He will go down as one of the greatest performers in Nutley High School football history. A running back who gained almost 2,000 yards for his career and scored 17 touchdowns on the ground. An all-around standout who scored a touchdown as receiver, scored two via kickoff returns and one by a punt return. A player who made the most of his opportunities despite being only 5-foot-8 and weighing 160 pounds.
Nick Mainiero has carved his permanent place in the Maroon Raider record books.
But before he heads off to Rowan University later this summer, Mainiero had one last chance to dance as a Maroon Raider.
Mainiero was selected to participate in the New Jersey Scholastic Football Coaches Association Phil Simms North-South Classic at Kean University.
The game was held Monday night after an extensive weekend filled with practice sessions galore and film study classroom activities.
Mainiero spent the weekend in the Kean dormitories, rooming with three other players on the North roster, namely Jha’mil King of Morristown, Brian Bradley of Madison and L’Trell Bradley of West Orange (no relation).
“I was bonding with a couple of guys, getting us prepared for the game and for college life,” Mainiero said. “This is definitely getting me prepared for college, spending four days on my own.”
But there wasn’t a lot of down time for the participants, especially on Saturday, when they had to endure three practice sessions on the field, one in the morning, one in the afternoon and one in the evening.
But Mainiero didn’t mind.
“It’s very exciting,” Mainiero said. “It’s a very elite group of people here. We’re practicing so much, but I’m still so excited.”
Mainiero, who rushed for 1,293 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on the ground last season and caught eight passes for 67 yards and another score, said he didn’t know whether he had a shot to earn a spot on the North squad.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I really had a shot,” Mainiero said. “I thought I might get overlooked. I was a little surprised when Coach (Steve) DiGregorio told me I was selected. I was excited and ready to play.”
Mainiero said that he had already begun workout sessions with his personal trainer, Nutley grid legend Dominic Scillieri, who also once played in the North-South All-Star Classic when he was a Maroon Raider.
“He has been working with me, getting me ready for college,” Mainiero said. “I also have been doing a lot of running on my own.”
When the time came to get back on the football field, Mainiero was admittedly sluggish.
“It was one of the toughest days of my life,” Mainiero said. “I was a little rusty the first day. I hadn’t gotten hit in seven months, so it was different. I was running again with an offensive line and finding holes again. Most of the running I was doing was on my own.”
Mainiero said that he knew he had to prepare for his biggest challenge as an athlete.
“About a month or so ago, I cracked down and decided to do stuff every day,” Mainiero said. “I was running about two-and-a-half miles a day. I was doing weight lifting, squatting, benching, the stuff I needed to do to get ready for college. I just had to start a little earlier to get ready for this game. I felt like I was in good enough shape to play.”
Monday represented the beginning of a busy week for Mainiero. On Tuesday, he was slated to receive his diploma with the rest of the Nutley Class of 2018.
“I’m going to play the game, then go home and graduate,” Mainiero said. “It’s a great time for me.”
Mainiero will be forever remembered for some of the great games he enjoyed at Nutley. Last year, he had 235 yards and three touchdowns against Paramus, 169 yards and two touchdowns against Pascack Valley and 201 yards and a score against Chatham.
On Oct. 19, 2016, Mainiero was named The Observer Athlete of the Week for his performance in a game against Orange where he was the Maroon Raiders’ Wildcat quarterback and became the first football player to ever earn the weekly honor in a losing effort.
Mainiero was asked what his feelings were when he turned around and noticed that he was the smallest guy on the North roster other than the team’s punter.
“It was definitely a lot different,” Mainiero said. “I looked at the roster and was a little taken back by that. I’ve been playing against guys who are bigger than me my whole life. It has never bothered me.”
Mainiero has been utilized at halfback during the practices, but found himself going out for passes out of the backfield as well.
“I like being versatile and doing both,” Mainiero said. “I was able to put some moves on. It was a lot of fun doing both.”
Mainiero said that he’s ready to move on to the next chapter of his life. He’s spent the majority of his life working at the family business.
Mainiero’s Sports Shop has been a staple of the Nutley community for ages. Located on Franklin Avenue, right behind the Nutley Diner, Nick Mainiero, Sr. and his son, Nicholas, have partnered to establish the premier sporting goods store in Nutley for four decades. This Nick was the third in line to carry in the family tradition.
“It’s going to be pretty tough leaving home,” said Mainiero, who is undecided about a major at Rowan. “They play some pretty tough teams at Rowan. I have to be ready to compete right away.”
For Mainiero, he was proud to be able to represent Nutley one final time, put on the Maroon Raider helmet for the entire state football community to see.
“I was strapping it on for Nutley one more time,” Mainiero said. “I just hope we can get a win.”
Learn more about the writer ...
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.”