Nutley honors DiGregorio on ‘Coach D Day’

Steve DiGregorio is proud to be a native son of Nutley.

“My parents were the most giving people,” DiGregorio said. “My father (Silvio) was a member of the Nutley Volunteer Rescue Squad for more than 40 years. He did CPR instruction all the time. My mother (Rose Mary) was always there helping as well. They instilled that in my sister (Lynda Ramsey) and I. They lived in the same house on Margaret Avenue for 59 years. Nutley meant a lot to us. I wouldn’t trade those days for the world. I used to watch football practice from my house and I just wanted to play for Nutley.”

DiGregorio has fond memories of those days growing up on Margaret Avenue, on a block that was filled with similar families of Italian descent.

“It was a very special place,” DiGregorio said. “I always played sports with the kids on the block and we had a lot of kids that lived on Margaret Avenue. We would go to the park to play together. It was always home to me.”

DiGregorio would eventually become a football star for Nutley High and then Muhlenberg University. He then became a college football coach at Princeton University, where he developed a special kinship with a guy named Jason Garrett, who is now the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. DiGregorio worked with Garrett when Garrett was a player at Princeton and DiGregorio was the head freshman coach and running back coach.

DiGregorio had a few stops along the way as a high school head coach, including a stint at Paramus Catholic, before getting the coaching job of his life – the head coaching position at his high school alma mater.

“I always said that I wanted to get the chance to be the head coach at Nutley,” DiGregorio said. “I remember when I became the head coach in 2004, I came home to tell my parents and the people on Margaret Avenue were so proud.”

That’s because Steve DiGregorio has always been Nutley, through and through. He’s been synonymous with the town. They are one and the same.

DiGregorio remained the head coach of the Maroon Raiders for eight seasons, eventually leading the Maroon Raiders to the North Jersey Section 2, Group III championship game at a brand new MetLife Stadium in 2010 against Morristown. DiGregorio then stepped down after the 2011 season because he wanted to get the chance to watch his sons play high school football.

When his sons moved on to play in college, then graduated, DiGregorio longed to coach again. In 2017, when former coach Tom Basile stepped down, the position of head coach opened up again.

It made sense for DiGregorio to take the job again. After all, he remained a teacher in the school district the whole time.

“Never did I think that was possible,” DiGregorio said about coming back as head coach. “It was never part of the plan. My parents were the first ones in the (Nutley) Oval for the first game.”

DiGregorio remained the head coach from 2017 through the present.

But last spring, DiGregorio was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was in for the fight of his life. In order to get the proper care and treatment, DiGregorio stepped down as head coach, turning the reins over to hard-working assistant J.D. Vick on the interim basis.

Last week, the Nutley Board of Commissioners decided to honor DiGregorio with a special day. On Tuesday, the Board presented DiGregorio with a proclamation, calling Saturday’s game against Lincoln of Jersey City as officially “Coach D Day.”

It created a great scenario – Homecoming on the 100th anniversary of Nutley football, honoring a man who gave so much of himself to the town he loved so well.

“I didn’t deserve all of that,” DiGregorio said.

But honestly, he did. DiGregorio was just being his typical humble self. He deserves every second of such a day like Saturday.

DiGregorio’s wife and three sons were present for the game. A lot of DiGregorio’s former players were on hand for the game. Many of DiGregorio’s friends and family members were on hand, wearing T-shirts that proudly proclaimed that they were part of “Team Digger,” which is DiGregorio’s nickname from his days at Muhlenberg.

And the Maroon Raiders went out and easily gave their best performance of the season, manhandling Lincoln, 27-7, not allowing a single touchdown on offense. The Lions scored their lone touchdown on a defensive return.

“It was good for our guys,” said Vick, who has done a remarkable job considering the circumstances. “I think it was our best game. Justin Lucia threw the football well (12-of-30, 264 yards) and the offensive line gave him time. They were challenging us to throw the ball. They were committed to stop the run, so we threw it.”

Five different Maroon Raiders had receptions. Gennaro Longobardi had four receptions for 105 yards and scored three touchdowns. Giovanni Coppola had two receptions and scored the team’s other touchdown.

Defensively, Dante Contella (linebacker), Brendan Martins (defensive end, two sacks), Longobardi (safety) and Coppola (cornerback) all played well.

“Defensive coordinator Jeff Martin and offensive coordinator Anthony Fischetti did a great job preparing our young men for this game,” Vick said. “The effort of the players was the best effort of the year. I was waiting to see if they would respond to the challenge and I told them that if they did, the scoreboard would take care of itself. We put a lot of pressure on their quarterback. We could not have had a more perfect day.”

When the game was over, the team went over to DiGregorio and carried him off the field, much like the way the Green Bay Packers did to Vince Lombardi when they won the Super Bowl.

“The kids went old school and carried Coach D off the field,” Vick said. “It was fitting way to end the day.”

DiGregorio was pleased with the whole effort of “Coach D Day.” And the Maroon Raiders responded by winning. Can you imagine if they lost on the day named after their coach?

“There’s no way to describe how you feel,” DiGregorio said. “My heart is filled with love and compassion for all of them. It’s incredible. It’s really overwhelming. It’s something you don’t expect. My heart is filled with gratitude. It was very appreciated. The kids played well. They’re a good bunch of kids.  They went out and played hard and that’s the most important thing.”

And DiGregorio is going to continue to fight hard, undergoing several sessions of chemotherapy before deciding what to do next. He’s determined to fight it to the end. Maybe God blesses him with a few more years with his wife Nadia and sons Zach, Aaron and Derek. But he’s not ready to go anywhere yet.

And incredibly, the Maroon Raiders have won two straight and have now played themselves into playoff contention in the North Jersey Group III bracket. If the playoff brackets were determined today, the Maroon Raiders would be in. They have two more games to play against Snyder of Jersey City and Caldwell. Who knows? Can’t hurt to dream.

Just like it can’t hurt to dream that Steve DiGregorio beats this hideous disease, beats the odds, pulls off the greatest comeback any kid from Margaret Avenue in Nutley ever enjoyed. Who knows? At least DiGregorio had the day to remember for the rest of his life.




Nutley head football coach Steve DiGregorio (center) is carried off the field at the Nutley Oval Saturday, after his Maroon Raiders defeated Lincoln, 27-7, on “Coach D Day,” honoring DiGregorio and his contributions to Nutley over the years. Photo courtesy of J.D. Vick





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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.”