Nutley High School head football coach Steve DiGregorio is getting ready to lead the Maroon Raiders back onto the Nutley Oval for the first official day of practice next week in preparation for the upcoming season that is slated to kick off the weekend of Oct. 2.
It will be a momentous campaign for DiGregorio, who will return to full-time coaching duty after a miraculous recovery from pancreatic cancer surgery in July of 2019.
But before DiGregorio calls the shots for the Maroon Raiders on the sidelines, he helped once again to assist the Nutley Family Service Bureau’s highly successful food drive last week at the Shop Rite on Franklin Ave.
“I was asked by a member of the Nutley Rotary to see if we could help,” DiGregorio said. “It came out of need. The Nutley food pantry was in need for donations. They were getting kind of low.”
So on August 29, the Nutley football team and the Nutley girls’ soccer team joined forces to help collect an astounding 4,000 items.
Mike Padilla, a Nutley police officer and a member of DiGregorio’s coaching staff, helped to organize the event along with DiGregorio and J.D. Vick, another assistant coach.
Mike DiPiano, who does a little bit of everything involved with Nutley athletics, got his girls’ soccer team to participate.
Nutley Mayor Mauro Tucci and Councilmen Alphonse Petracco and Joseph Scarpelli helped to promote the event and gave donations. Ken Tice, who was a classmate and teammate of DiGregorio at Nutley High, worked with Shop Rite to coordinate the event. Resident volunteers Barbara Hirsch and Dorothy Huey were also huge in assisting the event.
DiGregorio said that he had approached his team, asking for volunteers for the food drive.
“The kids did a heck of a job,” said DiGregorio, who has declared himself fit and healthy for the upcoming season after his scary cancer surgery. “When the Rotary asked if we could lend a hand, it was an easy thing to approach the kids. We had about 40 kids volunteer. They first handed out fliers, explaining what they were doing and the items that they needed. They asked people to purchase the items in the store, then drop off the items on the way out.”
Needless to say, the response was overwhelming, but DiGregorio, a Nutley native, was not surprised.
“Nutley is a very giving community,” DiGregorio said. “The residents are very supportive of what we do and our kids are very good about donating their time. With a hunger epidemic and the COVID (-19) crisis and unemployment, there’s so much going on.”
Through DiPiano’s association with the Nutley Elks, more than $3,500 in donations was also raised.
“It wasn’t just a football thing,” DiGregorio said. “It really was a nice community team effort.”
Jake Walsh is a senior on the Maroon Raiders’ football squad who was one of the volunteers.
“Coach D mentioned to a bunch of us that the food pantry was running a little low,” Walsh said. “We all thought it was a great opportunity to get the team together before the start of the season and help out. Everyone loved it.”
Walsh said that the donations just kept coming in all afternoon.
“It was amazing,” Walsh said. “Being able to give back to those who don’t have much really means a lot to us. It’s a perfect way for us to help the community. We live in a great community that is always very supportive to us. For all the community does for our football team, this was a great way to give back. When you have an event like this, you have to feel good to give back.”
Fellow senior Billy Searle was willing to do anything for DiGregorio.
“Coach D is a great guy both on and off the field,” Searle said. “When he asked us, of course, we were ready, especially in times like these. We all knew we had to help people in need. It was a good turnout from our team and from the people in town.”
Searle said that he was pleased with the way everyone supported the drive.
“I can’t say I was shocked, because the people in Nutley are always so good,” Searle said. “I knew our community would pull through. But I was impressed with the way the people of Nutley helped out. Whenever you can do something good for someone else, it’s a good feeling. We’re not all about football. I can speak for the other teams in the school who also want to help. It makes you feel good.”
The Maroon Raiders are scheduled to take on Newark West Side in Newark Oct. 2. They play their first home game a week later against West Essex.
Walsh said that he cannot wait to get back on the playing field.
“Oh, my God, you have no idea how much I want to get out there with the other guys,” Walsh said. “I think we’re more pumped up that ever before.”
“I’ve been waiting for this since March,” Searle said. “I cleaned out my garage and turned it into a weight room. It’s been non-stop working out since. I’m more ready than ever before. I can’t explain how excited I am.”
DiGregorio was proud of the way his players handled themselves.
“It just reaffirmed my belief in these guys,” DiGregorio said. “I told the kids that I was very proud of them and that they should be very proud of themselves for their efforts. They made the commitment. Helping those in need is part of Nutley’s makeup and nothing will ever change that.”
The Nutley High School football team, led by head coach Steve DiGregorio (far left), helped to chip in at the Nutley Family Service Bureau’s food drive last weekend at the Nutley Shop Rite on Franklin Avenue. Photo courtesy of Steve DiGregorio
The Nutley High School football team organizes the more than 4,000 items collected at the annual Food Drive for the Nutley Family Service Bureau last week. Photo courtesy of Steve DiGregorio
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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.”