I walk into the Morris Catholic weight room with Georgi Muha, Morris Sussex Sports photographer, and my first thought is: who’s the big guy doing planks? I immediately reach for my notes on returning starters.
Then this guy looks up and yells, “work hard, come on, let’s go, work hard, work hard.” He blows a whistle. The team shifts to their next station.
This is John Hack, head coach, sweating it out and working hard alongside his team. He looks like he’s ready to strap them on his back and carry them through the end zone, if necessary.
And Hack isn’t alone in the room. There are four coaches pushing the guys and making adjustments. They’re in this together, this team that has been 2-8 since 2010. There’s no music during this workout, just a sense of urgency, a palpable energy that is being drilled into, a brotherhood that is being forged from hard work and the determination to change an entire football climate. These are the underdogs, the long shots, the unlikely-to-succeed. And they don’t like it. And that should make their opponents very nervous.
From their first meeting on, this team came together, starting with a vote on their core values: discipline, hard work, faith, toughness. These were decided on June 8. This is August. They are even more disciplined, harder worker, and tougher. Leaders are emerging. Talent is being honed. Let’s take a look at what they’ve got.
Joe Lapinski (5-11, 245) is a returning two-year captain who will return to anchor the line with his size and ferocious can-do attitude. Paul Onorati (5-11, 225) is another rebar-reinforced leader this team will lean on. The mountainous Zach Sieb 6-3, 298 will steady the line and Tom Mack, OL/TE/DL (6-0, 195) is a sophomore-transfer from Roxbury everyone is talking about. TJ Bohm will also be a huge contributor at 6-0, 195.
Ben Levitt and Madison Evans, both at 5-9, 175, and junior Blaise Huesky (5-10, 200) will shut down plays at linebacker. WR/DB Jayner Gorospi, 5-10, 165, is “all over the field,” according to Hack. Note: Gorospi can throw, which might make him the perfect Wildcat weapon. He is an obvious standout and a position to watch this season.
With Gorospi look for Pete Polumbo, an MIT-bound player and strong, articulate team leader who isn’t letting anything behind him on the field. Palumbo is also a force on offense at WR.
The quarterback position is still being settled. Senior Zach Poreman and sophomore Nick Piccolo are two strong contenders who are battling it out.
Madison Evans explains the changes this year. “The mindset is different. The team is closer. We are working harder.” Coach Hack cites support from the administration, including the new field they’re installing and equipment they’ve ordered. Hack also credits players for raising money to revitalize the weight room. And, according to Hack, this team is learning to work together, to bond, and they’re bringing players out of their shell and encouraging leadership. They have the highest of hopes.
Joe Lapinski describes the new mindset and attitude among his reinvented team. He talks about the movement from an emphasis on individual to a focus on team. He talks about killing it in the weight room and the changes on offense and defense. Mostly, I believe he speaks for all when he comments on playing tough opponents like Hopatcong and North Warren.
Lapinski says with a smile, “I’m not scared of anyone.”
I believe in this team because they believe in themselves. If they lose that confidence, it could be another bumpy ride. If they hang on, play with pride and work with intention, they can have a breakout season.
Morris Catholic Crusaders
2014 Record: (2-8-0)
Head Coach: John Hack
League: Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference
Section: Non-Public, Group 1
High Point: The win against Parsippany and Walkill Valley that marked a two-game streak in the regular season.
Low Point: Losing a close Homecoming game to Whippany Park
Tidbit: Last year’s coach Brendan Gebert started a fundamental change in the culture at Morris Catholic that Hack has taken over and run with.
Season Breakdown & Prediction
Games to Watch: I’m looking closely at the season-opener against Hopatcong. Win it, and the season is wide-open for the Crusaders. Lose, and they will need to regroup and refocus. Last year they struggled with rebounding from losses.
Position to Watch: The entire line, the all-around athleticism of Jay Gorospi, and the senior leadership. This older corp will need to keep their team together through the inevitable ups and downs of a tough division: Pete Polumbo WR/DB, Ben Levitt TE/LB, Joe Lapinski OL/DL, and Paul Onorati OL/DL are among the obvious leaders.
Young Guns to Watch: Tom Mack, a hard-working sophomore transfer from Roxbury and Blaise Hureski, a junior RB/LB.
Dream Season: Making it to the playoffs
Nightmare Season: Not winning more than two games.
Playoff Appearances: 12
Finals Appearances: 1
State Titles: 0
Playoff Record: 1-12 (.076)
|19-Sep||@Whippany Park||01:00 pm|
|02-Oct||@North Warren||07:00 pm|
|07-Nov||Wallkill Valley||02:45 pm|
|LAST NAME||FIRST NAME||CLASS||POSITION|