NUTLEY, NJ-- The Nutley High football team put together a solid campaign in 2019, finishing 5-4 in the regular season and qualifying for the NJSIAA playoffs for the fifth time in the last six seasons.
Led by head coach Steve DiGregorio and interim head coach J.D. Vick, the Raiders started the season with a win, at home, against Bloomfield. After struggling in the middle of the season, Nutley turned it around, winning its last three regular season games, beginning with a 27-7 victory over Lincoln High and followed by wins against Snyder and Caldwell which assured the team a playoff berth in North, Group 3.
This was DiGregorio's third year of his second tenure as the team's head coach. As DiGregorio worked through some health issues this fall, Vick, a long-time member of the coaching staff, was tabbed interim head coach.
"Like I said all season long, Steve is the head coach," said Vick. "I was asked to be the interim head coach and Steve and I worked well together. We spoke every day and got a lot done."
Vick had high school head coaching experience from his time in Alabama and recognized the grind, as well as the satisfaction which comes with being a head coach.
"There's nothing like it," said Vick. "Football is as clear a picture of life as you can get. The locker room is my favorite place. (Access to) it is by invitation only. There are the ups and downs of the bus rides, the film sessions and all the work which goes into getting a team ready for a game. If you think about it, it's a five to six month season, starting with practice in June. And then, there's that finality, when the season ends. Honestly, there's nothing better."
Nutley's mid-season struggles were a combination of playing very good teams, including West Essex, Wayne Valley, Newark West Side and Montclair, with the former two playing for state championships this weekend, in North Group 3 and Group 4 respectively.
"We had to grow up a little, and I think we did," said Vick. "The one message we always had was 'play like a man', Another words, work through the adversity and get better because of it."
A number of Raiders received recognition from the coaches in the New Jersey Super Football Conference's Patriot White Division. First team accolades went to Matt Jaworski and Billy Searle on the offensive side of the ball while Nutley's Dante Contella and Dan Jennings were named first team, on defense.
Second team honors were afforded to Nutley's Justin Lucia, Chris Kruse, Jordan DeFalco and Gennaro Longobardi while Honorable Mention was awarded to Johnny Coppola and Dan DiAntonio.
The coaching staff, in addition to DiGregorio and Vick included offensive coordinator Anthony Fischetti, Jeff Martin, the defensive coordinator, Bob Harbison, who coached defensive backs and the quarterbacks, line coach Rob Perino, receivers coach, Brian Koribanick, sub varsity coaches, Rob Mellilo and Mike Padilla, and strength and conditioning coach, Matt Bustos.
The sub varsity team put together a 7-2 record this fall and the Junior Raiders program appears to be playing well, giving hope to a good season in 2020, and beyond.
"The returning players are already starting to work in the weight room," said Vick. "We should be pretty strong up front next year. We'll have some holes to fill, after graduation, next season. We'll get Jake Walsh back next year, which will be a big positive. Jake hurt his knee during the pre-season and that was a tough loss, since he did so much on the offensive line, as well as being our long snapper. He's making good progress from surgery and was a fixture at practices and games, even when he couldn't play."
Nutley will remain in the Freedom White Division next season. The schedule will have some adjustments, most notably the return of Belleville to the slate. The teams will meet in the final regular season game, on Oct. 31, at the Oval. It will be the first regular season matchup between the two since 2015. The schools did meet in an NJSIAA cross over game in 2018, with Nutley winning, 20-13.
The Raiders will open the season, once again, against Bloomfield, on the first weekend in September, at Foley Field. Home games against Orange and Columbia follow before a game at Millburn. There are also home games against West Essex and Livingston with road contests versus Roxbury and Irvington, before the finale against Belleville.
While the 2019 season has just concluded at Nutley, Vick, who is also an assistant coach at Nutley in basketball and baseball, was quick to say, "I'm looking forward to next season."
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