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There is something different in the air around the Hopatcong football program these days.  It’s hard to put your finger on it, but its kind of like when Darth Vader sensed a shift in the Force whenever Luke Skywalker was close by.  Just like in the Star Wars movies you just get the feeling that the good guys are going to win at the end of movie, and the good guys are the Hopatcong Chiefs.

Third year coach Jerry Venturino uses his work ethic to lead by example.

Third year coach Jerry Venturino uses his work ethic to lead by example (photo by Georgi Muha).

Even quarterback Vinnie Giordano provided some validation about the shift in the universe.  “I wish I was just starting high school because there are a lot of really good things going on here.”  Giordano told me.  “The next bunch of years are going to be good and I wish I was still going to be part of it after this year.”

Quite openly, you really do not have to look further than head coach Jerry Venturino regarding its positive energy.  Venturino, who was former Hopatcong player, spent several years as the offense coordinator under Gary Andolena (who stayed on as defensive coordinator) and took over the reigns as head man two years ago.  Now entering his third year as coach, he is steadily putting his personal stamp on this program.

After going 6-4 in his first two seasons, it looks like things may shaping up to be the perfect storm for his Chiefs to do something special.   Venturino’s varsity players have been with him for three years as head coach now and they completely got his back.  All the current players are also a unique cast of characters, all of whom bring a different skill set to the team.  The team work ethic is through the roof, challenging each other to get better and breaking school weight room records.  And although this group stays loose, when its time to work these players get down to business.

Senior fullback and linebacker Jake Dorman pushes himself during summer workouts (photo by Georgi Muha).

Senior fullback and linebacker Jake Dorman pushes himself during summer workouts (photo by Georgi Muha).

First, let’s look at the talent. They have one of the top players in Morris-Sussex in senior QB/DB Giordano (5-11, 185). There is literally nothing he can’t do. He’s a threat in the air and with his legs, he’s also probably one of the best kickers in the area. On defense he single-handedly changes the way teams face the Chiefs and led the area in interceptions with 7.

But you can’t win states with just one guy and Hopatcong has whole team of talented athletes, as I said. Take fullback/linebacker Jake Dorman (6, 200) for example.  He is currently third in school history in tackles. Plus he was a captain as a junior and a natural leader.  Or look at senior nose guard Michael Maddaluna (5-11, 230).  He is a one of the strongest players on the team and a total force up the middle. Or check out senior linebacker Jake Wilkerson(5-8, 190).  He plays like he’s in a wrestling match, and is literally in on every tackle.

Hopatcong’s roster is full of fierce looking pure footballer-type guys. But that still doesn’t win championships. You need that something else that can’t be taught or coached.  That’s the element that is hard to put your finger on but you know these guys have it.  It’s like a current of energy that you can’t see but know its there.

Hopatcong's players have been pushing each other all offseason.

Hopatcong’s players have been encouraging each other to get stronger all offseason (photo by Georgi Muha).

I like Hopatcong this year A LOT!  They have some big matchups on their roster like Lenape Valley (who they lost to 6-0 last season) and Butler (who is also ranked very high this year).  But if you asked Hopatcong what their focus is, they will tell you Week 1 against Morris Catholic.  They are not thinking past that and they are extremely focused.

My prediction for the Chiefs is if they keep that mindset all year, I don’t see anyone tripping them up.  In my opinion they have an opportunity to do something special this season.  There is no reason this group cannot find themselves walking out of the tunnel of MetLife Stadium come December.  Doesn’t that give you goosebumps?!

Hopatcong Chiefs

2014 Record: (6-4-0)
Head Coach: Jerry Venturino
Coaching Staff: Defensive Coordinator – Gary Andolena, Assistant Offensive Coordinator – Dan Guarino, Assistant Defensive Coordinator: Jim Marino, Assistant Coaches – Kevin Malkin, Dave Campagna, John Bongiovanni, Mike Moschella & Mike Juliano, Athletic Trainer – John Canzone
League: Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference
Section: North 1, Group 1

2014 Recap

High Point: Beating North Warren and Boonton by one point late in the season, showing a ton of heart and resiliency.
Low Point: Losing three games to Lenape Valley, Jefferson and Pequannock by seven points or less midway through the season.

Season Breakdown & Prediction

Hopatcong knows getting to MetLife won't happen without a lot of hard work (photo by Georgi Muha)

Hopatcong knows getting to MetLife won’t happen without a lot of hard work (photo by Georgi Muha).

Games to Watch: The Lenape Valley Game is going to be insane. Last year DaCong lost 6-0 in a total Battle Royal – a loss that ultimately knocked Hopatcong out of the playoffs.
Position to Watch: I am loving this line. They’re like a band of brothers and they are big weight room guys. Plus they pack a wallup! Senior center Nene Ariza (5-10, 225) is constantly knocking defenders off their feet while big junior left tackle Stephen Lengkong (6-1, 265) looks and plays like he’s in college.
Young Guns to Watch: Junior transfer from Morris Catholic Bart Yarosz. Yarosz was starting quarterback last season as a sophomore. He’ll have to sit out a bunch of games due to the transfer rules and he’s got Vince Giordano in front of him at QB. But he’s such an athlete that he’ll get worked in somewhere at some point. Keep an eye out.

In a Nutshell

Dream Season: Winning it all.
Nightmare Season: Going one and done in the playoffs.
Tidbit: Senior Andrew Nee, who’s junior season was cut short with a serious knee injury is not playing this season. Coach Venturino is honoring Nee by making him an honorary coach and allowing him to be a big part of the program.

Postseason History

Playoff Appearances: 8
Finals Appearances: 2
State Titles: 2
Playoff Record: 8-6 (.571)


9/12Morris CatholicAway - Morris Catholic HS
9/18KittatinnyHome - Hopatcong HS
9/25Lenape ValleyAway - Lenape Valley HS
10/1JeffersonHome - Hopatcong HS
10/9PequannockHome - Hopatcong HS
10/16ButlerAway - Butler HS
10/23Morristown-BeardHome - Hopatcong HS
10/30 North WarrenAway - North Warren HS
11/6BoontonAway - Boonton HS


1Giordano, Andrew116’ 2” 150lbsWR/DB
3Mastroeni, Anthony105’ 6” 140lbsQB/LB
4Giordano, Vincent125’ 11” 185lbsQB/DB
7Cranmer, Jason105’ 8” 135lbsWR/DB
8Juliano, Robert125’ 8” 160lbsRB/DB
9Mathison, Kurtis105’ 10” 145lbsTE/DB
10Melillo, Anthony115’ 9” 145lbsQB/DB
11Schuman, Max105’ 7” 135lbsWR/DB
15Rodriguez, Brayan125’ 6’’ 200lbsRB/LB
19Dorman, Jake126’ 0” 200lbsRB/LB
20Yarosz, Bart115’ 10” 155lbsQB/DB
21Nee, Andrew125’ 11” 180lbsRB/DB
22Santiago, Armando105’ 6” 165lbsRB/DB
23Olmstead, Brandon115’ 5” 110lbsWR/DB
28Zabita, Peter125’8” 145lbsRB/DB
29Aufiero, Patrick115’ 11” 160lbsTE/DB
31Sisco, Jason105’ 10” 150lbsTE/LB
32Fernandez, Mauro115’ 10” 165lbsRB/LB
33Juliano, Joey105’ 6” 185lbsRB/LB
34O’Brien, James115’ 6” 160lbsRB/LB
36Huapaya, Zachary105’ 7” 165lbsRB/LB
42Frazier, Dylon126’ 0’’ 190lbsTE/LB
44Wilkerson, Jake115’ 8” 190lbsRB/LB
50Walthour, Joseph115’ 9” 180lbsOL/LB
51Ariza, Giansebastian125’ 10” 225lbsOL/DL
52Sanford, Christopher115’ 7” 205lbsOL/DL
53Costanza, Vincent116’ 3” 260lbsOL/DL
54Baum, Jimmy115’ 9” 155lbsOL/DL
55Mendoza, Jollan105’ 7” 190lbsOL/LB
56Turkington, Anthony115’ 9” 150lbsOL/DL
57Lugo, Desmond125’ 11” 225lbsOL/DL
58Marrazzo, Brandon125’ 5” 205lbsOL/LB
59Varrone, Gino125’ 7” 175lbsOL/LB
61Hergert, Kurt105’ 10” 210lbsOL/DL
62Mott, Christian115’ 10” 175lbsOL/DL
66Russell, Brian116’ 1” 195lbsOL/DL
69Fulton, Nick105’ 7” 210lbsOL/DL
70Maddaluna, Michael125’ 11” 230lbsOL/DL
71Kennedy, Zackary105’ 8” 200lbsOL/DL
72Kennedy, Tyler105’ 8” 180OL/DL
75Christiano, Jake116’ 1” 230lbsOL/DL
76Lengkong, Stephen116’ 1” 265lbsOL/DL
77Grenevich, Peter125’ 10” 185lbsOL/DL
78Caplan, Brandon126’ 2” 210lbsOL/DL
80Brindisi, Brandon105’ 5” 135lbsWR/DB
81Dixon, Kyle126’ 1” 200lbsTE/LB
84Landrum, Ira106’ 1” 180lbsTE/LB
85Serio, Brandon116’ 0” 180lbsTE/LB
88Sprycha, Kamil106’ 3” 165lbsTE/LB

How Do You Think the Chiefs Will Do In 2015?  Please comment.

George Muha has been covering high school sports since 2006. He feels high school scholar-athletes are the most important part of the community and highlighting their achievements on the field, in the classroom and within the community is his personal mission.



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