Locals shine with Caldwell’s sprint football team – the Observer Online
The Caldwell University sprint football team recently ended a successful season, posting a 5-2 record, with the help of five young men and a local head coach.
Jim Kelly, a native of Nutley and former head coach of the Maroon Raiders, traveled to Caldwell in 2018 to take charge of the school’s new sprint football program. Speed football, where all players must weigh 178 pounds or less, is played at several colleges in the Northeast during the Sprint Football Conference. For several years it was called light football.
Kelly, who also spent two seasons as head coach of the late Queen of Peace, heard about the opening of a head coaching position at Caldwell in 2018.
“I got a call from (Bloomfield High School head coach) Mike Carter who told me a job had opened up,” Kelly said. “At first I thought it was a high school job. But when I found out it was the Caldwell University sprint team, I was intrigued. It is a good school in a great location. I thought the demographics were good. The program was in its infancy, but it intrigued me.
However, there was the challenge of finding players who would be willing to make the sacrifice of reducing the weight. Football is generally a sport where size matters.
“You can’t just take an 18-year-old wide receiver and make him a lineman,” Kelly said. “The challenge was to find undersized linemen. Plus, the nature of the game is so fast-paced.
Kelly loved the campus and the facilities.
“I knew Caldwell was successful with his sports teams,” Kelly said. “I knew the school was doing what it took to be successful. But I didn’t know any players or coaches.
It was certainly the biggest challenge of Kelly’s coaching career.
Kelly found 65 young men who were ready to make the sacrifice from all over New Jersey. His knowledge of New Jersey high school football and state coaches certainly helped recruit players.
“I have been encouraged by the players who embrace the culture and philosophy of speed football,” said Kelly, who was also successful in bringing in New Jersey coaching legend Ken Trimmer as assistant. Trimmer has been the highly successful head coach of Caldwell High School for over 30 years and is an integral part of the New Jersey Football Coaches Association which hosts the annual North-South All-Star Classic which takes place each summer.
“The word is we have a program here,” Kelly said. “I think the New Jersey coaches are excited to have a program that they can encourage their players to consider coming to. I have had the chance to rekindle the relationships that I have forged over the years. I think we have all realized what sprint football is. “
The Cougars have just completed their third season and have survived the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cougars beat Mansfield University last week to end the 2021 season with a 5-2 record, which isn’t too bad considering the infancy of the program combined with the pandemic that has stopped everything.
Five of the players on Caldwell University’s 2021 roster are from The Observer’s traffic area. Three of them are from Kelly’s hometown, Nutley, and the proud Raider Nation program.
Frank DeMaio is a former Nutley athlete who first attended Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, Pa., To pursue his successful wrestling career.
“I found out that school just wasn’t for me,” DeMaio said. “I came home and worked with my dad (who is Nutley’s recreation director) for a year. Coach Kelly found out I was at home and asked me if I wanted to play and I said, “Why not? I had no idea what sprint football was like.
DeMaio’s longtime friend Anthony Haines was already traveling to Caldwell to play.
“I just wanted a place to continue playing soccer,” said Haines, who played soccer and wrestled for Nutley. “Coach Kelly coached me recreationally. I thought it was perfect for me to live at home, play soccer while enjoying my mother’s (Marie) cooking.
Ironically, the two longtime buddies are the only two quarterbacks on Caldwell’s list. DeMaio never played quarterback until he got to Caldwell. He was a good running back and linebacker during his days with the Maroon Raiders. You would think there could be some fierce competition between the two quarterbacks, but that’s not the case at all. DeMaio is the starter, with Haines as a backup.
DeMaio, a junior from Caldwell, has 322 rushing yards this season with three touchdowns and completed 62 of 129 passes for 1,036 yards and eight touchdowns. Haines completed eight of 15 passes for 96 yards and one touchdown in limited action as a rookie.
“Frank was a senior when I was a freshman at Nutley,” Haines said. “I’m still learning from him. It was a lot of fun playing together. We may be competitive in training, but at the time of the game we are on the same team.
“Being a quarterback this year has been a blast,” said DeMaio. “I think I wanted to prove that I could still play football.”
DeMaio is majoring in education with the hopes of becoming a teacher and coach somewhere in the future. Haines specializes in sports management and communications.
“I’m grateful to Coach Kelly for bringing me in,” said DeMaio. “It was fun having that Nutley connection here.”
There’s another Nutley player on Caldwell’s roster. His fellow freshman Gennaro Longobardi is a slot catcher for the Cougars. Longobardi has scored a touchdown this season.
“I talked to Coach Kelly about playing here,” said Longobardi. “I’ve always dreamed of playing college football, but I’m not the tallest guy in the world. I think it suits me perfectly. I have known Coach Kelly for a long time. He was my coach in eighth grade, so it was good to have a coach who knows me. I’ve been friends with Anthony (Haines) since third year as well and it’s great to be his teammate again. I’m glad he’s with me.
Longobardi is undecided as to his specialty, but could consider business. He also commutes between school and school.
“I think it’s great that we’ve been the winners here,” said Longobardi, who, along with Haines, played for the undefeated Nutley squad in 2020, which turned out to be the illustrious’s final season. career of the late Steve DiGregorio. “I’m proud of my guys here. I couldn’t ask for anything more. We have a young team with a lot of football in us. “
Joe Witt had a great athletic career in North Arlington, but wanted a place to play his main sport, baseball.
But Witt, who is also not the greatest athlete on the planet, learned sprint football, it interested him.
“Honestly, I had no idea there was such a thing,” Witt said. “I knew Coach Kelly and I knew the school. I wanted to have the chance to play both sports. I wasn’t going to college to play football, but it’s a place where I can play both.
Witt, a freshman, played quarterback his last two years at North Arlington, but was able to return to his natural wide receiver position at Caldwell.
“Football is still a sport that I love,” said Witt, who specializes in the management of the sport. “Football wasn’t even a thought for me. I am very grateful to Coach Kelly for bringing me in. There are a lot of familiar faces here with Haines and Gennaro, guys that I played baseball against. I get along well with them all. I love to stay active and am happy to play both sports.
Witt will play baseball this spring with former NA teammate Eric McKenna, former Observer of the Year male athlete two years ago.
George Escobar was first a footballer during his high school years at Belleville, but he became a football player thanks to the incentive of Belleville head coach Jermain Johnson. Escobar is Caldwell’s field goal kicker who has scored four field goals this season.
“It’s definitely a different feeling than playing football,” said Escobar, a second-year political science student at Caldwell, hoping to someday work at the United Nations.
Ironically, Escobar’s incumbent is Haines, and the two were able to put aside the old Nutley-Belleville rivalry for the sake of the Cougars on the grill.
“Anthony has become such a great friend,” Escobar said. “We have formed a great friendship. I was just looking for a place to let off steam. It is a great feeling to be close to home. I never thought I would play college football. It’s a really good time.
Escobar also converted 17 of 18 extra point attempts.
So it is safe to see that there is a local connection with the Caldwell University speed football team.
“It was a challenge,” Kelly said. “The fun part is watching the kids do what it takes to be successful. I think we all live off that enthusiasm. They are all keen to do the right things. We are certainly headed in the right direction.