For the next four days, I’ll be blogging daily updates on the Wayne Hills football team, as it prepares to play a HUGE game against arch rival Ramapo on Friday, Oct. 9, in Wayne. The 4-1 Patriots are seeking to get back on the winning track after losing a tough game on Oct. 2 to Pascack Valley, 23-20. Ramapo will be a tough assignment. The Raiders will come to town with a 3-1 mark. In it’s three victories, head coach Drew Gibbs’ team has averaged 45 points a game. The lone setback was a 32-28 loss to undefeated Old Tappan.
MONDAY, OCT. 5: For a Wayne Hills football player, the thought of playing Ramapo generally amps up the intensity factor. The Wayne Hills alumni usually take part in the preparation, as well, with former players welcomed back to talk to the current team, either before or after practice.
Wayne Hills-Ramapo has produced some great games, including state championship finals. The last playoff game between the two was in 2009, when Ramapo defeated Hills in a driving snowstorm at the old Giants Stadium, 16-8. After Hills defeated Ramapo in a 2011 regular season game, 31-24, the two teams didn’t play in 2012 and 2013. The rivalry resumed last year, with Hills traveling to Franklin Lakes and winning a thriller, 22-21.
It is indeed Ramapo Week at Wayne Hills. The game has so much meaning that head coach Wayne Demikoff elected to have the traditional Senior Night ceremonies before the home opener in September, rather than hold it on Friday, before Ramapo. (This is Hills’ final regular season home game, which is when Senior Night is usually held).
The loss to Pascack Valley last Friday night was a tough one, but there’s little time now to dwell on it, past film review and correcting mistakes, in practice.
Demikoff sees me as practice is beginning and asks the usual question. “Hey Mike. What are you hearing out there?”
After a few minutes, practice begins. The players are in ‘uppers’ and the work for a little over two hours is more technique and special teams-oriented.
Mondays are a long night. Following practice, the coaches meet in Demikoff’s office for a night of film review and scheme talk. Demikoff sits at his desk while most of the staff sits at a large conference room table. Assistant coach Pat Cosgrove reviews Ramapo’s starters with Demikoff, giving height and weight for each player.
Freshman coach Chris Dowling is always the most-welcomed man of the night, as he arrives with two large boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts, as well as the Box ‘O Joe and various condiments. Gone are the days when then-assistant coach Jon Goldstein would have the Monday meetings catered, so most of the coaches bring their own dinner to eat while reviewing film.
The team’s trainer, Corinne Scarpa, peeks her head in to give Demikoff some injury updates. Paramount is the status of junior tailback Luca Grave, who hurt his knee 10 days ago and missed the game at Pascack Valley. Grave is making progress, and he’s hopeful of practicing during the week.
These meetings are generally 75% serious and 25% laughs, but with Ramapo the opponent, that percentage is up to 95-5.
Demikoff and offensive coordinator John Jacob are bantering back and forth on defensive alignments, along with defensive coordinator Jermain Johnson. The verbiage would make no sense to a lay person, but in this room, it’s as common as a Dick and Jane story book.
The doughnuts that Dowling brought are now being passed around, and assistant coach Erik Magrini, a former Patriot, is quite impressed. Assistant coach Anthony Vitale is very pleased with the french crullers.
While film is being reviewed, the various coordinators are in mini meetings with their staff, going over individual assignments. It’s organized chaos, with the occasional wise crack.
With the lights back on, Demikoff grills his assistants on different formations and how they’d handle it. There are three former head coaches on the staff, Jacob, Johnson and Magrini, as well as the legendary special teams guru, the Czar, Walt Johnson, who is back on the staff after a two-year retirement.
There’s plenty of experience in the room, but with that comes a lot of opinions. Among the pressing concerns is the fading white board, which has plenty of old marks and is beginning to fade.
Late in the meeting, Magrini gets a call about mentoring a student in driving. While Demikoff is figuring out a defense, there’s Magrini, asking whomever is on the phone whether the prospective student has ever driven before. Erik usually gets the brunt of jokes about his part-time work as a driving instructor.
Around 10 p.m., Demikoff looks up and says “okay, let’s get going. Tomorrow’s another day.”
Four days ’till Ramapo.