NUTLEY, NJ — The Nutley High School football team didn’t finish with a perfect season like last year, when it went 6-0 in a pandemic-shortened campaign.
But the Raiders still managed to have a fine season this fall, finishing with a 6-4 record.
The Raiders, under first-year head coach JD Vick, won their first four games, which included beating rival Belleville in a thrilling 29-28 victory, to extend their winning streak to 10 games dating to last season. The win streak, however, ended with a 27-0 loss at Demarest. But the Raiders regrouped to score another thrilling 29-28 victory over highly regarded River Dell at Tangorra Field.
A few days following the win over River Dell, the Raiders were devastated to hear the news of the passing of their former head coach, Steve DiGregorio, who had coached the Raiders from 2017 to 2020 in his second stint. DiGregorio, a 1979 NHS graduate who died after a two-year battle with cancer, first was the head coach of the Raiders from 2004 to 2011.
The heavy-hearted Raiders defeated Barringer, 42-3, in their next game. The Raiders then played their first home game since DiGregorio’s passing but lost to Bergenfield, 15-13. The next week, they lost at West Essex, 32-0, in a game that decided the Super Football Conference–American Red Division title.
The fifth-seeded Raiders were getting ready to visit fourth-seeded Old Tappan in the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3, playoffs. But a day before the game, a few Nutley players tested positive for COVID-19, and the team had to forfeit the playoff game, thus ending their season.
Though the team didn’t see the season end the way it had hoped, Vick was proud of his team’s commitment and hard work. In fact, the Raiders featured several players who played positions that they never played before, which showed their selflessness.
“I think after losing so many seniors last year — we had three returning starters on offense and two on defense — at the beginning of the year we had so many guys playing positions they haven’t played before, and so we had a lot of guys with not a lot of experience. So, for these guys to step up and to play in those positions like that was really good,” said Vick, who was a longtime assistant coach under DiGregorio. “We moved guys around throughout the year. We had to move guys on the O-line that never played O-line before and had to move guys on the D-line that never played D-line before. But not once did any kid complain. I think it showed a lot about their character. This wasn’t about them; this was about the team. I think that was part of our success; they were unselfish in that way.”
Vick especially was thrilled for his seniors. He was the freshman coach when the current seniors were freshmen.
“It was really cool to see these young men grow, not just as players, but as young men,” said Vick.
The coaching staff also did a great job in helping those players transition into new positions.
“I think our coaching staff did an excellent job this year,” Vick said. “I can’t say enough about how hard they worked, because it wasn’t a regular year. When you have guys playing positions they haven’t played before, you’re talking (about) different schemes. This is a great coaching staff. They got along so well. We are very fortunate to have a very good coaching staff. They did an excellent job.”
The roster featured approximately 16 seniors. Among them were offensive/defensive lineman Joseph Alberti, quarterback Matt Harbison, running back/defensive back Paul Scutti and tight end/defensive end William Mielnicki. The Raiders have a good group of juniors, sophomores and freshmen on the roster, so next year appears promising for another strong season.
“We’ve got some good guys returning next year,” said Vick, noting that the program also has built a good relationship with the Nutley feeder program.
Photos Courtesy of Felicia Laguerre Owens