By Jim Hague
Although the North Arlington High School football team struggled to a 2-8 record last year, head coach Anthony Marck feels good about the prospects of the season to come.
“We’re looking to build on what we started,” Marck said. “We’re going to build on a tremendous off-season, with an outstanding senior group leading the way.”
The Viking coaching staff restructured their summer workout schedule, with each coach getting 12 players to monitor.
“The plan worked great, because the attendance was tremendous,” Marck said. “These kids busted their tails. That’s the key. These kids saw the work ethic that helped our team go 7-3 two years ago and they want the same.”
The Vikings didn’t have a chance to compete fairly a year ago, courtesy of the damage caused by Hurricane Irene.
The extensive flooding along the Passaic River made Rip Collins Field unplayable. It left the Vikings without a place to hold practice and to play games.
“We practiced behind one grammar school on a 60-yard patch with no bags and no goalposts, but we made do,” Marck said. “We had to play three of our home games, including our Homecoming, at Lyndhurst. We appreciate what Lyndhurst did for us, but it never felt right. It never felt like a home game. We had to get on a bus and travel there. These kids had to endure a tremendous amount of adversity.”
But this year, calm has been restored.
“We have been able to get things back in order,” Marck said. “There are new bleachers in place (at Collins Field). It’s like anyone who had to be evacuated during the storm. Little by little, we’re moving back in.”
One of the other reasons why Marck feels good about his team is the return of senior quarterback A.J. Nocciolo, who has bulked up his already impressive frame to now stand 6-foot-3 and weigh 230 pounds. At most Group I schools, that size would put Nocciolo on the offensive line. But Nocciolo is a gifted package, a top college recruit who is being looked at by schools like UConn, Rutgers, Temple and James Madison.
“He’s now a four-year starter for us,” Marck said. “The sky’s the limit for him. I’ve never had a player be able to do the things he’s able to do. He’s able to make every professional throw. He’s a threat both running and throwing and he can throw on the run on a dime. We all believe he has the tools to be a Division I quarterback.”
Marck will put a lot of faith in Nocciolo this season.
“We’re going to have a run-pass option and let him determine which way we go,” Marck said. “He’s also a vocal leader. He’s very charismatic. If he’s in the room, you know it. He’s very engaging.”
Junior running back Mike Brazzel (5-7, 160) is a transfer from Queen of Peace who was timed at 4.58 in the 40-yard dash at the UConn football camp.
“He’s very athletic and he’s a speedster,” Marck said. “We can put him in the slot and he catches passes while no one can cover him. He’s a ‘shakeand- bake’ kind of kid and he’s like the Energizer Bunny, because he can go all day.”
Senior Jeremy Melendez (5- 7, 160) is the fullback. Melendez likes Marck’s toughness.
“He can hit the hole hard and go,” Marck said. “He’s been waiting his turn.”
Senior Denis Song (5-10, 180) is another capable running back.
“He’s a good athlete who rushed for about 300 yards for us last year,” Marck said. “He’s really strong and a nice complement to Brazzel.”
Senior Jimmy Cedola (5-10, 170) is the team’s top returning wide receiver.
“He has tremendous hands,” Marck said. “He’s not a speedster, but he gets to the ball. I like him as a pass catcher.”
Senior Andrew Paparelli (5- 9, 165) also returns. Paparelli has good speed and used it to return two kickoffs for touchdowns last year.
The tight end is impressive Nick Martin (6-2, 240), who will also get his fair share of college looks. Martin caught 29 of Nocciolo’s passes last year.
“He went to strength and speed coach in the off-season and it’s worked well,” Marck said. “I expect so much from him. A.J. wants to get him the ball.”
Up front, the Vikings welcome back senior tackle Ian Camean (6-0, 240) and sophomore guard Danny Goffredo (5-8, 180), who started last year as a freshman. Junior Matt Karras (6-1, 215) is at the other tackle, with senior Brandon Navarro (5-10, 215) at the other guard. Marck was impressed with the way Camean and Navarro battled in the weight room in the offseason.
The center is senior Mike Baloga (5-9, 180), who played tackle last year, but has now moved back to his natural position.
“The line is very athletic and can run well,” Marck said. “I like the way they’re getting off the ball. It helps having (former NA head coach) John Galante back on our staff. He’s worked well with them.”
The Vikings will utilize a 3-3 stack defense, a new approach.
The defensive ends are Camean and Navarro, with junior Gerry Galvan (6-1, 265) at the nose guard.
Paparelli and Brazzel bring speed to the outside linebacker slots, while Martin, Baloga and junior Kenny Kuzmuc (5- 9, 165) at the inside linebacker slots. Kuzmuc led the Vikings in tackles last year.
“He’s very instinctive,” Marck said of Kuzmuc.
The cornerbacks are Melendez and senior Rob Mc- Carthy (5-8, 165), who Marck called “our most consistent defensive back for the last two seasons.”
Nocciolo utilizes his stature at safety.
“It’s nice to have players like Nick Martin and A.J. in the middle of the field, looking at opponents,” Marck said. “They have to scare kids on the other end.”
The Vikings open the new season with Elmwood Park. There is improvement on the horizon.
“We’re really looking forward to the season,” Marck said.
After last year, with all the Vikings went through, anything is better.