NUTLEY, NJ-- The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. If you want to see the true measure of a man, watch how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.--Martin Luther King, Jr.
The measure of a man truly stands the test of time. And for one such man, it's a step at a time, as Dr. King said, standing in times of challenge.
Steve DiGregorio was raised in Nutley, NJ, by loving parents who taught love, respect and conviction. He has grown into a husband, father, son, coach and friend, with those same attributes firmly intact.
And now, as Steve faces a battle with his health, there is no question where his mindset stands.
"I got a nice note from someone not too long ago," said DiGregorio from his home in Princeton. "And it said, 'don't quit'. I know what the person meant, and I appreciated it, but I'm thinking, 'quit? Are you kidding? That's the last thing I'm doing. I'm a football coach. I tell my players, all the time, to never quit.
"'This is full steam ahead.'"
DiGergorio, 58, is fighting cancer, and one look at him recently will say he's winning, on all the judge's scorecards. With four rounds of chemotherapy completed, there's a healthy, confident glow, in not only his mannerisms, but overall demeanor. Steve attributes much of that to his quest for good conditioning.
"My doctors have said that being in good physical shape has helped (in recovering from surgery and in treatments)," he said. "I've been walking a lot, and the doctors have allowed me to be very aggressive. I appreciate it."
I have always thought you could take the measure of a man by his sports manners - that is to say, the way in which he conducts himself on the playing field, or even over a game of chess or cards.--Graydon Carter.
The son of Rose Mary and Silvio DiGregorio, Steve and his younger sister, Lynda, grew up in Nutley, in a house their parents built, on Margaret Avenue. A man of strong Faith, Steve played football for the Raiders and was graduated in 1979. He went on to attend Muhlenberg College and then began his career as an educator and football coach. Steve and his wife, Nadia, raised their three sons, Zack, Derek and Aaron, in the Princeton, NJ area. In 2004, Steve returned to Nutley as a teacher and head football coach.
Steve would coach the Raiders from 2004-2011, leading the 2010 squad to the sectional championship game at Giants Stadium. He then stepped down as coach, while remaining an educator at his alma mater, following the 2011 season. Always a man whose first commitment was, and is to family, Steve had wanted to spend some time watching his sons play football. In fact, Steve would serve as a volunteer assistant coach at Princeton High, where he got the chance to coach his sons on the gridiron. He would later call that experience a thrill.
The true measure of a man is what he would do if he knew he would never be caught.--Lord Kelvin
In 2017, DiGregorio returned to the sideline, as Nutley's head coach.
After two successful seasons, Steve was looking forward to another good year on the gridiron, in 2019. But in late May, or early June, he began to feel something wasn't right with his health.
"There was some (gastrointestinal) discomfort," said DiGregorio. "I went to my doctors, they did some tests and became a little suspicious. Actually, I'm very blessed in that they caught it early."
Steve would have surgery on July 29, 2019. And there was no question where he wanted to go for the procedure.
"The University of Pennsylvania," he said without hesitation. "That was my call. The doctor there is a top bile duct physician. Within 48 hours of meeting with the doctor, I was ready for surgery."
The measure of a man is not how great his faith is, but how great his love is.--JC Watts
Steve would undergo what is known as a 'Whipple Procedure', which involves removal of the wide part of the pancreas next to the first part of the small intestine (duodenum). It also involves removal of the duodenum, a portion of the common bile duct, gallbladder, and sometimes part of the stomach.
"It's normally a 10-week recovery," said Steve. "But I was able to bounce back a little quicker, which I attribute to staying in good shape.
"I have a good friend who, years ago, said that the day they find a cure for cancer, it could very well be at UPenn. And I believe it. That place is phenomenal."
(DiGregorio's son, Zack, attended UPenn and played sprint football there while majoring in Political Science).
Following the surgery, it was confirmed that Steve did have cancer and would have to undergo chemotherapy. And in true DiGregorio manner, his first concern was for his wife, family and football team.
"My wife does so much for our family," he said wistfully. "I didn't want to put her through this, but she's incredible.
"And I felt like I left our coaching staff short-handed for the upcoming season, since I knew I couldn't get to every practice. But I'll tell you what, every day I would talk to (interim head coach) JD (Vick) and we'd go over practice schedules and game preparations. JD and everyone on the staff worked so hard. And the kids are amazing. I'm so proud of what they accomplished this year."
Nutley would finish 5-4 on the regular season, winning its last three games, and earned a playoff berth in the ultra competitive North Group 3. En route to qualifying, Nutley gained a huge win on what was called "Coach D Day", Oct. 19, 2019, as the Raiders defeated Lincoln High, 27-7.
"Coach D Day" was proclaimed in Nutley, by the Township's Commissioners, to honor Steve for his tireless work as a coach and educator, as well as his battle with cancer. The game would clinch a playoff berth for Nutley and DiGregorio was carried off the field by his exuberant team following the victory. Some of the fans wore 'Team Digger' tee-shirts, to let Steve know they're all supporting him.
"That was some day," Steve said. "I can't thank the Township of Nutley enough for what they did, and continue to do, for my family and I. And (Nutley High athletic director) Joe (Piro) has been there every step of the way. He's really something,"
Piro gave an emotional pre-game speech in the lockerroom, before Nutley's game with Lincoln, calling Steve "the older brother that I never had."
If there be any truer measure of a man than by what he does, it must be by what he gives.--Robert South
Having grown up in Nutley, Steve loves to talk about some of the games he's seen and played in, for the Maroon and White.
"In 1973, I was 12 years old, and remember being at the Oval for the game against Westfield," he said with a big smile. "The place was so packed. I was sitting in that tree (he points to a series of trees surrounding the Oval, near the high school parking lot) so I could see the game and then report back to a huge crowd of people who couldn't get in, but were trying to watch from behind the fence. I never saw a crowd that size at the Oval."
Westfield and Nutley came into that Oct. 27, 1973 game each with 5-0 records. They were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the state respectively. The game ended in a scoreless tie, after Nutley was stopped at the Westfield 1-yard line in the closing seconds.
Five years later, as a high school senior, Steve recalls a memorable game that Nutley rallied from 14-0 down against Essex Catholic to win, 15-14. Nutley, coached by Bill Farkas, scored both its touchdowns in the closing minute of the game, played on Nov. 4, 1978.
The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.--Samuel Johnson
"Unreal," he said. "Dave Iannarone and I were team captains that year and Dave scored both touchdowns and I think may have scored on the 2-point conversion, too. My mom was so nervous in the stands. She used to make some great food after the game and she was worried that the food would go to waste if we lost. Needless to say, it didn't."
Iannarone and DiGregorio would remain the best of friends for decades to come, including one serving as best man at the other's wedding.
On Nov. 14, the Township of Nutley will come together, again, to honor Steve. The 'Friends of Coach D' will gather at the Nutley Elks, located parallel to the Oval, for a night of food and drinks, music and fun.
"I've always liked to have fundraisers for other people," said Steve. "It's not something I ever imagined for myself. I admit I was a little hesitant when I first heard about it. Joe (Piro) really wanted to do it, and I'm very appreciative. It should be a nice night."
The measure of a man is the way he bears up under misfortune.--Peter Nivio Zarlenga
DiGregorio posts with pride the accomplishment of completing a chemotherapy treatment.
"Four down, 8 to go," he wrote after a treatment on Nov. 11.
His friendships within the football community speak volumes. He remains close to Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett because of his ties with Princeton University, where Steve once coached and Garrett played. He's also good friends with current Princeton U. coach Bob Surace, who has done a marvelous job with the Tigers.
Former New York Giants quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Phil Simms shares a close friendship with Steve's family.
When Nutley played its final home game, against Snyder High a few weeks back, members of the Snyder team presented Steve a get well card. "It was the greatest card I ever received," Steve would later say.
DiGregorio and Bloomfield head coach Mike Carter are opponents on the field and close friends off it. The two remain in regular contact, as Steve does with a number of coaches throughout the state.
When Jermain Johnson was named head coach at neighboring Belleville High in 2018, DiGregorio was one of the first to welcome him. Belleville and Nutley would play each other in a NJSIAA crossover game, in '18, and the schools will resume a gridiron rivalry in 2020.
"I'm so happy to see what Jermain has accomplished at Belleville in two seasons," said DiGregorio. "He's a great guy and I'm happy to call him a friend. I'm really happy we'll be playing Belleville again next season."
Johnson reiterated DiGregorio's praise.
"Steve is a wonderful man, a class act," said Johnson. "His support means the world to me."
DiGregorio is tied with Sandy Phillips for the most victories by a Nutley coach against Belleville, with eight. John Senesky of Belleville holds the all-time record, with nine victories in the series. Ironically, Senesky's first win against the Raiders came when DiGregorio was a Nutley High senior, in 1978.
"I always had the highest regard for John Senesky," said DiGregorio. "His teams were well coached and disciplined. It's something I always strived for, as well."
As he continues to recover and get stronger, DiGregorio looks to the future, with his loving wife and sons by his side, and a dedicated community offering its ongoing support.
"My wife and sons are doing well," said DiGregorio. "That's what matters the most to me. They're my life. I couldn't be luckier."