December 1, 2016: A look back at what went into an encouraging 2016 football season.
Despite what their final record shows, the 2016 Seton Hall Prep football season was a huge success in many ways.
The Prep’s season was defined by a consistent display of toughness and fortitude, and a lot of credit is deserved to the school’s fresh coaching staff and offseason weight-training program.
The Prep finished the season with a 2-8 record, but second-year Head Coach Vito Campanile doesn’t think that should define how far his team came after suffering multiple serious injuries in their first game of the season.
“We had to overcome a lot as far as losing five guys in the first 16 plays of the season,” Campanile said. “I don’t think anyone can prepare for that, but the guys and the leadership shown in the room comes from within, and they showed a ton of toughness and character all season long.”
Most notably, The Prep lost starting quarterback Cameron Carti in their 21-14 season-opening loss at Peddie High School. Just a few weeks later, sophomore backup quarterback Aidan Gilman was injured in practice, paving the way for freshman Matt Colantuono to get his first-career snaps in a varsity uniform after just two days of practice.
Campanile said despite losing their top two quarterbacks and multiple other players within the first few weeks of the season, the players never gave up and continued to fight until the final whistle.
“I think a lot of that can be attributed to the seniors and the type of character they have,” he said. “It’s more about how they were brought up from their families and how they live their life; it transitions well beyond football … They are going to be successful people on and off the field.”
The Prep joined the newly-created North Jersey Super Football Conference this season, headed by powerhouse programs such as Paramus Catholic, Don Bosco Prep, St. Peter’s Prep, Bergen Catholic and so on.
Despite losing some key players early, they were able to compete with some of the best teams in the state on a weekly basis.
Seton Hall Prep Athletic Director Larry Baggitt said he is so proud of the resilience shown by The Pirates.
“Every school and every team really looks into the wins and losses, but it would be a disservice to ignore how far they really came this year,” Baggitt said. “I walked away with so much satisfaction knowing that these kids and the coaching staff never gave up, battled right into the end, and always believed they were capable of playing in this conference; it showed week after week.”
Baggitt said most teams would have caved toward the end of the season, but The Prep did the exact opposite.
“That says a lot about the coaching staff, and even more about the kids and the heart they displayed all season long.”
TURNING POINT OF THE SEASON…
Campanile said the turning point of the season, especially from a preparation standpoint, was when sophomore quarterback Aidan Gilman got hurt during a Wednesday practice the week of the Pope John game from week four of the season.
“Matt (Colantuono) came up from the freshman team, having never taking a snap on varsity, and I think we got better every week from there on out,” he said. “I think the kids felt there was nothing they can do to change the circumstances, and we just got more cohesive as a unit and played better on a weekly basis.”
Two weeks later, after starting the season 0-5, The Prep got their first win in a big way. They demolished Columbia 42-6, lost the following week to DePaul, then bounced back for their second win of the year against Montclair before finishing the season against two of the best teams in the state.
The Prep lost an absolute battle at Bergen Catholic 21-7; the game was tied until Bergen scored the go-ahead touchdown with only a couple minutes remaining in the third quarter.
They then traveled to Ramsey to face Don Bosco in the first round of the playoffs, and they held the lead until 1:14 left in the fourth quarter. If not for a controversial call at the end of the game, they would have attempted a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation.
“The slogan we chose in the beginning of the season was ‘Ours for the Taking,’ and if you watched us all season long up until the last game of the season, I think you could tell we truly believed in that that,” Campanile said. “I don’t think anyone in Ramsey could watch that game and assume we didn’t believe in ourselves. And you could say that about our entire season.”
THOUGHTS FROM THE SENIOR CAPTAINS…
Senior Captain Matt Durborow said despite the tough circumstances the team faced, the coaching staff helped them stay in the right mindset and never lost confidence in them.
“I remember when Coach Campanile first met with the team, and right away he installed toughness in each and every one of us,” Durborow said. “His intensity and love for the game and his players was something different than what we were used to, and we were prepared for any obstacles thrown our way because of our confidence and belief in ourselves and the staff coaching us.”
Senior Captain Mike Mughetto had similar feelings toward The Prep’s coaching staff. He said the team was prepared for the toughest competition in the state, and injuries weren’t going to affect how hard they worked on a weekly basis.
“Coach Campanile and the rest of the staff did everything for us, both as players and as men,” Mughetto said. “Everyone outside of the school doubted us, but the coaches never faltered. They constantly reminded us to keep our heads up, keep working hard and never look back; that’s exactly what we did all season long.”
Senior Captain and Boston College commit Paul Theobald reiterated the same about his coaches, but also suggested another important factor that helped The Prep prepare for their toughest season in recent history.
Theobald said the program’s offseason training, led by first-year coaches and Prep Alumni Max Ruiz and Kevin Sampson, helped them physically and mentally prepare for the battlefield they faced on a weekly basis in the Fall.
“It all started in the weight room,” Theobald said. “Ruiz and Sampson came in and had everyone’s numbers for squats, power cleans, bench, etc. They were so prepared and focused on getting us to be the strongest we have ever been, and they certainly did their job in helping us physically prepare for the season. We weren’t going to let all that work go to waste.”
Durborow played safety and wide receiver for The Pirates. He plans to extend his career by playing for Johns Hopkins University, Wesleyan College, or another Division III School next year.
Mughetto played safety and running back for The Prep. He’s set on playing football at the next level, but still deciding between a number of schools like Tufts University, Wesleyan College, and Bentley University.
Theobald played linebacker and tight end for Seton Hall, and he’s committed to Boston College to play linebacker next season. He also had offers from Rutgers, Central Florida, and James Madison University.
THE OFFSEASON PROGRAM…
Max Ruiz and Kevin Sampson both graduated from The Prep in 2011, but are determined to give back to the community that helped them become the men they are today.
Ruiz started at center for Seton Hall’s dominating 10-1 season in 2010, while Sampson was a force to be reckoned with on The Prep’s ferocious defensive line.
They both joined Seton Hall’s coaching staff in 2015 with one goal in mind: put the school’s football program back on the map.
“We wanted to be recognized as the best in the state like we were back in the 70s and 80s,” Sampson said. “Our main focus was going to be strength and conditioning from the start. We wanted to physically and mentally prepare these guys to face the biggest and strongest competition in the state.”
In addition to the offseason program, Sampson helped coach the defensive line and will continue to do so moving forward. He said this team was the toughest group of football players come out of The Prep that he’s seen.
“We had the hardest schedule in the state, and we knew what we were up against,” Sampson said. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make The Prep legitimate again, and I don’t care how much time I need to take out of my schedule to accomplish that. It all starts in the weight room, and preparing these athletes is my top priority.”
Ruiz said he came back to coach at The Prep in part because he wanted to help contribute to the winning culture coach Campanile so often harps on.
“Vito was extremely welcoming to me and Sampson off the bat, and I could just feel something special was brewing,” Ruiz said. “All of the coaching staff is committed and everyone plays a role. We’re all in this together.”
Ruiz said he and Sampson put athletes in training groups according to their position to help build unity and trust in each other. He said it forced the athletes to compete with each other, which helped them be the best they can be once they were on the field together.
“They lifted everyday together, so it became an easier transition on the field because we already built that brotherhood of trust,” Ruiz said. “You want to play harder for the guy next to you because you know how hard you worked with him in the weight room.”
He said besides from getting physically stronger, bigger and faster, the program also helped build mental toughness to prepare for the rough, four-quarter battles they knew they were to face during the season.
“Come game time, these guys were ready to go to war for each other,” he said. “It’s hard to quit when you know how hard you worked to get here, and it was no coincidence that they showed that type of fight all season long.”
Ruiz also credited the coaching staff for their constant participation and support in the weight-training program. He said Offensive Line Coach Chuck Granatell deserves praise for constantly demanding effort and determination from his players.
“Coach Granatell hung up a sign in the weight room that read ‘a true soldier doesn’t fight because he hates what’s in front of him, but because he loves what’s behind him,’” Ruiz said. “The lifting groups built off that mentality. It built trust in each other, and more importantly, it held us accountable for our actions on and off the field.
Coach Campanile said what Ruiz and Sampson do in the weight room is “probably the most integral part of what we need to be.”
With new coaches comes new changes, and Seton Hall’s football program particularly boasts a strong cultural change over the last two seasons.
Baggitt said Campanile has brought a different approach to the program, one that makes players believe they are capable of playing with anyone in the state.
“With every team and every school, sometimes change has to be made. Vito (Campanile) has done a great job of adapting to change,” Baggitt said. “I’ve been extremely pleased with not only his coaching ability, but how he’s absorbed the situation while becoming a part of The Prep community very quickly.”
With every new season comes changes to the roster; seniors come and go, while underclassmen work their way up the ladder to become main contributors.
Campanile said The Prep can’t replace what the seniors did for the program, but their contributions will forever mark a change of culture he’s currently building at The Prep.
“It’s more about what kind of mark they left on the program; these guys are at the forefront of the culture we want to build here,” Campanile explained. “We want to be accountable to each other, show courage, and never quit. We want to love each other, have integrity in everything we do, and make sure we can always control our toughness and effort. We proved to show a lot of that this year.”
The Prep is in the process of revamping and improving the Kelly Athletic Complex (KAC), where they plan on hosting athletic events possibly as soon as this Lacrosse and Baseball season.
Baggitt said upgrading their facilities and showing constant support to the school’s athletic teams is important in showing respect to the student-athletes who choose to come to Seton Hall Prep.
Campanile said his players will have some time off to be high school students and enjoy the holidays with their families before getting back after it in January.
“It’s an 11-month program,” he said. “We’ll go eight weeks on, one week off up until June, then get back on the field once Coach (Mike) Sheppard wins another baseball championship.”
The Prep may not be participating in the state championship games being played this weekend, but make no mistake about it: they are determined to get there in the near future, and the coaching staff will continue to work their tails off until that dream becomes a reality.