SPRINGFIELD, NJ — When the Jonathan Dayton Varsity Football team resumes play in the Fall, they will be led by a familiar face in the athletic ranks of the school district.
Michael Abbate, a fifth grade teacher at James Caldwell School and current Jonathan Dayton Varsity Baseball head coach was selected by the Springfield School District as the new head coach for the Dayton Varsity Football team.
In his 18 years teaching in the district, Abbate has spent 15 and a half of them coaching multiple sports, including varsity football and basketball. In fact, the only two years he took off coaching football were 2004, when Coach Joe Goerge came on board, and 2011, when his son was born.
After being named to the position earlier this week, Abbate spoke with TAPinto Springfield about the experience, and what he is looking to build with the program. In his eyes, having been around the team and the environment before is a plus, as he knows what to expect.
“I think it helps to have somebody within the district that’s been around the kids a little bit, knows the culture of Springfield," Abbate said. "I think that’s a big deal in the decision-making process. I think that. Kind of helped to steer them in my direction.”
Before accepting the position of head coach, Abbate, consulted with his family and looked at his scheduling with his other coaching commitments.
“Obviously I think the biggest thing is making sure your family can handle the change," he said. "That was the most important thing first of all, is making sure everything at home was okay. And then the second toughest decision was talking to Coach [Bob] Martin a little bit …so we kind of made the decision together that it would be okay if I took on football and kind of took a step back from basketball.”
Abbate had nothing but respect for Coach Martin, who is a direct link back to the tenure of former Dayton head Coach Joe Goerge, who helped to steer Dayton Football to its modern high water mark during his tenure from 2004 to 2012.
“It’s pretty good to have those two guys as your mentors, both Coach Goerge and Coach Martin, because they’re two of the greatest coaches in New Jersey and probably all over," Abbate said. "So I think it helps being here when it all started. We started up the program together … I saw it from the start, saw what could happen, and I’m excited to get it back to that point again. I think that’s the goal for all of us obviously.”
As for what he hopes to accomplish on the football field, Abbate said that he would draw on his experiences as the baseball coach to help him through this current time.
If you remember when I started the baseball program, we were in the same situation where we had some different coaches come in and out," We didn’t have a lot of stability; our numbers weren’t great, and we built it from there. So all of these experiences are what I’m going to use moving forward to football.
"It’s not really about a play, what defense, offense or special teams you’re going to run, it’s about making sure that the relationships with the players are there and that you’re ready to build everything on toughness and accountability and character and commitment. If we can establish some of those things early on”
In looking to accomplish that, Abbate said he has all the faith in the world in his players, who he said are "the type of kids that look you in the eyes, listen, they’re on time and they’re respectful"
"I don’t think you can go wrong with that as a coach, and that's something we’re looking forward to working with and being around,” he added.
As for his vision for the football program, Abbate said he hopes that the culture of success established on the field will translate throughout the rest fo the school year.
“There’s no more energy that you can than a Friday night football game, especially in the beginning of the year," Abbate said. "So we’re looking to be able to build that again around here, build the excitement around here, and hopefully it will carry through to the Winter season and the Spring season.”