Four weeks into his high school football head coaching career and Mario Cuniglio had the world at his fingertips.
The new head coach at Belleville High School, Cuniglio had his Buccaneers playing solid football, winning three of the first four games.
The Bucs were certainly on the right path for the first time in a long time.
Then, just like that, disaster struck _ and struck hard.
The Buccaneers reverted back to their old ways in an awful way, losing their last six games by lopsided fashion. They were outscored, 239-14, over those last six games. It gave new meaning to free falling that Tom Petty could never have dreamed of singing about with his Heartbreakers.
“It was a huge learning experience,” Cuniglio said of the late season collapse. “I didn’t realize how much went into being a head coach until I walked a mile in those shoes. I’m usually a brilliantly organized person, but there was a ‘Wow!’ factor in there. I realized then that I was the head coach, that I’m the guy who has to make the decisions to get things done.”
Admittedly, Cuniglio had a late start to his first coaching season. He didn’t find out that former head coach Joe Fischer was not returning until after the New Year and he wasn’t officially appointed to the position of head coach until the first week of April.
“I was doing things that needed to be done still as an assistant coach,” Cuniglio said. “I wasn’t named the head coach officially, but someone had to tell the kids what to do and get everything in line. So that fell on me. Then, I get the job and I have to interview potential assistant coaches. That took some time.”
Cuniglio doesn’t want to make excuses on the 3-7 season that felt far worse because of the late season losses.
But as he begins his second season, Cuniglio realizes that the Buccaneers are much better than what they were a year ago.
“We’ve improved by leaps and bounds,” Cuniglio said. “We’re progressing so well. We’re changing the culture here. Last year’s team did all the right things. They were the cornerstones of this program. We’re trying to establish a positive culture here in Belleville.”
If change is going to come, it begins with the man calling the signals.
Junior Matthew LaTorre (6-foot, 180 pounds) is the quarterback and he’s the man. No need to look over the shoulder for anyone else.
“He has a pretty good arm and throws it pretty well,” Cuniglio said. “He has the ability to read defenses well. I’m expecting pretty big things from him. He’s also a pretty mobile quarterback.”
In today’s game of football, you need a quarterback who has the ability to run and throw.
Senior Gustavo Viana (6-0, 195) is the main running back.
“He’s a downhill style runner,” Cuniglio said. “He’s a tough kid who can get the tough yard.”
Viana has also seen time at quarterback in the preseason, so Cuniglio plans on using him all over the field.
Senior Gabe DiPalma (5-7, 170) is another running back that Cuniglio could use, as is sophomore Adam Roales (5-9, 205).
The receiving corps features seniors Rich Martinez (5-11, 185) and Jeffrey Mayer (5-7, 170) as well as junior Omarie Wilmore (6-2, 175).
The tight end is junior Joe Monroig (6-2, 200), who has a ton of potential.
“He’s a really smart kid with really good hands,” Cuniglio said.
The offensive line returns only one starter from last year in senior guard Mahmoud Youssef (6-1, 275). Senior Elvin Perez (5-9, 215) is the other guard.
Juniors Paul Calvacca (5-9, 205) and Demetrie Samayoa (6-2, 275) are the tackles with sophomore Chris Freid (6-1, 250) at center.
The Bucs utilize the standard 4-3 defensive formation.
Monroig and senior Alex Davis (5-7, 240) are the defensive ends, with Youssef and Samayoa at the tackles.
Sophomore Xavier Marrero (5-7, 185) is at the outside linebacker position along with Roales. DiPalma is the team’s middle linebacker.
Mayer and junior Jerson Rivera (5-7, 175) are the cornerbacks with Wilmore and Martinez at safety.
The Bucs open their season early, facing Newark West Side Sept. 1 at Doc Ellis Field at the Belleville Municipal Stadium at 7 p.m. They play Fort Lee in Week 2.
“I’m hoping that we stay healthy,” Cuniglio said. “Because we’re going to attack this season with a fury. We’re building leaders out there. I’m highly impressed with our upperclassmen. They’re showing the newcomers the ropes. I think they’ve really taken on the challenge of getting better. I’m seeing great things. We’re changing the culture all for the better.”