Wayne Hills Football: On the way to a state championship game, Jacob Casale (135 yards rushing) steps up, Brendan DeVera’s clutch run seals win over Indian Hills; Patriots will play at MetLife on Dec. 5; Hunter Hayek was phenomenal; LoVerde’s return a huge plus; FOOOMMM is the man; Remembering JFK, 52 years later;

SATURDAY MORNING, NOV. 21, 11:30 a.m. Barely 12 hours have passed since Wayne Hills defeated a very good Indian Hills team, 21-14, in the semifinals of the North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 playoffs.


Parents, players and fans gathered at the Outback in Wayne, after the win over Indian Hills on Friday night. (Courtesy, Cindy Skiba)

The Patriots are headed to the sectional final, where it will meet an old-time rival in Old Tappan. Kickoff is 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5, at MetLife Stadium, in the Meadowlands.

Most fans know that Hills and Old Tappan met in the 2010 and 2011 state finals, at MetLife Stadium, with Hills winning two electric contests.

“We’ve all heard about how good Old Tappan is,” said head coach Wayne Demikoff, as his team filed into the film room after a 90 minute session in the weight room, which senior lineman Frank Petracco called ‘our best, since last May.’hills

Wayne Hills seniors are looking forward to their final high school game, most likely at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands.

“But we’re here today, to start preparing for a state final. We need to correct the mistakes we made against Indian Hills. Stay away from all that other stuff. Don’t be reading about their players. Watch the film we’re showing you, let us coach you, and we’ll get ready to play a state final in (a little less than) two weeks. We’re going to worry about us, nothing more.”

Offensive coordinator John Jacob actually smiled, for about 90 seconds at the Outback, following the Indian Hills game, but he was back to his surely self (kidding) Saturday morning, while watching film.

Jacob is complimentary, but mistakes on blocking assignments are noted.

“That Mike has to blow inside your double team.”

“The only time a front side double comes off a Mike….”

“That’s a bad play for us, Dude.”

“Why are you not pulling through?”

“Good read, here. Good read.”

“We had fun last night, (after the game) but that’s over. (The voice begins to rise). Are you kidding me? This can’t happen again. Another breakdown.”

“Our red zone efficiency has to get better. We had 400 yards of offense, and what do we have to show for it? 21 points?”

“This is your mistake Dude. You’re a good player, you’re doing a great job. But this one’s on you.”

“Good job on the double kick out.”

Jacob will end his portion of film review with a joke, that has the room cracking up.

Line coach Anthony Vitale is as technical as it comes when he looks at film, seeing minor mistakes that he notes need correction for Old Tappan.

The coaches laud the performance of junior running back, Jacob Casale, who got the brunt of the work in the backfield as fellow junior, Luca Grave missed the game with an injury.

“Someone goes down, another person steps up,” said Demikoff. “Casale did a tremendous job.”

On a run by Casale, the room breaks into applause, thanks to some good cut running, and tremendous blocking. Casale finished with 135 yards on 20 carries. He was also effective in the second half of the first round playoff win against Roxbury.

Another junior, Hunter Hayek, was tremendous on both sides of the ball, scoring a touchdown and coming up with a huge interception late in the first half.

After missing the first round of the playoffs, senior captain Vincent LoVerde was back in the lineup and played very well, on both sides of the ball.

Yet another junior, Brendan DeVera, passed for 145 yards and rushed for 151. But it was a short run, with less than a minute left in the game, that will be remembered in Wayne Hills’ lore. The run gave Hills a first down and secured the game, since Indian Hills had no timeouts left.

The unofficial Dean of Hills Football Operations, Tony Giampapa, comes in and sits in the back, while the film sessions are going on.

Tony recalls what he was doing 52 years ago this Sunday, Nov. 22, 1963.

“I was in Miss Nazzaro’s fourth grade class, at St. Philips The Apostle School (in Saddle Brook),” Tony said, wistfully, remembering the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. “We actually heard Walter Cronkite, over the school PA, announcing JFK had died. I remember, as kids, we were afraid the guy who shot JFK was coming after us.”


Anyone old enough remembers what they were doing on Nov. 22, 1963.

On a lighter note, Tony said he has kept in touch with his fourth grade teacher, through social media.

“The stuff you never forget,” he said.

Back to football, Demikoff is now reviewing the defensive side of the films. Like Jacob, he’s somewhat complimentary, but the criticism is there, too.

“That’s your responsibility,” he says to one player. “That’s you, 100 percent. That’s your fault.”

“This isn’t a dance.”

“Don’t run into people. Hit gaps !”

“You’re jogging (on a play). Blitz, run!”

“Dude, you come through this fire, tackle him!”

“A mistake like that, again, will cost us the game.”

“As bad as we played (on defense), allowing seven points through three quarters is pretty good.”

Ky Salley is credited with a key play on defense late in the game.

“That’s a great job by you, Salley,” Demikoff said.

Of course, no meeting is complete without a Mike Fiumarelli mention. The senior gave a riveting speech in the pre-game lockerroom before playing Indian Hills, and any time his name is mentioned in film review today, the room breaks into the familiar sounds of ‘FOOOOOMMMMM.

Assistant coach Mike Kelly, a former Patriots player, adds his input, too.

“Collision him,” Kelly tells a player. “You’re better than that.”


Assistant Coach Mike Kelly, here with wife Melissa and daughter Gracelyn, has been vital to the team’s success.

The criticism is needed, since there’s still another game to play. This will be Demikoff’s 13th state championship final, as a Hills coach, and first as the head man. He’s helped Hills to eight titles, including the wins over Old Tappan in 2010 and 2011, so it’s safe to say he knows what he’s doing.

“I still say you haven’t played your best game, yet,” said Demikoff. “You can’t be satisfied by saying ‘you got a state championship game.’ I’m not satisfied, and you shouldn’t be, either. We have one game left. You should say ‘we saved our best game for the last game.'”

The team will practice and lift early this coming week. The annual Father-Son Beefsteak is on Thanksgiving Eve. Practice resumes on the Friday after Thanksgiving and continues on Saturday.

“We haven’t done anything yet,” said Jacob. “We’ve won a conference. That wasn’t a milestone yesterday (against Indian Hills). That was a win that gets us a chance to achieve a milestone. The average American underachiever doesn’t understand what is means to reach a milestone. I’m happy that we have a chance to reach a milestone. We’re coming into this game to win. Nothing else.

“The next two weeks will require work, and more work. We can’t be underachievers. We haven’t done anything. We won’t get a tee-shirt for winning a state semifinal. We’re going there to win.”

The meeting wraps up around 1 p.m., but again, Demikoff’s work is just beginning. When asked if he would take a day off, over the weekend, since the game with Old Tappan is nearly two weeks away, he looks in mock horror.

“I can sleep after the game is over,” Demikoff says. “We have a game to win, and a lot of work to do. Simple as that. I’ll be here for a while.”

And with that said, a quick trip to a local restaurant to enjoy a buffet is followed by the next eight hours in Demikoff’s office, reviewing tape of Old Tappan. Coaches Kelly and Jermain Johnson are also on hand.

“Old Tappan has played 11 games, and I plan to watch film of all 11 games,” said Demikoff.

Tick, tick, tick….











By mike051893

Frank DiPiano to begin a new chapter in professional life, leaves Nutley wrestling, returns ‘home’ to St. Benedict’s

The news was twinged with a bit of sadness, but much more euphoria.

Frank DiPiano, Nutley High School’s outstanding wrestling coach for a decade, has stepped down from that post to take an administrative position at his high school alma mater, St. Benedict’s Prep, in Newark.

The 32-year-old DiPiano was a standout wrestler at St. Benedict’s. Needless to say, his surname at St. Benedict’s is legendary. Frank’s dad, the great Michael DiPiano, Sr., was a Hall of Fame wrestling coach there, as well as the school’s athletic director.

10513806-largeFrank DiPiano (center) with his dad, Michael (right) and older brother, Mike.

Michael’s story has been well documented. He is a long-time advocate for organ donation (see the attached link) and in 2011 was the recipient of the prestigious Medal of St. Benedict’s, the highest honor the school can award to a Lay person.


Frank’s older brother, Mike, was also a standout athlete and wrestling coach at St. Benedict’s, and was inducted in the school’s Hall of Fame a few years back.

But now, it’s Frank’s turn to add his legend to a historic school of higher learning.

fd1A proud moment for father and son. Michael DiPiano Sr. joins his son, Frank, after Nutley won its first Essex County Tournament championship in 2012.

“It wasn’t easy to say goodbye to Nutley wrestling,” said DiPiano when he called me a few weeks back to announce his move. “But at this point of my life, this was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I won’t be coaching, but I’ll be involved in sports administration at St. Benedict’s. I’m very excited about the opportunity.”

The youngest of three born to Michael and Karen DiPiano, Frank has established himself as not only a quality coach, but a wonderful person. As classy and respectful as they come, Frank is indeed ready to make this move in his professional life.bobbyt02-062713-ns-tif

 Bobby Trombetta was Nutley’s finest wrestler during the DiPiano era, winning three NJSIAA medals.

His work as Nutley’s wrestling coach speaks for itself. He took a program that had gained some momentum under former coach Carmen LoRe, and brought it to another level. He helped Nutley become the dominant team at District 14, with four straight championships through last season, as well as one of the best in Essex County. Frank also coached numerous Raider wrestlers to medals at the state championships in Atlantic City and guided Nutley to the state sectional final in 2015. He also took the Raiders to the prestigious Beast of the East Tournament.

In addition to the team successes, DiPiano also garnered numerous Coach of the Year accolades, in both District 14 and Region 4. He also served as president of Region 4.

“It’s been a great run at Nutley,” said DiPiano. “I couldn’t have asked for a better group of kids, parents and fans. We’ve had some tremendous success there, and I fully believe that the new coach will continue that. There’s a talented bunch of kids coming up this season.”

DiPiano, who grew up in Nutley and now lives in Belleville, will remain involved in wrestling. He should be a familiar face at District 14, Region 4 and the state tournament, not to mention the Gift of Life Duals that his father helped to create six years ago.

“I was surprised, but very happy for Frank,” said Passaic Valley head wrestling coach Joe Benvenuti, a good friend of DiPiano’s. “Frank has done such a great job as a head coach. We have enjoyed a tremendous rivalry with Nutley, because of Frank. He always cherished competing against tougher opponents, because he knew it would help his team get better when the post-season came around. And you can see how well those kids responded in the districts, regions and states. I wish Frank all the best, and I know we’ll see a lot of him.”

Having been around wrestling for the better part of 30 years, I can safely say that Frank DiPiano is one of the best coaches and teachers I’ve ever seen. When you watch a good friend move up in a professional career, one can only hope he, or she, will succeed.

And in this case, there is no doubt that Frank DiPiano and his beloved St. Benedict’s will enjoy a long and cherished relationship.




By mike051893

Wayne Hills Football: Indian Hills week begins with an old tradition restored, courtesy of Corinne, Micah and Meaghan; Goldy would have been proud; Coach Dowling comes through again

Monday, Nov. 16, 7 p.m.: For years, a Monday night football coaching meeting at Wayne Hills would be preceded by a fare of great food. The late assistant coach, Jon ‘Goldy’ Goldstein was in charge of the buffet, which would often be stationed outside the head coach’s office. The food generally came from the Brownstone.

All the coaches, along with the trainers and anyone else then-head coach Chris Olsen invited, would indulge in the food. Then, the non-essential personnel would depart and the work of preparing for that week’s upcoming game would commence.

1618494_10202125998325268_1997535113_nJon Goldstein often enjoyed catering the Monday night coaches meeting.

Following the 2012 season, Olsen retired as coach and the feasts ceased. The following January, Goldy died suddenly.

Wayne Hills athletic trainer Corinne Scarpa remembered the days of the Monday Night Buffet and yearned to bring it back. And so, last Monday, Scarpa, along with the training interns, Micah Baluyot and Meaghan Boyd, presented the coaching staff multiple trays of food, from the Brownstone.

Corinne_HyslopWayne Hills Athletic Trainer Corinne Scarpa surprised the coaching staff with a buffet dinner, similar to what was once a norm on late night meetings.

“Corinne told me not to order our usual dinner,” said head coach Wayne Demikoff. “I never expected this. What a nice thing to do.”

The staff tonight included Demikoff, John Jacob, Jermain Johnson, Chris Dowling, Pat Cosgrove, Mike Peischl, Mike Kelly, Matt Bogert, Walt Johnson and Eric Magrini.

Wayne_Demikoff2Head Coach Wayne Demikoff

While Scarpa was the hero of the meeting, let’s not forget Dowling, who once again stepped up with a few boxes of doughnuts, along with the Box ‘O Joe.

Chris_DowlingThe man who brings the coffee to the meetings, Coach Chris Dowling.

The general mood with the coaches is good, and why not? A 35-14 win over Roxbury in the first round of the NJSIAA tournament moved the Patriots into the semifinals, where the team will make a short trip to Oakland on Nov. 20, to face Indian Hills.

Demikoff has already told the team, in film sessions and today’s practice that Indian Hills has an outstanding team. The Braves, like Hills, are 8-2. The team’s quarterback is very talented, with a tremendous group of receivers and a sturdy offensive line.

Pat_CosgroveLong time assistant coach Pat Cosgrove has been with the program since 1987. Demikoff relies on Cosgrove for his thorough scouting reports, as well as game-day decisions on the coin toss and field positioning.

Defending them won’t be easy, and that’s the theme of Monday night’s meeting. Jacob and his staff have moved to an adjoining room to work on offensive schemes.

Jacob is most concerned that the team keeps the same focus it displayed last week, in preparing for Roxbury.

The Patriots are one game away from a likely trip to MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands for a state championship, and the team is starting to feel the excitement.

“We’re coming around at the right time,” said Demikoff. “But Indian Hills has a lot of tools. They’re good.”

Jacob and Magrini come into the meeting and discuss the offense. Magrini is ticked off, feeling someone stole his gray vest. The culprit appears to be Dowling, but then Magrini realizes he left the vest in his car.

“See?” Dowling says in mock disgust. “Put that in the blog,” he says to me.

Just another Monday night meeting, but with some really good food.

Four days until Indian Hills.

Tick, tick, tick…

By mike051893

Joey Kenny was a BEAST; DeVera, Fiumarelli, Askew, Hayeks, Modak, Simi, Tedeschi, Zaccone, Grave, Casale, Petracco, Sportelli, DiCarlo and Skiba excel as Patriots advance in state playoffs

SATURDAY, NOV. 14: High school football players save their best accolades for the player who was a beast on the field.

And in Wayne Hills’ 35-14 win over Roxbury a night earlier, senior captain Joe Kenny filled the beast mode quite well for the Patriots.


Joe Kenny was indeed a force in the win over Roxbury. (Top photo taken by MSG Varsity).

Poster - Joey Kenny


Kenny scored a touchdown and threw crushing blocks on offense. On defense, he blocked three passes at the line of scrimmage and was all over the field. Kenny also recovered a fumble late in the game, as Roxbury was trying a hook-and-ladder pass.

It was, by far, Kenny’s best high school game, and the Hills coaches couldn’t be happier to see the 6’3″, 245 pounder excelling.

Kenny had a lot of help, too. Brendan DeVera continues to get better at quarterback. Mike Fiumarelli was solid on defense, as his teammates cheered FOOOOMMMM during the game, and in the next morning’s film session.

Poster - Leyshawn Askew

Leyshawn Askew

Leyshawn Askew has been nearly unstoppable the past month. The 6’6″, 290 pound senior, has been playing with a confidence not seen in his high school career.

Jason Modak, a sophomore lineman, did a tremendous job putting pressure on the Roxbury quarterback.

Specials Team & Coaches_2

Jason Modak

Another sophomore, Dario Simi, has been tremendous on point-after kicks. Speaking of sophomores, Mike Zaccone had a very good game, including a touchdown reception that gave Hills a 14-0 lead.

Luca Grave, a junior, had nearly 150 yards on the ground, including an 80-yard touchdown run on the game’s first play from scrimmage. Grave left with an injury, but he seemed to be feeling better after the game.

Specials Team & Coaches2

Luca Grave

When Grave left the game, Jacob Casale, a junior, stepped in and ran the ball effectively, including a monster run at the end of the game which defined his team’s overall dominance.

Senior captains Frank Petracco and Tom Skiba played significant roles. Petracco continues to anchor the offensive line while Skiba was very strong at linebacker.


Tom Skiba

Matt Sportelli, a senior lineman, is really an unheralded player, but the coaches know how valuable he is, on both sides of the ball, as well as the team’s longer snapper.


Matt Sportelli

Dom DiCarlo and Billy Tedeschi are also talented underclassmen who continue to improve. Twin brothers Hunter Hayek and Tyler Hayek have also become key contributors.

It was a big night for the Patriots. Now, the next step toward a state championship awaits, with Indian Hills looming on Nov. 20.


By mike051893

Demikoff to his Patriots: You still haven’t played your best game; Jacob sees full trust in team, something that wasn’t there 6 weeks ago

SATURDAY MORNING, NOV. 14, 10 a.m. Twelve hours after a stimulating 35-14 win over Roxbury in the first round of the NJSIAA, North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 playoffs, Wayne Hills head coach Wayne Demikoff addressed his team in the film room.

“You played your best game of the season, SO FAR,” said Demikoff. “But have you played your best game of the season? I don’t think so. In fact, I know you haven’t. We play Indian Hills on Friday (Nov. 20), and if we win that game, we’re going to MetLife (Stadium) to play for a state championship. It’s as simple as that.

“But make no mistake. Indian Hills is a very good football team. They’re having a special season over there. They’re the higher seed. If they win, they’re going to MetLife. We’re going to their place. They will be fired up to another level. We need to be prepared.”


Special teams coach Walt Johnson, with (left to right), Luca Catania, Brendan DeVera and Matt Sportelli. All three players have been key contributors to the team’s outstanding season.

Offensive coordinator John Jacob wasn’t in the mood to celebrate.

“This is work right now,” Jacob said to the team. “We don’t need to go over the good plays (against Roxbury). We need to correct the mistakes.”

To show you the life of a coach at this level, Jacob’s evening, after the Roxbury game, included driving home, while most the players and coaches celebrated at the Outback. Once home, Jacob broke down as much film as he could of Indian Hills, then sent the footage to the coaches. Assistant coach Matt Bogert, who was having dinner at the Outback, heard his phone buzz and said to Demikoff, “Jakes just sent the film out.”


The following morning, Jacob was back in the building at Hills by 7 a.m., working on offensive schemes. Demikoff was there, as well, and planned a 12 to 14 our day at the school, looking at film of Indian Hills. Defensive coordinator Jermain Johnson will be working on the defense, as well, with Demikoff, in the head coach’s office, all day Saturday, and most likely well into the evening.

Another example: Assistant coach Mike Zaccone had no idea his son, Mike, had scored a touchdown in the second quarter of the Roxbury game until he said to me at halftime, in the lockerroom, “Mike scored?”

Jacob’s intensity is noticeable, as he watches the film. He loved what he saw in his team’s effort against Roxbury, but he’s more concerned about keeping the team focused.

“You know what keeps me up at night?” Jacob said to the team. “It’s keeping the continuity that we have now. There’s trust in the room that I don’t think was here about six weeks ago. I love that. We’re coming together, but I’ll say the same thing I said last week.

“A week from today, are we saying ‘see you at practice on Monday’? Or are we saying, ‘good season guys, we’ll see you at the (Thanksgiving Eve, Father-Son) beefsteak?”

Jacob is critical of certain plays, and also notes the mistakes he made, too.

“You bailed me out on that one,” Jacob says to a player after seeing a run, on film.

On another note, he’ll say, “Dude, that’s non-negotiable. Don’t do that again.”

He’s also complimentary. “Look at the (Roxbury) guys on the ground (on a Joey Kenny touchdown). That’s imposing your will. That’s what I’m talking about. (Matt) Sport (Sportelli), that’s AWESOME (after a big block).”

Demikoff has been around for the glory years of Hills football. He was an assistant coach for the eight state championships, at Hills, between 2002-2011.

“There is nothing like those two weeks preparing for a state championship game,” said Demikoff. “But you need to play your best game, on Friday, to get there. Indian Hills has a tremendous quarterback and some very tough wide receivers. They can flat out play. They did a great job in beating West Morris (in the first round of the playoffs, on Nov. 13).

Demikoff also reminded the team of the 2009 Patriots, who were a big favorite in a state semifinal against Sparta.

“We’re favored, and we’ve got a 28-7 lead at the half,” Demikoff told the current group. “We figured we’ve got it wrapped up. Guess what? The game went into overtime. We won (41-38), but learned a valuable lesson that day.”

Demikoff didn’t want to keep the players too long at films. The kids were in at 10:30 a.m., where they lifted weights for an hour, before film work.

“We’ve played 10 games, not to mention all the lifting and practices that goes back to January,” said Demikoff. “There has to be soreness. If not, something’s wrong. My point is, we need to rest. Take the weekend and get off your feet. Rest up. Then, when practice resumes on Monday, be ready to go.”

With that, the team headed out around 1 p.m.

The coaches day is just beginning. For Demikoff, he’ll work until about 7:30 p.m., then head to West Essex High to see a junior football game for the next generation, where Hills will play Wayne Valley, with the winner going to the Junior Super Bowl. Eric Dagati, a Hills assistant, who has done marvelous work getting the players stronger in the weight room, will lead the youngsters for Hills this evening.







By mike051893

Here’s to a quick recovery for one of the real good guys, Anthony LaRezza, from some of your pals, including Affirmed, President Reagan and Nestor; See You at Rutts soon

There’s never a dull moment upon visiting Immaculate Heart Academy for a softball game. The leader of the team is the coach, Anthony LaRezza, who, upon inspecting the outfit I’m wearing that day, will quickly associate any team logo to a player from a different era. I once called him the second ‘Wizard of Westwood’, since IHA is technically located in Westwood, NJ.

As quick a wit as LaRezza displays, he’s also a really good guy.

CG1cJzvUkAAEeucLaRezza’s best coaching job may have come in 2015, when a young IHA team won the state title.

And as most friends and fans probably know by now, Anthony has been dealing with a few health issues. With respect to that, I’ll just say his tweets after a surgical procedure seem pretty upbeat.

Jzz8WgaA_400x400The coach, showing his IHA colors and watching a Bergen County tourney game from his beloved IHA field.


Anthony is not the type to want people to be concerned about him, but I’m sure he also knows that he’s got a lot of people that really like him. And while he’s recovering, he’s probably coming up with some new one-liners for the 2016 high school softball season.

pig bacon chicken eggLaRezza often enjoys invoking the chicken and the pig scenario when it comes to sports.

He may have done his best coaching job (and that’s saying something) in 2015, leading a group of underclassmen to a state championship. It was the same team that he, during an early scrimmage at Nutley in March, said would probably struggle for an identity that season. Instead, the kids continued to get better with each game, the result of some really good coaching, and in the end, the Eagles were state champions once again.

So, to Anthony, all the best for continued good health, from some of your friends, including Affirmed, Nestor and Jerry Reuss…See below for a full listing.

And we’ll see you on the softball field, soon, as well as Rutt’s Hut. All the best !!!



iha 2

ihaThe great Steph Thomas (above and two photos below) AKA Affirmed, provided some great moments for LaRezza’s teams.



Reuss Jerry PP74-381_FL_NLB McWilliamsJerry Reuss (top) and legendary umpire Nestor Chylak (below) were often ‘visitors’ at IHA games.


upsetLaRezza will tell you where the term ‘upset’ first came onto sports lore.

thPresident Reagan’s legacy shines brightly at IHA, including a game-winning run in the 2015 state championship game at Kean University.

By mike051893

Wayne Hills Football: Following huge win over Wayne Valley, focus now shifts on Roxbury; ‘Foooommm’ gets the business from coaches and teammates; Will Coach Dowling bring the coffee at the next meeting?

SATURDAY, NOV. 7, 10 a.m.: The battle for conference supremacy and unofficial high school football bragging rights in Wayne went to Wayne Hills, in a big way, on Nov. 6.

Following a scintillating pre-game, which featured bag pipes and a tribute to the Wounded Warriors Project as the Patriots marched onto the field at Valley, Hills fell behind, 18-0, early in the second quarter, then rallied back to win, 28-18. Wayne Hills improved to 7-2, while Valley lost for the first time in the regular season, and will take an 8-1 record into the post-season.

The win assured Wayne Hills a Big North Conference title. The Patriots also improved to 8-2 in its rivalry with Wayne Valley. The schools first met in 1991 and have played continuously since 2009. Wayne Valley last won in 2012.

Hills will visit Roxbury on Nov. 13 in the first round of the playoffs while Valley heads to Morris Knolls, most likely on Nov. 14.

The ensuing celebration at the Outback was one of euphoria, and some relief. The post-game ceremony, which included the presentation of the first of a what will be the annual Preakness Cup (or Mayor’s Cup, whichever one prefers) to the victor, incorporated a little superstition in that the Hills coaches, or players, chose not to touch the hardware, instead following the lead of NHL teams, who upon winning a conference championship, avoid touching the trophy, eyeing the ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup.


Wayne Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Mark Toback, holds the Preakness Cup, and is about to present it to the winning Patriots.

In this case, head coach Wayne Demikoff accepted the Cup, with graciousness from Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Mark Toback, then asked his athletic director to escort the Cup back to the school. The message had been sent quickly. The trophy this team wants to hoist will come in a few weeks, for a state championship.

But the next morning, during film sessions, there was anything but a feeling of accomplishment from the coaching staff. A three-hour film room gathering had plenty of criticism, along with some well-placed compliments on the team’s effort against Valley.

“You showed heart, you showed fortitude,” said offensive coordinator John Jacob. “But that’s not enough, any more. In a week, do you want to say ‘I’ll see you on Monday (for practice)’, or are we saying ‘great season fellas’? We’ll see you at the beefsteak (the annual event held the night before Thanksgiving).


Wayne Hills players taking in a championship moment.

“We have to play better. You’re playing a great team next Friday. Can you win? Of course, I have no doubt. But watch the (Wayne Valley) film, and you’ll see the mistakes. They have to be corrected. And we will correct them this week, in practice. Be assured of that.”

There were few pats on the back, during film review, but the notable efforts were accentuated. Once again, Leyshawn Askew was a force on the defensive line. Luca Grave’s marvelous play in the end zone led to a tremendous interception by junior Hunter Hayek.

Poster - Leyshawn AskewLeyshawn Askew has really turned up the intensity on the defensive line. His hard work in practices has been noted, as well, by his coaches and teammates.

Joe Kenny recovered from a slow start to dominate in the second half. Kenny scored a touchdown and was marvelous on defense, including a huge play on special teams when he snuffed out a fake punt by Valley in a key moment.

Poster - Joey KennyJoe Kenny had a tremendous second half against Wayne Valley.

“Dude,” Jacob said to Kenny. “You see how good you were in the second half? You can take a game over. Do it for a full game. You’re that good.”

Quarterback Brendan DeVera was outstanding, playing, by far, his best game of the season.

“You were all-in during practice, and it showed in the game,” said Jacob to DeVera. “That’s the kind of player we all know you can be, and will continued to be. You stepped up.”

As the film work continued, Jacob continually said to DeVera, ‘Great job. You looked confident. That’s how a quarterback plays.’

But on other instances, Jacob and assistant coaches Anthony Vitale and Eric Magrini, would lower the boom on a player who wasn’t exerting the effort deemed necessary.

It was good to see Matt Sportelli play a key role. Sportelli was back in the lineup after a knee injury two weeks ago. The best long-snapper in the conference and a dynamic lineman, ‘Sport’ will be vital to the team’s ultimate success in the post-season.

Billy Tedeshi was a big-time contributor in the game, and was commended in the meeting.

Mike Fiumarelli was part of a huge sack on defense that kept Valley off the board in a big moment, and while “Foom” heard it on occasion from his coaches, he stepped up, when needed most. And when Fiumarelli made a good play, the entire room would start chanting “Foooommmmm”, in unison.

While the criticism was needed to get the players’ focus back for the playoffs, there were some light moments, too, with laughter on certain plays, as Jacob, who could occasionally be confused for a stand-up comic, dropped some classic lines. Magrini and assistant coach Mike Kelly, who were once teammates for the Hills football team nearly 20 years ago, also had input.

The two newest players on the team, junior twin brothers Hunter Hayek and Tyler Hayek have effectively been working themselves into the rotation, after transferring to Hills from St. Joseph (Montvale) High School.

On defense, Demikoff notes the first half span, when Valley jumped out to the big lead, were more Hills miscues, than Valley dominating. “We will not survive this next week,” said Demikoff of mistakes caught on film. “We won’t survive it.”

As the film session finally broke up around 1:15 p.m., the day is just starting for the coaches, as preparation for Roxbury is in full gear. Demikoff and defensive coordinator Jermain Johnson decide to get some sandwiches at a nearby deli, before beginning more work in Demikoff’s office, breaking down defensive schemes and assignments. Jacob opts to say in the film room and cut down more footage of Roxbury.

The team will resume practice on Monday afternoon. Demikoff plans on three busy days of practice, which also includes weight lifting and film work, leading up to the usual Thursday routine before a Friday game. The traditional Monday evening coaches meeting should have plenty of juice, with the main question, of course, whether (freshman coach) Chris Dowling brings the coffee and doughnuts.

After the win over Valley, the best line of the night probably came from Vitale.

“This long week is finally over,” said Vitale.

Amen to that.








By mike051893

Wayne Hills Football: 24 hours until Valley game; Jacob stresses discipline and focus; Team finishes good week of practice with spirited effort; Coaches seem loose and ready as Patriots seek to win Conference title

THURSDAY, NOV. 5: Two weeks of preparation were completed today, as the Wayne Hills Patriots had its final practice, in advance of the Nov. 6 game at Wayne Valley.

While head coach Wayne Demikoff was far from pleased with the overall effort at the Nov. 4, practice, a much more focused group of Patriots put in a three-hour workout today. In fact, most of the team was out earlier than the starting time of 10 a.m. to stretch.

The scout team goes through various Wayne Valley formations while the defense makes the adjustments to various schemes. Demikoff’s familiar ‘Good….back in the huddle’ after each scenario is commonplace. If there’s a mistake, or misalignment, it’s ‘Are you kidding me? Get back in the huddle.’

12208337_10153768379622948_956261155710737915_nHills and Valley will kickoff its 10th game against each other on Nov. 6, at 7 p.m.

Offensive coordinator John Jacob is one of those guys you’ll never truly know, on a football field. He changes his mood during a drill as quickly as someone changes their socks.

A man with as dry a sense of humor as there is, he’s a modern day Rich Little. He can imitate just about anyone. Many times, he’ll tell a story involving multiple people, and the way he tells the story, you’d swear that everyone is in the room, with him.

On the field, I’ve often said ‘Jakes’ is never happy, but loves what he does. Football is what drives him, for sure. Today, he’s busy chiding the offense.

“Focus and discipline,” he says repeatedly, with the voice decibel rising to almost an operatic level. “You don’t want to look back and say what should have been. Stay focused.”

Now that the freshman season is concluded (Hills finished 9-0, including a 27-7 win over Wayne Valley on Nov. 4), a number of frosh are now practicing with the varsity.

“You’re with the big boys now,” said the ‘Czar’, Walt Johnson, as the special teams coach walked by the kids with fresh faces, most of whom look barely over the age of 12.

Johnson is an admitted organizational freak. If there’s a piece of paper out of place, it drives him crazy.

“Fail to plan, (then you) plan to fail,” Johnson said. “With kids this age, or younger, there’s a reason why structure is so important, both with athletes and students, in general. Every detail is important.”

For the most part, the players are loose, but are clearly locked in. They’re quick to recognize formations, and when Demikoff asks the defensive players about where to lineup on D for a particular play, 10 to 12 voices are quick to respond.

The coaches seem comfortable, too. There’s the usual back-and-forth among the guys as to which station may have gone over the limit for a drill. “I’m only 10 minutes late,” said Demikoff with a smirk. “I’m always on time,” Jacob counters, as some of the other coaches try not to break into laughter.

Matt Bogert and Mike Peischl, who coached the freshmen this fall, are now working with the varsity coaches. Today, those coaches are Demikoff, Jakes, Jermain Johnson, Mike Kelly, The Czar, Anthony Vitale and Eric Magrini.

Peischl, Kelly and Magrini are all former Patriots, and the three often share stories of their playing days at Hills, usually including former coach Chris Olsen in their summary of some crazy, but great times. Peischl was the quarterback of the 2005 state championship team while Kelly and Magrini were teammates in 1995 and 1996.

For Magrini, these have been some hectic weeks. He and his girlfriend, Michelle, welcomed their first child, Presley, into the world and Magrini, an educator, recently started working in a new school district.

But for Magrini, as he loves to say, “it’s all about saving the problem, babe.”

Demikoff reminded his players at the end of practice that it’s important for them to get some rest. Since there’s no school today, or tomorrow, he urges the kids to take some down time and stay hydrated, since it’s been unusually warm for this time of year, and the temperature on game day could hit 75 degrees, or warmer.

“No cramping up tomorrow,” Demikoff tells his players.

As for the game, the coach seems confident.

“We’re ready,” he says as the players listen intently. “What do you want to be remembered for, when it comes to playing football? Tomorrow night, you’ll get an opportunity that not all athletes get. You’ll be playing before a huge crowd, on a great night for football. It’s all in front of you.”

And with that, another practice is over, and game time is nearing.

Tick, tick, tick….


By mike051893

Rivalry aside, very happy for good friends Kelly and Chris Helm

Okay, so Wayne Hills will visit Wayne Valley on Nov. 6 in what should be an exciting and well-attended football game. By now, most fans know the Indians are 8-0 while the Patriots come in with a 6-2 record. Both teams are also headed to the state playoffs, starting next weekend, where Hills will visit Roxbury while Valley takes on Morris Knolls in the first round.

For a few hours, at least, the two sides will be adversaries, in as much as a high school football game can be between two schools which share the same town. I’m sure there are plenty of people who will be at the game who may have attended Wayne Hills, but now have children at Wayne Valley, and vice versa. The coaches on both sides know each other pretty well and most maintain a good friendship.

Having grown up in Belleville, I always looked forward to the annual football game with arch rival Nutley. And even though the days of my being in high school are long gone, I’ll always be a Belleville fan, even though a majority of those associated with Nutley are very good friends.

This brings me to why I’m writing this particular blog. I cover Wayne Hills football and, admittedly, am good friends with many of the team’s coaches, as well as some of the player’s parents. I enjoy being around the team, for sure.

Wayne Hills and Wayne Valley doesn’t have a long rivalry, in terms of games played, but there’s plenty of intensity. I’ve written blogs all week long about Hills’ preparation for this game, without disclosing too much about the game plan.

As far as Wayne Valley, I have great respect for their program. I cover the school for other sports, including wrestling, and softball. But when it comes to football, while I’ll be standing on the Hills side on Friday night, it will be great to see Valley assistant coach, Chris Helm, before the game.

helmsKelly and Chris Helm, here celebrating their wedding day.

How long do I know Chris? Hmmm. Let’s just say I went to high school with Chris’ mother, the former Maria Federico. While Maria and I grew up in Belleville, Maria and her husband raised her two children in Nutley, so as Chris grew up, I had the privilege of covering his athletic endeavors as a football player and wrestler for those  evil Raiders of Nutley High. (LOL).

And, get this? Chris’ wife is the former Kelly Rauco. I went to high school with Kelly’s dad, and uncle. The Raucos would also move to Nutley and Kelly was later a standout softball player for the Raiders. Kelly was a batterymate with Michelle Wlosek, who is currently a teacher at Wayne Hills and is the head softball coach at Wayne Valley. (Confused yet?) And yes, I covered Kelly for a few newspapers when she played for Nutley.

Kelly and Chris will be welcoming their first child, very soon. It’s a girl ! And I’m as happy for them as just about any other friend could be. Because, literally, I’ve known them for a lifetime. They’re both doing well in their professional career endeavors. Kelly is a Physical Therapist, Chris an educator, and both are up-and-coming coaches, with Kelly, as an assistant softball coach (of course!) at Wayne Valley while Chris, in addition to football, also helps out with Valley softball.

So, yes, it will be fun to see Valley and Hills play football on Friday night.

But it will be just as good to see a class young man in Chris Helm, and hopefully, Kelly will be there, too.

By mike051893

Wayne Hills Football: Dowling’s freshmen get the job done, defeat Wayne Valley, 27-7, to finish 9-0; Clock ticking to Friday’s varsity showdown at Valley, with a conference title on the line

WEDNESDAY, NOV. 4: As the final seconds ticked on a workmanlike 27-7 win for the Wayne Hills freshman football team, over its biggest rival in Wayne Valley, head coach Chris Dowling took a moment to celebrate and donned a tee-shirt which told the true story of a marvelous season.

Hills and Valley each came into tonight’s game with undefeated records. And when Wayne Valley scored on its first series, it looked like this contest would go down to the wire. But Hills righted the ship in the second quarter, tying the game at seven, and then gained a 13-7 advantage before the half.

The second half was all Hills, as the Patriots ground game took over and the defense was marvelous. The performance sealed a 9-0 campaign.

12208337_10153768379622948_956261155710737915_nPhoto courtesy of Anthony Sorce

Most of the Hills varsity players were on hand to cheer on the next generation. We’ll have more on the individual Hills freshman players soon, but in the meantime, congrats to Dowling, as well as coaches Mike Peischl (spelled it right this time?), Anthony Giampapa, Joe Giampapa, Eric Dagati (who has done a tremendous job with the youth program in town) and Matt Bogert.

Kudos also to Wayne Valley, which has a very talented freshman team, with some outstanding players who could make an immediate impact on the varsity team in 2016, and beyond.

The varsity practice today at Hills was so-so, according to head coach Wayne Demikoff. The defense looked good, but the coach was far from pleased with the offense and special teams.

“You have to bring it, every day,” said Demikoff. “You can’t turn it on and off. We’ve had a good week, until today. You can’t play at this level, and expect to succeed, without maximum effort.”

Wayne Hills will play at Wayne Valley on Friday, Nov. 6, in what promises to be a very exciting game. The Indians are 8-0 and the Patriots are 6-2. Both are heading to the playoffs and the winner of this game wins a Big North championship.

“There’s a lot on the line,” said Demikoff. “Winning the conference is big, but a win against Valley is something that you’ll never forget. And it’s a big step as we get ready for the playoffs.”

Tick, tick, tick…



By mike051893