Coach Pat Cosgrove recalls Greg and Chris Olsen’s first championship, as Greg prepares to play in Super Bowl 50; Goldy’s influence recalled

Long before the bright lights of the NFL, the glamour of All-Pro status and the chance to play in a Super Bowl were ever a part of Greg Olsen’s life, there was that moment that exemplified being a champion.

And for Olsen, it came in the first round of the NJSIAA playoffs, in 2002. Olsen was a senior tight end for the Patriots, as well as a stalwart defender. He was destined to play college football on the D-1 level, but at that moment, winning a playoff game was paramount for him, and his dad, Chris, the team’s head coach, against upstart Passaic Valley High, of Little Falls.

Entering that game, Hills was the top seed in the section while Passaic Valley had gained the final seed, at number eight.

Pat Cosgrove, an assistant coach on Olsen’s staffs at St. Cecelia, Bergenfield, Paterson Eastside and Wayne Hills, as well as being an assistant today at Hills for current head coach Wayne Demikoff, recalls that first round game against Passaic Valley.

“Honestly, I thought they had us,” Cosgrove said of PV, coached then by Bill Johnson. “It’s the first round of the playoffs. We’re favored to win, it’s 1 against 8, but they came to our place ready to play. I really thought we were one and done that year.”

Hills had established a winning tradition in 2002, but were also becoming known as the Buffalo Bills of its generation, having played for a state championship numerous times, but coming up short. And now, it looked like PV would pull the upset in the first round, eliminating the Patriots once again.

The game had gone into overtime, with the teams tied at 21. Passaic Valley scored first, on a field goal, for a 24-21 lead. The Patriots had the ball next, and the way Cosgrove tells it, kicking a field goal was a possibility.

“We had gotten as close as their 3 or 4 yard line,” said Cosgrove. “Brendan Monaghan was our quarterback. Chris called timeout, and when he went into the huddle, he said to try and get the ball to Greg in the end zone, but if it’s not there, then don’t force it. We would kick the field goal and keep the game going.”

When the coach left the huddle, the word among the players was that Greg Olsen told Monaghan to get him the ball and he’d do the rest.

“There had to be two, or three, kids draped on Greg in the end zone, and he still made the catch,” said Cosgrove. “Incredible.”

olsen3Greg Olsen and his dad, Chris, celebrate Wayne Hills’ first state title, in 2002.

Hills would win the game, 27-24, and the momentum of the victory would carry over for the Patriots, who went on to win its next two playoff games, including a 19-0 victory over rival Ramapo in the championship game for the program’s first-ever title, after a win over a good Sparta team in the semifinals.

“To show you what kind of impact Greg had, he hardly touched the ball in the championship game, because Ramapo was double teaming him, so we took advantage of that and ran the ball, instead. Even on defense, Greg didn’t have that much of an impact, because they were so intent on running the ball away from him. Greg was that much of a difference maker.”

Johnson, Passaic Valley’s head coach from 1999-2003 and again from 2012-2014, remembers the game well, too.

“Greg catches a touchdown pass and I (eventually) get fired (as head coach),” said Johnson, with a laugh now. “It was a tremendous game. And Greg was a phenomenal high school football player. His football career speaks for itself. If we had to lose, at least it was to someone as talented as Greg.”

Cosgrove credited Johnson and his team with a good game plan.

Pat_CosgrovePat Cosgrove

“Bill had that team ready,” said Cosgrove. “I remember we were winning in regulation and they forced a fumble, which eventually resulted in a touchdown for them, that tied the game. PV was really good that day.”

One catch truly defined the Hills program.

“If we had lost that PV game, seriously, I think that would have been it for Chris, at Hills,” said Cosgrove. “We had come so close, but never won it. Greg would be graduating and I really think Chris might have packed it in, as a coach there.”

Instead, Hills would go on to win seven more state championships, from 2004-2008, and then again in 2010 and 2011. There would also be the famous 55-game winning streak, from ’04-09.

Greg Olsen, of course, would play college football at the University of Miami and then, in 2007, was a first-round draft pick of the NFL’s Chicago Bears. After four years in the Windy City, which included an appearance in the 2010 NFC championship game, Olsen would be traded to the Carolina Panthers, where his career has flourished. In 2014 and 2015, he was named All-Pro, at tight end, and now, he’s preparing to play in Super Bowl 50.

On a somber note, Jan. 28, 2016 is the two-year anniversary of the passing of Jon Goldstein, a long-time coach for Hills football, basketball and golf.

“Goldy would be going crazy with all this (Super Bowl) stuff,” said Chris Olsen. “He would have been coming to the game, with us. He was part of the family. We sure miss him.”

jgThe late Jon Goldstein

By mike051893

Two years later, Goldy’s legacy as bright as ever; This year’s Super Bowl would have been big, says Demikoff

It was late in the evening, on Jan. 28, 2014, when my cell phone rang. My editor, Nick Gantaifis, was calling, and since it was a Tuesday night, I figured he might be checking about a deadline question on an article I had written for the Wayne Today.

“Hey, Nick,” I said, like I always do when he calls.

“Did you hear about Goldy?” Nick said, forgetting to even say hello.

“No,” I asked, figuring my pal Jon Goldstein, was up to something crazy at Wayne Hills.

And then the next two words resonated in a way that left my entire body numb.

“He died.”

Huh?

Goldy had just finished coaching a JV basketball game for the Wayne Hills Patriots high school team when he began to feel ill. The game was at Fair Lawn High School and within seconds, the Fair Lawn trainers were at Goldy’s side, administering aid. Minutes later, an ambulance had arrived.

At just 41 years of age, almost everyone who remembers that day figured Goldy would be just fine, that maybe this was just a health scare.

But hours later, he was gone.

Within five minutes of Nick’s call two years ago today, my phone rang again.

It was Chris Olsen, Wayne Hills’ long-time head football coach and Goldy’s best friend. Chris had retired to North Carolina, a few months earlier, but in this world of instant communication, it didn’t take long for the word to get around.

A few days later, hundreds of friends and family would gather at Temple Beth Tikvah to say good bye. Olsen and his entire family would be on hand, and Chris gave the perfect account of how Goldy had arrived on the scene at Wayne Hills some 21 years earlier.

“I invited him to come to a game,” Olsen said to the large crowd on Jan. 31, 2014. “So it’s game day and I’m getting ready. I turn around, and Jon is standing next to me. He says ‘I’m here’. I said, good, now get back a little, please. (As the crowd began to laugh out loud).

“For the next 19 years, he never left my side. He was there through the good times and during a lot of times when things weren’t so good for me. When my wife (Sue) became ill, he never left my side. I’ve seen this guy help kids at school who may have needed lunch money. My father once said that you’ll have a lot of acquaintances, but not a lot of friends. Well, Goldy was my friend. He was my best friend.”

1655923_10202126083207390_1933780252_nGoldy (center) and members of the Hills football coaching staff.

Fast forward to today, and in speaking with Wayne Hills’ current football coach, Wayne Demikoff, who was a long-time assistant at Hills and was a close pal of Goldy, he made the perfect analogy.

“How much would Goldy have loved seeing Greg (Olsen) playing in the Super Bowl?” said Demikoff, as the Carolina Panthers prepare for Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7, with Greg, the middle son of Chris and Sue, being an integral part of the Panthers’ success this season.

Great question, I thought. And leave it to Demikoff to think of that right away.

And while we’re at it, how much would Goldy love to see the success of this year’s Wayne Hills boys’ basketball team? The Patriots are 11-1, and the top seed in the upcoming Passaic County Tournament, under head coach Kevin Grimes, who was also very close to Goldy.

Somewhere, in a place where Goldy is holding center court, talking baseball statistics, fantasy football and hearts he broke from female admirers, Jon Goldstein will be getting ready to watch Super Bowl 50. He’d known Greg Olsen since the now 30-year-old NFL All-Pro was a little kid, and will be smiling that mischievous grin as No. 88 lines up at tight end.

olsen1Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, here with (left to right), dad Chris, son TJ, son Tate, daughter Talbot, wife Kara and mom, Sue, was a dear friend of the late Jon Goldstein.

By mike051893

Sixth Gift of Life Wrestling Duals return to Nutley, with the familiar theme of Mike DiPiano’s incredible story of a renewed life, through organ donation

At 44 years old, Michael DiPiano, Sr. had indeed entered the cross roads. With his health deteriorating because of diabetes, the Nutley native was on dialysis for kidney failure and had been read his Last Rites. He was a devoted husband and father of three, a well known wrestling coach and athletic director in New Jersey. But now, his life was seemingly coming to an end.

That was 21 years ago. Today, DiPiano (Big D to his friends) is beginning the 65th year of his life. What changed the course for this man?

“The greatest gift of all,” DiPiano said with a smile. “I’ll never be able to repay that gift.”

The gift was an organ transplant. In DiPiano’s case, it meant a new lease on life, after receiving a kidney and pancreas on Oct. 25, 1998. The organs were donated by a man we’ll know simply as Sean, a 21-year-old who, on Oct. 24, 1998, was killed in an automobile accident. Sean had indicated on his driver’s license that he wanted to be an organ donor in the event of his death.

DiPiano had never meant Sean, but he lives life every day with the constant reminder that Sean is indeed a part of him.

“Back in 1995, I was told I would need a double transplant because of a nearly 30-year battle with diabetes,” DiPiano recalled. “I remember a year later, I was at the Olympics in Atlanta and I was told to get to a hospital right away. My sugar was high but I thought I’d be okay. Later that summer, when I was back home, I was rushed to St. Michael’s Hospital and got so sick that (St. Benedict’s Headmaster) Father Edwin (Leahy) read my Last Rites, and they were already planning my funeral at St. Benedict’s.”

10478566-largeMike DiPiano Sr. (right) with Delbarton wrestling coach Bryan Stoll (left) and state champion Guy Russo of West Essex at the Gift of Life Duals in 2012.

At that time, Dr. Leon Smith stepped in, through a contact of Fr. Leahy’s. A renowned Internist who specializes in infectious diseases, he assessed DiPiano’s condition. “Whatever he did, he took me from a five to 10 percent chance of surviving,” DiPiano recalled. “He saved my life, because even Father Edwin said ‘if he can get to 10 percent, he’ll make it.’”

Having administered the last rites to DiPiano, Fr. Leahy knew a higher power was looking out for DiPiano.

“If it weren’t for Dr. Smith and the Grace of God, we would have lost him a long time ago,” Fr. Leahy said. “He went from a 5 percent chance of survival to the poster child for organ transplant. It’s a great overall story.”

DiPiano’s new lease on life will be recounted at the sixth annual Gift of Life Wrestling Duals, set for this Saturday, Jan. 16, at Nutley High School. With a wrestling theme of ‘Organ Donation is a Major Decision’ as the backdrop, there will be six teams competing, including the host school, Nutley, which is now coached by DiPiano’s eldest son, Mike.

The other teams participating are Demarest, Union City, St. Benedict’s, Robbinsville and Garfield.

fd1Mike DiPiano and youngest son, Frank, after Nutley won the 2012 Essex County Tournament championship for the first time in school history. Frank recently stepped down as Nutley’s head coach, after a marvelous run, and is now an administrator at his high school alma mater, St. Benedict’s, in Newark.

Wrestling begins at 9:30 a.m., and continues with matches at 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. After a break, DiPiano will speak to the crowd, telling his story and the importance of organ donation, at 2:30 p.m. Following that, wrestling resumes with third and fifth place matches, followed by the championship match, commencing at about 4:30 p.m.

This year marks the return of the Duals to Nutley, after a few years at Demarest, where the younger Mike DiPiano had coached, before coming to Nutley this season to succeed younger brother, Frank, as head coach, after Frank received a wonderful opportunity to work at St. Benedict’s, in an administrative capacity. (More on Frank’s new work can be read here. https://mikelamberti.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/frank-dipiano-to-begin-a-new-chapter-in-professional-life-leaves-nutley-wrestling-returns-home-to-st-benedicts/)

The success of the duals, since 2011, speaks for itself, mainly through awareness.

“We have had people who attended, over the years, become organ donors, which is a major reason for having the Duals,” said DiPiano. Also, some people have actually donated organs (thanks to the event), as well as become donors after hearing me speak at an event.”

The elder DiPiano’s association with St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark is legendary. As the wrestling coach there, he amassed a record of 274-89, and was named the state’s Coach of the Year by the Star-Ledger in 1987. He is a member of the St. Benedict’s Hall of Fame, as well as the USA Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. After coaching at St. Benedict’s, DiPiano became the school’s athletic director. Now retired as the A.D., he remains associated with the school.

In May of 2011, DiPiano received the school’s highest honor to a Lay person, the Medal of St. Benedict’s.

“Mike DiPiano helped build this place,” Fr. Leahy said. “He must have held a thousand different positions here. He was the spine of the school.”

10513806-largeMike DiPiano Sr. along with sons, Michael (left) and Frank.

DiPiano’s family, wife Karen, daughter Michelle and his sons had never given up on the rock of the family beating any kind of odds.

“My kids were incredible during the toughest times,” Karen DiPiano recalled. “We’re a close family and everyone took a part in being there for him. We all believed he’d get better.”

DiPiano was on dialysis for nearly two years, and at the top of the list for a transplant, before fate intervened in October, 1998.

“Back then, everyone used beepers to keep in touch,” DiPiano said. “I’m out with a friend and the beeper goes off, and I thought it was his. But he looked at me, and said ‘no, it’s yours’. That beeper was there only to inform me of a possible transplant match, so when I returned the call, I knew things would be happening quickly.”

When DiPiano was informed that there was a match for his kidney and pancreas, there was little time to get to know who the donor was. The surgery was scheduled for Oct. 25, 1998, a date which is clearly evident on Michael’s right arm in the form of a tattoo.

get-attachment.aspxThe tattoo on DiPiano’s arm, honoring Sean.

“The surgery lasted about eight hours,” DiPiano recalled. “I was in the hospital about seven days. The biggest concern after a transplant is that the body could reject it, but everything went well. I could tell pretty quickly how much better I was feeling. I don’t think I really knew how sick I was until after the transplant.”

DiPiano actually has three kidneys now. “They don’t remove the old kidneys, they kind of stored them in my body,” he said with a laugh. “The one working kidney is in the normal place.”

With a new pancreas, DiPiano’s diabetes is no longer the concern it once was. With his blood sugar near normal, he doesn’t need to take insulin, but is careful with his diet.

As his health improved, DiPiano returned to work at St. Benedict’s in January of 1999. “I might have gone back a little too early,” he said, “but I felt like I was ready.”

He also wanted to know more about Sean.

“Normally, the process with a donor is that it’s anonymous,” DiPiano said. “I have gotten to communicate with Sean’s mother through E-mail, and while I’ve never met her, I hope to one day.”

DiPiano’s passion is talking about the importance of organ donation. He has been to numerous high schools in New Jersey, where he usually begins by showing a film clip about Jason Ray, the 21-year-old mascot for the University of North Carolina basketball team who was struck by a car and killed in 2007 while walking to a diner on Route 4 in Ft. Lee. (Lee was there because the basketball team was in New Jersey for the NCAA Eastern Regional).

“Jason was a organ donor, and that film really has an impact on the kids,” DiPiano said. “It goes on to show the many people Jason saved by being a donor. It’s very emotional.”

On the surface, DiPiano is a hard-nosed individual, a man’s-man who takes no prisoners, so to speak. But he has no problems expressing his emotions on this subject. He recalls attending the first Transplant Games, for those athletes who are recipients of organ donation, in Minnesota eight years ago.

“When I went to the first Transplant Games, it was such an overwhelming feeling for me,” DiPiano, his eyes welling, recalled. “That’s when I had the tattoo made, to honor Sean, the date of my transplant, as well as the initials of a very close friend, Peter Kupczak.”

DiPiano’s message has resonated well in New Jersey, where the theme of Saturday’s tournament will focus on the need for people to be organ donors.

Michael Sr. has been to numerous Transplant Games since 1998, both in the United States and abroad, including Thailand and Australia. DiPiano has competed in athletic events at the games. He speaks constantly on the need to be an organ donor. He is very much involved with the work of the National Kidney Foundation, as well as the New Jersey Sharing Network, which procures tissues and organs.

“Over 125,000 people are waiting for an organ donation of some sort,” DiPiano said. “Twenty five die, waiting, each day. It is truly amazing what medical science can do when someone gets a new lease on life with a heart, lung, pancreas, kidney or liver. It’s amazing.”

Mike DiPiano is indeed an amazing man. He thanks his family, his friends and loved ones for the constant support. And he remembers a young man named Sean.“I’ll never be able to thank him enough,” DiPiano said.

“I just hope I can meet his mom one day and tell her that.”

DiPianoM_122012_BT_tif_Mike DiPiano, Sr., hosts a Christmas party every year at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston for children who have had, or will be receiving, an organ transplant. He’s here with his reliable ‘Elves’. 

By mike051893