Forty years later, the comparisons are noteworthy.
The Belleville High football team, circa 2018, is setting its sights on a new era and does so with a young and enthusiastic team, led by new head coach Jermain Johnson.
Fans of the BHS football team know the program has struggled for the better part of a decade. The numbers speak volumes.
From 1997-2018, a span of 22 seasons, Belleville’s overall record is 42-167. That’s an average record of 2-8, with seven different head coaches. The record includes three winless seasons and a losing streak which extended for three years, from 2002-2005.
There was one bright spot during that span, when the Bucs put together back-to-back winning regular seasons, in 2007 and 2008. The ’07 squad also qualified for the NJSIAA playoffs for the first time in 23 years.
Since 2011, the program is 12-58 and it’s been shut out 23 times. The team has lost 15 of its last 16 games.
So with that said, you might wonder why the program’s real downfall goes back to 1997? That was first season in 20 years that John Senesky wasn’t the head coach, a by-product of a-then clueless Board of Education and school administration which felt Senesky had seen his better days on the job. After all, 10 winning seasons, four playoff berths and a rivalry record nine wins over Nutley wasn’t enough, right?
But, let’s go forward, and as we do, a look back at 40 years ago is appropriate. In 1978, the new-look Bucs (that was the first year the moniker was used at BHS after a long run as Bellboys) were also looking to establish itself after eight somewhat mediocre seasons, during which the team was 30-39-3, with two high water records of 5-4, from 1970-1977. (Actually, that record, today, over eight years would be considered a success).
Senesky was in his second season as head coach in ’78, having finished 2-6-1 a year earlier, including the infamous 63-0 loss to Seton Hall Prep in 1977. There was some excitement in 1978, especially after the Bucs won its season opener, defeating Livingston, 28-14. A year earlier, Livingston had beaten Belleville, 40-0.
I’ve often said that the ’78 Bucs did lay the foundation for the glory years of the Blue and Gold program, which lasted from 1978-1986. During that nine-year run, there were eight winning seasons, four playoff berths and a 58-28 overall record. That was accomplished because of an outstanding feeder program, namely the Belleville Broncos, which dominated its opponents back then, and a coaching staff that remained intact, for the most part.
And now, here we are, at a new crossroads for this program. I’ve been on record that there’s no future for high school football, in Belleville. I hope I’m wrong, but the ingredients for success haven’t been there for the last near quarter century. The feeder program is disorganized, to say the least, and Johnson is now the eighth different head coach since 1997.
But let’s further examine the similarities between 1978 and 2018. Johnson is a knowledgeable guy, who seems to have already found a niche with his new players, similar to Senesky in ’77 and ’78. Johnson’s team played very well in a 7-on-7 at Passaic Valley last week. Johnson also understands the need to get the recreation program on board, and seems committed to that. The high school coaching staff is outstanding, with some former BHS players on board, as well as committed educators within the school, which is always vital to success.
Johnson already knows that this year’s season opener, at home to Dickinson High, on the night of Sept. 7, will be very important. And yes, that’s comparable to playing Livingston back in 1978, which was also a night game, at home. That game propelled the Bucs to a 6-3 record, and the start of a great run at BHS.
Will a win in this year’s season opener lead the way to success? The 2018 schedule is competitive, but not grueling. Unfortunately, just about every team in this area is no longer on the slate, because the Bucs couldn’t compete with any of them. And that includes Nutley, Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, Caldwell, Irvington and West Essex.
Small steps must be taken. Stability in the coaching staff is a must, and the feeder program has to be addressed.
If so, then maybe 2018 could be 1978 all over again.