enables me to do what I can do. Anybody in need I’m willing to help out when I find out about it. I’m able to round up like-minded people who want to take part in making such things happen in community outreach. I think a Catholic education gives those kids the opportunity to do things like that.”

Deppen feels blessed to make an impact on his students’ lives, oftentimes lifting their spirits during periods when they are down and perhaps looking to transfer.

“There’s a lot of negativity out in the world,” he said. “Kids in today’s world need some guidance.”

And those at Donovan Catholic are fortunate to have coach Deppen providing it.


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Donovan Catholic’s Mark Deppen has received one the highest accolades one can earn in his profession, being named the National High School Strength Coaches Association’s 2024 New Jersey State Coach of the Year.

The award, which went to Red Bank Catholic’s Joe McAuliffe last year, is given annually to a high school strength and conditioning coach in recognition of their coaching achievements and passion for the profession.

“This means the world to me, and I’m blessed,” the Toms River coach said. “I’ve been doing this for 31 years. It’s voted on nation-wide, so I’m very honored people outside of New Jersey along with a handful of New Jersey strength and conditioning coaches felt enough to honor me with this. It goes beyond the Shore Conference and encompasses the entire state.”

Deppen is quick to credit his student-athletes for assisting in the award, saying, “they believe in my coaching and my philosophy. Either we go up and down the state with our sports teams or I sometimes venture out of state with my power lifting team. It validates what we’re doing because people see the work that’s going on here.

“They’ll see what our football and softball teams have done in recent years,” he continued, “or see how much a guy or girl lifted. It catches people’s attention.”

The coach feels his religious beliefs have helped fuel his achievements.

“My strong faith in God has pulled me through a lot of stuff,” he said. “I’ve had some tragedies in life I’ve had to overcome. If it wasn’t for my faith in God, I don’t know if I’d be able to do the work I do here. I really feel he’s got a hand in it all when things are rough. We all pray and look to God and things work themselves out.”

Deppen arrived at Donovan Catholic in September of 2000 after getting his start at Glen Mills School for Boys in Pennsylvania. He was drawn to powerlifting in the mid-90s while visiting a small Ohio gym that featured the late Louie Simmons, widely known as the Godfather of Strength and Conditioning. Simmons made a huge impact.

“We came back and put what he did toward the athletes at the school, and everything just excelled,” Deppen said. “I embedded myself in this kind of training – a practice-what-you-preach kind of thing. I saw what it did for character, commitment and overall health and strength, and how it would relate to athletes getting better.”

Deppen brought that philosophy to Donovan Catholic, where he works to improve the physique of athletes in all sports while also coaching a successful powerlifting program.

His powerlifters won a national tournament in Connecticut in the early 2000s and claimed back-to-back state titles in 2009-10. They have won the last three North Atlantic Championships.

Deppen has benefited from the addition of assistant coach Paxton Titus and a state-of-the-art strength and conditioning facility that opened in 2020.

“With the room I have now I can teach and train more teams, more athletes throughout the day,” he said. “Having an assistant, we have two guys with eyes on the athletes making sure things are done correctly and safely. It’s a blessing I was able to pick out my equipment, the training devices. I’m fortunate the administration trusted me with this.”

Some of Deppen’s prize pupils include shot putter Alyssa Wilson, who earned a scholarship to UCLA, Danielle Ross and Johnna Andiorio, who became powerlifters in Texas, and Julia Apostolakos, now playing softball for South Florida.

The coach has an “All-Time Board” for both male and female powerlifters. Currently, Tara Geldhauser sits atop the girls’ board by hoisting 835 total pounds and surpassing Ross. Chris Andrews heads the boys board with a 1,600-pound total.

Also on the boys’ board are Thomas Weigle and Kade Kulpinski, who are competing in nationals next month. Emily Kurtz recently replaced Apostolakos on the girls’ board.

And while Deppen’s coaching achievements are award-worthy, even more notable is what he does to represent Catholic values. A parishioner at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Toms River, Deppen encourages Donovan Catholic students to partake in charity work.

The coach is founder and fundraising president for the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Christmas Gift Drive (Operation Snowflake), done in honor of CHOP saving the life of his son, Nicholas. He has provided workers for soup kitchens and aided Habitat for Humanity and the J Foundation in Pennsylvania.

Deppen feels his environment helps make it all possible.

“Being at a Catholic school means I’m always being overseen by the almighty God himself,” he said. “It enables me to do what I can do. Anybody in need I’m willing to help out when I find out about it. I’m able to round up like-minded people who want to take part in making such things happen in community outreach. I think a Catholic education gives those kids the opportunity to do things like that.”

Deppen feels blessed to make an impact on his students’ lives, oftentimes lifting their spirits during periods when they are down and perhaps looking to transfer.

“There’s a lot of negativity out in the world,” he said. “Kids in today’s world need some guidance.”

And those at Donovan Catholic are fortunate to have coach Deppen providing it.

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