NUTLEY, NJ — This past year, 2020, was the 50th anniversary of the 1970 Nutley High School football team. The team recently held a reunion to celebrate; the reunion was postponed until 2021 due to COVID. On Oct. 23, the team gathered together at the Oval for the first time in more than 50 years to watch the current NHS team play. After the game, the teammates met at Cowan’s Pub in Nutley for food, beverages and nostalgic reminiscing. There has always been a friendly debate about the best Nutley football teams and those in attendance agreed that the 1970 team was one of the best in the last 60 years.
Back then, Nutley was in Group 4, Section 2 — the group for the largest public schools. Nutley High School had more than 2,000 students enrolled and there were more than 500 students in the senior class. The football schedule that year was considered the toughest in the state. The team was very successful and finished with a 7-2 record. The only losses were to state champion Westfield 14-8 and perennial nemesis Montclair 7-6. The team was ranked No. 1 in Essex County and ranked as high as No. 3 in the state. The team finished No. 15 in the final Star-Ledger rankings. This was before there were playoffs.
The 1970 team had the best record in the 1970s and the best winning percentage of NHS teams from 1962 to 1987 at 78 percent. The team consisted of 24 seniors. Two of the players, Don Klos and Tony Nicosia, made first team All-State. Three are in the NHS Athletic Hall Of Fame. Five players went on to play Division I college football at Purdue, Duke, Wichita State and Brown, which fielded two Nutley players.
The team consisted of true scholar-athletes. Six of the 24 seniors were in the National Honor Society. Members of the team attended such prestigious universities as Ivy League schools Brown and the University of Pennsylvania, and Purdue, Duke, Lafayette, and Franklin & Marshall. Although a few NHS teams had better win-loss records and may have performed better on the field, there were not many, if any, that performed better in the classroom. Many members of the 1970 team went on to become lawyers, doctors, dentists, company owners, corporate executives, teachers and high school football coaches. The team members attribute their success in life from growing up in Nutley, attending Nutley High School, being part of the Nutley community, and from the lessons learned by participating in a team sport like football.
Photos Courtesy of Steven Greco