With heavy hearts, Nutley HS football team crushes Barringer as Raiders honor their former head coach, Steve DiGregorio

Nutley HS football head coach Steve DiGregorio, far left, poses with his wife and three sons while being honored prior to the Oct. 19, 2019 home game against Lincoln of Jersey City at Tangorra Field/Park Oval. At right is NHS athletic director Joe Piro. Nutley won the game, 27-7.

NUTLEY, NJ — When the Nutley High School football team took on Barringer on Saturday, Oct. 16, it was hard for the Raiders not to think of Coach D.

Steve DiGregorio, who led the Raiders to an unbeaten season a year ago as their longtime head coach, died just a few days earlier on Oct. 12 after a courageous two-year battle with cancer. Yes, you read that right. He had the resolve to coach last season while battling cancer. How many people can be able to do that? My guess is not many.

But that’s how much Coach D loved the Raiders. He was a 1979 NHS graduate and coached the Raiders for a total of 12 seasons in two stints, 2004 to 2011 and 2017 to 2020. That included a state championship appearance in 2010 at MetLife Stadium, the first year for the new stadium in East Rutherford, and the first time the Raiders played in a state final in 15 years.

Indeed, how many head football coaches get the thrill of leading their alma mater to a state championship game? Again, my guess is, not many.

The Raiders, with heavy hearts, took the field at Schools Stadium, but no doubt had the mantra of, “Let’s win it for Coach D.”

And the Raiders delivered on that mission as they pummeled Barringer, 42-3, to improve to a 6-1 record on the season. Counting last year’s 6-0 season, that’s now 12 wins in their last 13 games, including two straight victories after the 10-game win streak was snapped against Demarest, 27-0. Interestingly, one of Demarest’s head coaches is Tom Basile, who was one of DiGregorio’s assistant coaches for the Raiders and succeeded DiGregorio as the Raiders head coach from 2012 to 2016.

The Raiders, under head coach JD Vick, who was the Raiders interim head coach in 2019 while DiGregorio was receiving treatment for cancer, are now looking to end the season with a flourish as they get ready for the state playoffs next month. Nutley will host Bergenfield on Saturday, Oct. 23, before a big road test against a solid West Essex team on Oct. 29 to end the regular season. 

Following the unbeaten season last year, DiGregorio announced his retirement this past March.

It will be fun to see this Raiders team the rest of the year. But no doubt, Coach D will always be on my mind and on the minds of every Nutley player, past and present.

Photo by Joe Ragozzino