Nutley starts grid season with style

Maroon Raiders win opener, 62-12

Photo by Jim Hague The Nutley football team will be an improved bunch this year, thanks to the play of the Maroon Raiders’ offensive line. From l. are Augie Mustardo, Devin White, Dan Chagnon, head coach Tom Basile, Mark Charles, Nick Lovato and Brian Hewett.
Photo by Jim Hague
The Nutley football team will be an improved bunch this year, thanks to the play of the Maroon Raiders’ offensive line.
From l. are Augie Mustardo, Devin White, Dan Chagnon, head coach Tom Basile, Mark Charles, Nick Lovato and Brian

Nutley High School head football coach Tom Basile knew that the 7-3 record that the Maroon Raiders posted a year ago would serve as a stepping stone for the 2015 season.

“We’ve certainly raised the bar a little,” Basile said. “We were 5-5 two years ago, so we expected the improvement. We had a nice year. I think it serves as a motivation to at least get back to where we were last year. We won a share of our division title (Super Essex Conference-Liberty Division, shared with Irvington) and earned some accolades. I think it made these kids hungry in anticipation of some good things.”

The good things started in 2015 for the Maroon Raiders, who devastated neighboring rival Belleville, 62-12, to kick off the season last Friday night.

Perhaps the biggest reason for the Maroon Raiders’ explosive victory was the memorable performance that came from senior running back Craig Merkle (6-1, 220), who merely rushed for 310 yards on 16 carries and scored an astounding five touchdowns.

“There’s not much he can’t do,” Basile said of Merkle. “He runs with power. He runs with speed. His balance is phenomenal. Before he’s done, he’s going to hold all the school’s rushing records. He makes everyone’s job that much easier. The offensive line wants to block for him.”

Basile said that he wants it known that the team is far more than just Merkle.

“We have a theme this year that is in Latin,” Basile said. “It’s Quasi Unius, which means Rise as One.’” We realize that Craig is just one guy and we’re not perfect. We don’t want to have to rely on Craig. But he’s helped to bring everyone together, try to bring everyone’s level up.”

Senior Anthony Condito (5- 10, 195) is the starting quarterback. Condito, headed to Rutgers to play baseball next fall, was a wide receiver last year who has become the Maroon Raiders’ top signal caller.

“He stepped in this year and was immediately the quarterback,” Basile said. “We’ve had some quarterback battles in the past. Not this time. Anthony knew right away he was going to be the quarterback and has done everything we expect of him. He makes some good choices with the ball.”

Senior Devin Merritt, the son of New York Giants’ running backs coach Dave, is the team’s starter at fullback.

“He has a tremendous level of energy,” Basile said of Merrirtt. “He’s probably our best defensive player (at linebacker) whenever we line up. He can also carry the ball and get his chance to shine.”

Junior Matt Rosen (5-8, 160) will see time in the backfield. Rosen scored a touchdown in the Rams’ huge win over Belleville.

The receivers are senior Nick Senatore (6-0, 185) and at tight end where Brian Hewett (6-3, 220) starts.

The offensive line features some players with a ton of experience.

Senior Augie Mustardo (6- 1, 210) is a two-year starter at tackle. The same can be said with Devin White (5-10, 215) at guard.

The other players along the line include senior Nick Lovato (6-4, 245), who Basile says, “has great potential,” junior Mark Charles (5-11, 23) at guard and senior Dan Chagnon (6-1, 210) at center.

The Maroon Raiders use a 3-4 defensive alignment, with Mustardo and Hewett at defensive end and Charles at nose guard.

Merritt, who was a defensive starter last year, returns to his spot at outside linebacker. White and junior Sammy Coppla (5-10, 235) are the inside linebackers.

The secondary has a chance to rank among the very best defensive units the school has ever produced.

Senatore and Nick Miller (5-10, 150) are the lockdown cornerbacks, while Condito earned his returning stripes at safety along with Mike Maschi, a 5-9, 180-pound senior.

After their big win over the weekend, the Maroon Raiders return to action Friday night against Ferris at home at 5 p.m. After the showdown with the rebuilding Bulldogs, the Colonials face West Orange, Montclair and Irvington. Which means that the real games begin then.

“That’s when the fun begins,” Basile said. ”We have great expectations on how things are done. Things are going real well right now. We have some great examples for the younger kids. I certainly think that getting back to the state tournament is a reasonable goal.”

This season, the Maroon Raiders are moving from the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV back to NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III, in which they had played many years before.

If things remain the way they look right now, then Merkle will be one of the players to watch this season as the Maroon Raiders move toward the state playoffs with an improved record.

“That’s what we’re hoping for,” Basile said.

That’s what they’ll get.

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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.”