Frank Malanga and Vincent Nisivoccia are longtime friends, going back to their middle school days in Nutley. They also played youth football together and were extremely close.
“Our mothers are best friends,” Nisivoccia said. “We definitely grew up together.”
But when it came time to go to high school, the two went their separate ways – Malanga to Nutley High and Nisivoccia to Seton Hall Prep.
“It was tough not being able to play football with him,” Nisivoccia said.
They even played football against each other, with Nisivoccia’s Pirates soundly defeating Malanga’s Maroon Raiders, 50-14, in October of 2013.
After the Maroon Raiders lost to Paramus in the opening round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV state playoffs last November, Malanga thought that his high school football career was over.
Nisivoccia was able to extend his career by a game with a selection to the Phil Simms New Jersey North-South All-Star Football Classic. Nisivoccia, a wideslot receiver, learned of his selection to the North squad about three months ago.
Malanga was not initially chosen for the game, but when an injury took place in the North secondary in April, Malanga was recommended by Nutley coach Tom Basile to be a possible replacement.
Sure enough, Malanga, a linebacker by trade, was being asked to become an impromptu safety – but he was getting a chance to be his buddy’s teammate for their final high school football game.
“I was told I would have to play safety, but I didn’t care,” Malanga said. “I just wanted to play in the game. I think it’s cool being here with the best players in the state.”
Malanga and Nisivoccia were reunited as teammates for the North squad in the 37th rendition of the All-Star Classic, sponsored in part by the New Jersey Scholastic Football Coaches Association, Monday night at Kean University.
The two were on the field at Kean, bright and early Saturday morning, as the teams went through three practice sessions. Nisivoccia found himself right smack in the middle of a crash course to learn a spread offense and was getting his fair share of repetitions. Malanga was doing safety drills and handling them with ease.
“It’s definitely different for me at safety,” Malanga said. “I’ve not played that position a lot in high school, but I’m here and I’m going to make the most of it. It should be a lot of fun, especially being with him. It’s my last high school game and I want to make my mark. I’m definitely motivated to play in the game and play with him (Nisivoccia).”
“It’s awesome to be here with Frank,” Nisivoccia said. “He’s going to help our team out in a big way. I’m so excited to be able to end my high school career with him. We’ve done so much together over the years. To end it all with Frank is just great. It was definitely not expected.”
Nisivoccia felt like he had to prove he belonged with the big boys.
“I always feel like I have to prove myself 100% every single play,” Nisivoccia said. “That’s the way I feel every game, so this is nothing different. But it is with the best competition in the state, so I’m going all out.”
And if Nisivoccia goes all out, Malanga has his back. That’s what friends do, even if they went to different high schools.
“I’m really happy for him, because he really wanted to play in this game,” Malanga said. “I feel like I have something to prove, especially at the new position. It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s something I think we’ll both remember for the rest of our lives.”
“It feels good,” Nisivoccia said. “Things are back to normal.”
Just the way things should be for childhood friends who had to go in different directions for high school. They’re going out together in grand style. A better script couldn’t have been written.
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”