NUTLEY, NJ – The Nutley High School varsity football team has shown tremendous determination and work ethic, much to the delight of head coach Steve DiGregorio, who is back at the helm of the Raiders program.
“Our work ethic has been pretty darn good,” said DiGregorio as he was getting his team ready for the Raiders’ Maroon and Gray Intrasquad Scrimmage on Saturday morning, August 19. “They’ve grasped the changes that we’ve made to the program. So they’re doing pretty well. I think we’re going to continue to build, and everyday try to get a little better. But their focus is there, their enthusiasm is there and that’s always the first step.”
The Raiders are looking to bounce back from a 3-7 season last year, which was their first losing season since 2012.
Talent and speed are evident on this year’s team. DiGregorio likes the offensive weapons.
“We have some guys who can run, there’s no question,” said DiGregorio. “The skill levels and skill positions are pretty decent and fairly deep.”
The key players for the Raiders this season include:
Seniors: running back/defensive back Nick Mainiero, offensive left tackle/defensive tackle Louis Abreu, offensive guard/defensive end Justin Luna, offensive center/defensive tackle Anthony Alberti, tight end/defensive end Ryan O’Mara, wide receivers/cornerbacks Wayne Wittmann and Matt Chimento; fullback/linebacker Ryan Loch, and running back/linebacker Sam Abreu.
Juniors: quarterback Josh O’Neill, fullback/linebacker Johnny Luberto, wide receivers/safeties Vin Russo and Eli Acosta; and wide receiver/cornerback Matt Durham.
The Raiders, as usual, have a challenging schedule. They kick off the season at home on Sept. 9 against nemesis West Essex. Last year, the Raiders started and ended the season against West Essex, both losses. In fact, the Raiders lost to West Essex in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group 3 state playoffs for the second straight season.
“The schedule is very challenging, especially the first part,” said DiGregorio. “There’s no such thing as an easy game on the schedule. We just have to stay healthy and keep getting better. There’s a long way between now and our first game, so there is a lot of opportunity to keep getting better and better and stronger, and I know we will. But the schedule is challenging. Every week, you have to turn it back on.”
Nevertheless, DiGregorio is confident his team will rise to the challenge.
“We want to play the best football that we can and win as many games as we can,” said DiGregorio. “We got to play. If you play well, it increases your chances of winning. We want to minimize turnovers and foolish penalties, and execute on offense and swarm on defense, make special teams a weapon, and good things will happen for us.”
DiGregorio, a 1979 NHS graduate, begins his second stint as the Raiders head coach. He was the head coach for eight seasons from 2004-2011. In 2009, the Raiders advanced to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group 3 state playoff semifinals, losing to West Morris at home, before finishing 8-3. But the following season, the Raiders reached the Section 2, Group 3 state championship game at MetLife Stadium, losing to Morristown, to end an 8-4 campaign.
The Raiders went 6-4 in 2011, losing to Parsippany Hills in the first round of the Section 2, Group 3 playoffs, before beating Bellleville on Thanksgiving to finish 6-4.
The Raiders finished .500 or better in DiGregorio’s six of eight seasons.
Tom Basile took over as head coach and led the Raiders from 2012 to 2016. NHS had a great run in 2015 when the team started 8-0 before finishing 8-2, losing to West Essex at home in the playoffs to end the season.
This is the second year for the North Jersey Super Football Conference, which includes 112 teams from Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Essex, Hudson, Sussex and Warren counties. NHS athletic director Joe Piro is the president of the NJSFC. Piro has been the conference president since its inception.
The Raiders compete in the Patriot White Division of the NJSFC. The other teams in the division are West Essex, Parsippany Hills, Chatham, Orange, Barringer and Ferris.
Sept. 9, West Essex, 1 p.m.
Sept. 15, Bloomfield, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23, at Pascack Valley, 1 p.m.
Sept. 30, Irvington, 1 p.m.
Oct. 6, at Paramus, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14, Orange, 1 p.m.
Oct. 21, at Chatham, 1 p.m.
Oct. 28, at Parsippany Hills, 1 p.m.
Nov. 4, Barringer, 1 p.m.
Photos: Maroon and Gray Intrasquad Scrimmage, August 19