By Jim Hague
The 2011 high school football season was a memorable one for the Lyndhurst High School program.
The Golden Bears posted an 8-3 record, their highest win total in 25 years. The Bears made it to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I playoffs and upset Rutherford in the first round, marking the program’s first state playoff victory since winning their lone state sectional crown in 1983.
The program withstood the controversy and turmoil caused by the arrest and subsequent departure of former head coach Scott Rubinetti and saw the head coaching position get handed back to the man that Rubinetti replaced after the 2008 season, namely, respected coach Joe Castagnetti.
Castagnetti, who served as an assistant coach last year, is ready to keep the Golden Bears moving in the right direction.
“After the first couple of days, you could see the difference in the players getting to know me personally as the head coach,” said Castagnetti, who guided Lyndhurst to a 6-4 mark in his final season as the head man. “My last year as head coach, the current seniors were eighth graders, so they know that I was following them and knew who they were. I’ve been familiar with them and have had time invested in them. It’s not like I was totally unfamiliar coming in.”
Added Castagnetti, “Now, they know what I expect and demand. They just had to get used to me. But now, they’re buying in. The good thing is that it’s not an entirely new staff. Everyone else is back. We all know the kids and the kids know us.”
Castagnetti knows that the Golden Bears will be among the hunted this season.
“We’re wearing the bulls’ eye on our back, no question,” Castagnetti said. “Our rally cry this year is that we’re not entitled to anything. We have to work extremely hard to get back to where we were last year. We have a tough road ahead. Nothing is being handed to us. We’re starting again at 0-0. They have to know that.”
The Golden Bears, who begin their 2012 season at home Friday, Sept. 7, at 7 p.m., have a very interesting schedule to kick off the new campaign, opening with Wood-Ridge, then facing New Milford, Cresskill and Pompton Lakes in the first four games. Those are not exactly traditional rivals for Lyndhurst.
“We have some familiarity with them, except Pompton Lakes, which will be a totally new situation for us,” said Castagnetti, who was the head coach for seven years in his first tenure. “It changes the approach for us a little, seeing teams we don’t usually see. But still you have to line up and play. We only concern ourselves with ourselves. We need to get better and that’s our focus.”
It helps that Castagnetti has four-year starter Danny Kesack back at quarterback. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Kesack can do a little bit of everything under the center. He threw for almost 1,800 yards and rushed for 700 more last year. He enters the 2012 season as one of the top players to watch in Bergen County.
“For the most part, Danny has put a lot on his shoulders to keep this going,” Castagnetti said. “Danny has a lot invested in this. He knows what he has to do in terms of managing the game better, when he needs to play up-tempo and when he needs to slow it down. He’s going to be used a lot more.”
Senior running back Bobby DeMarco (5-10, 190) also returns. DeMarco has been a secondary player in the last two years, but this time, it’s his turn to carry the bacon.
“He’s definitely paid his dues,” Castagnetti said of DeMarco. “He’s a northsouth runner. He’ll get his yards, then make that quick cut. It’s his time to take the torch and he’s ready. He’s going to set the tone for us in the backfield. He comes from a good family, who all played here, a rich football tradition. It’s his turn to leave his legacy.”
Junior Ian Cairns (5-8, 175) is the fullback. Cairns, who was a starter at middle linebacker last year, is another hard-nosed player, a typical Lyndhurst product.
Junior Issam Hatahet (5-8, 175) will also see time in the backfield. Castagnetti likes his speed and toughness.
“The beauty of this team is that all the running backs can interchange,” Castagnetti said. Senior Marcus Brandon (6-2, 190) returns to his starting wide receiver slot. “He has great hands and speed,” Castagnetti said. “He’s our deep threat.”
Senior Kyle Pollio (6-0, 170), who had a great winter last year on the basketball floor, also returns at wide receiver.
“He’s athletic and bringing his basketball skills to football,” Castagnetti said.
The tight end is senior Max Hart (6-2, 190), who enjoyed a solid spring for the Lyndhurst baseball team.
Up front, the Golden Bears have size and experience. Senior tackle Nick Coviello (6-1, 320) is getting a lot of attention. Senior Dominick Rega (6-5, 240) is a versatile athlete and talented blocker with good speed for a lineman. The guards are returning senior starter Nick Galvez (5-10, 240) and junior Deniz Akar (5-10, 195). Junior Nick Antorio (5-9, 175) is the center.
Defensively, the Golden Bears use Rega and Galvez at defensive end. Both started last year, with Rega causing all kinds of havoc to opponents. Coviello is a force at nose guard.
The outside linebackers are Hatahet and senior Endeavor Warrick (5-10, 170), with Cairns and DeMarco returning at inside linebacker. Very little gets past those two.
Brandon returns at cornerback, joined by junior Chris Cosenza (5-8, 160). Pollio and junior Jonathan Hoff (6- 0, 165) are the safeties.
No question, Castagnetti feels good about his team.
“We have a good team, but we have to get better,” Castagnetti said. “Again, we’re not entitled to anything. We have to remember all the hard work it took last year and try to get there again. We have good, tough schedule, so that should be a challenge, with battles all over. But we should be ready.”