SUMMIT, NJ - Even a football novice can see what has brought Summit to the state championship game at Kean University, and to the brink of a second consecutive state championship.
In a word: Leadership.
Of course there is talent on both sides of the ball and throughout the coaching staff. Talent alone, however, earns a team nothing and, after seeing 18 out of their 22 starters graduate, talk by those who casually looked at the program was that this would be a rebuilding year for Hilltopper football. That line of thinking was amplified by the fact that, although he was an experienced coach, first-year head coach Kevin Kostibos was just that, a first-year head coach.
Behind those graduating 18 starters, however, was a group of senior athletes who had watched, listened, and learned from their predecessors' accomplishments, and who were ready to put their personal stamp on what has become Summit football's growing tradition -- and legacy -- of performance excellence. Ditto for their new Head Coach, who is an unabashed disciple of former Head Coach John Liberato, a man he calls one of his football mentors and "a second father figure."
The players and the "new" head coach were ready, ready to lead. And, as for "rebuilding"? A better term would be "building", as in building and carrying on the program's tradition while establishing their own identity and reeling off 11 wins without a defeat in the process. While talent, preparation, toughness and resilience have all played a major part in Summit's success, it is the leadership displayed by this senior class, their Head Coach, and the coaching staff that has allowed this team to not skip a beat.
On the eve of the biggest football game of their young lives -- and the final game of their Summit High School careers -- the team's senior class spoke of the hard work and motivation that has fueled their undefeated season and their march to the sectional title game, where they will take on Parsippany Hills, Friday, Dec. 6 at 7 p.m.
Speaking of their new head coach, halfback Andrew Masterfano said, "The transition was almost seamless, although they (Kostibos and Liberato) are two very different coaches." He added, "We all, including the coaches, felt the doubt that was out there, and that just made us work that much harder." Linebacker Will Delaney said, "The coaches never let us forget that we need to earn everything, and that you earn success through hard work."
Offensive lineman and co-captain Eric Lyman spoke of the challenge that following the 2012 team and defending a State Championships brings. "Everyone brings their 'A' game when they play us, everyone wants to knock us off the hill."
Defensive lineman Mac Wiesner said that, while serving as understudies to the the talented 2012 team was valuable, "It doesn't give you the first-hand exposure to what it takes to actually do it week-in and week-out. While we saw what it took, it wasn't until this year that we actually experienced what it takes."
"Coach pushed us really hard in the weight room, and everyone worked really hard in the off-season," said linebacker Matt Oristanio. In fact, almost to a man, the players credited the quality time spent on and off the field during the summer with preparing them physically and mentally for the challenge ahead.
"Our goal has been to defend what is ours." said Wiesner. "The team had to work hard to get it, and we have needed to work twice as hard to keep it."
Quarterback Charlie Terry, who has had an outstanding season leading the quick-stile, dual-threat Summit offense, is by all accounts, a man of few words. But, as one of the co-Captains, he perhaps best summed-up the team's no-nonsense, direct approach to their task when he said, "We took the doubt personally, and we play better when we are underestimated."
if there was a common word used by the group for Friday night's title game, it was that they are "ready." Offensive lineman Robbie Walsh said, "We are ready to go, there will be nerves at first, but we will get those out of the way during warm-up." He added, "We want to play a mistake-free game." Indeed, there was unanimity in the desire to assemble the perfect, complete game.
As for the two-week layoff, Kostibos admits that "the hunger is building", but that the mindset of the team is relaxed and echoed they are ready. As for any letdown that playing the game at Kean University, as opposed to MetLife Stadium, may bring, Kostibos said, "I am sure that some of the team was disappointed for about five minutes, but after that it doesn't matter where the game is because you work all year to get to the dance and now we here." He also said, "It gives us a great opportunity, as a program, to bury the ghost of 2011." That date corresponds with the last Summit Football appearance at Kean University, which resulted in a lopsided loss to Madison.
As for Parsippany Hills, Summit will face a pass-dominated offense for the first time all year. "They want to take advantage of what you don't do well," said Kostibos. "They will try and stretch the field, take advantage of the spaces they create by doing that, and get the ball into the hands of their play makers."
The Vikings are led on offense by quarterback Brandon Katzenberger, a converted wide receiver, who has racked up nearly 2,200 yards passing this season. Katzenberger has thrown for 19 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. His main aerial targets are wideouts Tommy Bluj and Evan Smith, who have been on the receiving end of Katzenberger throws a combined 92 times. Owing to a pass first, run second mentality, their leading rusher has amassed just over 300 total yards this season.
Defensively, standout Michael Dogbe has accumulated 22 sacks, Michael Wiess has 13, and their defensive unit has a total of 58, for a Parsippany Hills team that went 9-2 on the season. The Vikings have averaged 26 points per game while allowing an average of 11 points per contest. The two blemishes on their record are a 33-0 defeat at Delbarton, and a 22-21 defeat at home to West Morris.
In the victory over previously unbeaten West Essex, which earned them a spot in the title game, Katzenberger completed 23 out of 43 passes, for 306 yards and two touchdowns. Smith had nine of the receptions for 159 yards, and the Vikings ran the ball only 19 times the entire game, for a pass-run percentage of 70-30. Katzenberger had six of the runs, meaning the ball was in his hands 80 percent of the time.
"It will be game a game of adjustments, and the team that makes and executes the better adjustments will win the game,"