FRIDAY, DEC. 4: It’s 3:30 p.m. and practice is about to begin.
“Okay, let’s go,” said offensive coordinator John Jacob. “It’s your last practice of the season. For some of you, it’s your last football practice, ever. What do you want to do with it?”
At this stage of the season, Jacob knows there’s not much need for urging the team to get fired up. The Patriots are less than a day away from playing for a state title. Old Tappan awaits on Saturday afternoon, at 1 p.m., in the North 1, Group 4 final, at MetLife Stadium.
Jacob is perhaps the team’s most philosophical coach. On this week’s game plan, he wrote on the cover “If we had all the answers to our journey, we would have never learned anything along the way.”
The two weeks of practice leading up to Saturday’s final have gone very well. The Patriots are healthy, they’re playing their best football of the season, and everyone on the roster has one common goal, to win a state championship.
At the conclusion of practice, the team continues a ritual that others have begun. Players and coaches will write down, on a piece of paper, a regret they have about the current football season, then drop the paper into a fire, which is contained and burning in a garbage can.
One-by-one, the players step up and express a regret. Some talk about not working as hard as they could have in a practice session, or in the weight room. Others mention a specific game, and how they felt they let their teammates down.
The coaches also discuss what they’ve regretted. Some were more emotional than others.
Tony Giampapa, who has been associated with the program for 20 years, brought with him a hat that bore the championship won by the 2009 Patriots.
Problem was, however, the ’09 Patriots didn’t win. They were defeated in the championship game, by Ramapo, in a blizzard at the old Giants Stadium, 16-8.
Giampapa recalled how he and the late assistant coach Jon Goldstein had the hats made, ahead of time, in preparation for what would have been the team’s sixth straight state title. Most of the hats were eventually placed in a dumpster at Giants Stadium after the loss. Goldstein, who died suddenly in January of 2014, would burn his ’09 hat after the game, as well.
“As far as I know, this is the last hat from that batch,” said Giampapa to the players. “And you know what? It’s time for no more regrets from losing that game. We may have been the better team that day, but we lost. Tomorrow is your day. Go for it.”
And with that, Giampapa tossed the hat into the fire
Goldstein is also remembered at the regret burning by assistant coach Mike Zaccone, who wished Goldy would be on the sidelines on Saturday.
The ‘Czar’, Walt Johnson, speaks of the tremendous team chemistry that this year’s Patriots have exuded, and credits the seniors for leading the way.
Former coach Chris Olsen has returned to Wayne to watch his beloved Patriots play for a title. Olsen has been at practice the last few days, and participates in the regret burning. He tells the current group to have no regrets for tomorrow.
“It’s all there for you,” Olsen said. “You’re ready.”
Head coach Wayne Demikoff saves his speech for last. He praises the senior class for bringing Hills back to a championship game.
“We’ve always said that a team at Hills will only go as far as the seniors will take us,” said Demikoff. “Well, you guys have taken us back to where we’ve always felt we’ve belonged. This has been an incredibly good year. And tomorrow, you can make it memorable for a lifetime.”
Some of the senior parents, along with alumni, have also stopped by the final practice. Frank Petracco’s mom, Stephanie, proudly tells a group that she did a cartwheel during the team’s visit to MetLife last Monday, then shows us the video on her phone.
Vincent LoVerde and Matt Sportelli’s mothers, Terriann and Albina, are also visiting, taking photos and enjoying their son’s final practice. There’s a twinge of nostalgia, but also excitement about what lays ahead on Saturday.
The time has finally come. The championship game is upon us. Starting Saturday morning, a few more blogs leading from the team’s arrival at the school, to the walk-through, pre-game meal and then the trip to MetLife.
Tick, tick, tick…