Correction: Nutley will remain in North Jersey Section 2, Group 3. It was originally reclassified to Section 1, Group 4. However, the NJSIAA switched Nutley back to Section 2, Group 3.
NUTLEY, NJ (updated Friday, Sept. 2, 2:06 p.m.) – While practicing at the Oval on a recent morning, the Nutley High School football players wore T-shirts with the inscription, “Fortitudo Lupus Sarcinas.”
It’s a Latin term that translates as “the strength of the wolf is the pack.”
For the Maroon Raiders, that is the theme of the season.
Indeed, team unity will go a long way toward building off one of the Raiders’ best seasons.
“Each one of us is only as strong as all of us,” said Nutley head coach Tom Basile, entering his fifth year at the helm.
The Raiders last season started 8-0 for the first time since 1940 before losing their final two games to finish 8-2. Nutley lost at Caldwell in a Super Essex Conference game and then fell at home to West Essex in the quarterfinals of state North Jersey Section 2, Group 3 playoffs.
This year’s team will have to replace several graduated seniors, most notably quarterback Anthony Condito and running back Craig Merkle. Condito, a standout baseball player who became the school’s all-time hits leader and will play baseball on scholarship at Rutgers University, was a wide receiver for three years before switching to quarterback for his senior year last season. Merkle ended his career with 3,278 rushing yards, 49 touchdowns and 296 points, all school records. Merkle is continuing his career at Wagner College.
Despite having a young roster, the Raiders have promising talent that is balanced.
“We lost some good players last year. But we still have some (returning) players,” said Basile. “Our talent level is spread even a little more so than it has in the past.”
Frank DeMaio, a junior, and sophomore Josh O’Neill will battle for the starting quarterback job. DeMaio was last year’s JV quarterback, while O’Neill was the quarterback on the 8-1 freshmen team a year ago.
Among the key offensive returning players are senior running back Matt Roser, senior 6-foot-3 receiver R.J. Ferrarelli, and senior linemen Nick Lovato and Hunter Lechthaler.
Roser rushed for more than 500 yards last season.
Lovato, at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, and Lechthaler, at 6-3, 240, are “dedicated weight-room kids,” lauded Basile. Lovato is a defensive end as well. Lechthaler, despite his relatively massive size, also returns as the place-kicker.
Senior Justin Bivona saw some time as a tight end last year and is a returning linebacker.
Basile particularly is excited about the team’s versatility. Senior 5-foot-7 Nick Mainiero can play tailback and slotback receiver. In addition, DeMaio can play wide receiver if he isn’t quarterbacking.
Senior linebacker Sabino Coppola, who was hampered by injury last season, will lead the defense.
The secondary is inexperienced, plus there are few new linebackers, but Basile is hoping those players will develop during the course of the season.
The Raiders’ schedule has a bunch of new opponents as the team will be competing in the newly formed North Jersey Super Football Conference, which is a merger of four conferences: Super Essex Conference, Big North Conference, Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic Association and Northwest Jersey Conference. The NJSFC has a total of 113 teams in 19 divisions. Nutley is in the Patriot Division B. The other teams in that division are: West Essex, Parsippany Hills, Orange, Barringer, Chatham and Ferris.
The president of the NJSFC is Joe Piro, the current longtime NHS athletic director.
Moreover, the Raiders will not face arch rival Belleville this season. It marks the first time since 1943 that the Nutley-Belleville football game will not be played.
This year’s opponents for Nutley averaged a record of 6-3 last year, said Basile.
The Raiders begin the season at West Essex, looking to exact revenge from last year’s playoff loss that ended Nutley’s memorable campaign.
The Raiders then will visit Bloomfield and Pascack Valley, so the first three games will serve as big tests.
But make no mistake, Basile is excited to see the progress of his young team, especially the sophomores who tasted success on the freshmen squad last year.
- Sept. 9, at West Essex, 7 p.m.
- Sept. 16, at Bloomfield, 7 p.m.
- Sept. 24, Pascack Valley, 1 p.m.
- Sept. 30, at Irvington, 7 p.m.
- Oct. 8, Paramus, 1 p.m.
- Oct. 15, at Orange, 1 p.m.
- Oct. 22, Chatham, 2 p.m.
- Oct. 29, Parsippany Hills, 1 p.m.
- Nov. 4, at Barringer, 7 p.m.