Maybe New Hudson Catholic head football coach Lou Zampella should retire as head coach right now. He has the best winning percentage of any coach in the history of the program, after having won his head coaching debut with a resounding 48-6 win over Newark Academy last weekend. His record now stands at a perfect 1-0 and Zampella currently has a 1.000 winning percentage.
Seriously, the Hudson Catholic program hasn’t had much to smile about during recent football seasons. Ever since the Hawks lost in the 2008 NJSIAA Non-Public Group 2 state title game to Holy Cross at Rutgers Stadium, the Hawks have won a total of eight games and lost 22. They’ve gone through four head coaches. Zampella is the program’s fifth different head coach in the last five seasons. It’s been a tough go.
That’s the why the school’s administration decided in July to turn the program over to the energetic Zampella, a former standout player at the school and a long-time defensive coordinator under former head coach Rob Stern, the architect of the Hawks’ state playoff prowess.
The school tried a college coach and it didn’t work. They tried a former Pro Bowl and Super Bowl hero and that didn’t work.
So now the school has gone back to one of their own in Zampella, a Hoboken firefighter who coached at Hudson Catholic, then St. Peter’s College and back to Hudson Catholic after his playing days ended.
“I think the kids are working hard,” Zampella said. “They’re getting used to a different environment. The seniors have been great, because they want to be successful. I could sense them buying in.”
Zampella isn’t ready to order up a championship banner yet for his football team.
“I think they’re a work in progress,” Zampella said. “Sometimes, we show flashes of greatness and others we show like we’re lost. But if they keep working hard and keep listening, we have a chance to do some good things.”
One of the leaders on the team is senior quarterback Kevin Albert (6-2, 200), who now has to learn his third different offensive set with a different coach.
The Hawks will use a multiple I formation, going away from the triple option used by last year’s head coach Colin Eckerd, who guided the Hawks to a 3-7 record last season.
“Kevin has adapted well,” Zampella said. “He was once a wide receiver and now he’s playing quarterback in a different offense. But he’s a good athlete and more importantly, a good kid. He’s a very smart kid. We have to rely on him a lot to take control in the huddle and control the tempo.”
The Hawks apparently have some depth and talent in the backfield.
Senior Champion Smith (6-0, 195) is a returning veteran.
“He’s a good running back, a powerful runner,” Zampella said. “He has good speed and he’s very physical. He can get you the tough yards.”
Sophomore Marcus Monroe (5-10, 200) is the fullback.
“He’s very athletic and also very physical,” Zampella said. “I think he’s just coming into his own.”
Senior Jalen Carter (5-8, 160) is another factor in the Hawks’ backfield. Carter had 128 yards on 10 carries and two touchdowns in the win over Newark Academy.
“He is very athletic and has good quickness,” Zampella said. “He’s more of a scat back.”
Junior Mike Martinelli (5-10, 180) is another fullback. Zampella likes the young backs he has in sophomore Ravon Bennett (5-2, 135) and freshman Stephon Andrews (5-11, 170).
“Ravon is a tough little guy and Stephon has a ton of promise,” Zampella said. “It’s good to have the young kids starting to get more and more experience.”
Junior Jose Tapia (6-2, 195) and sophomore Dondre McNeil (5-11, 185) are seeing time at wing back.
The wide receivers are seniors Curtis Mullins (6-0, 170) and Jahlil Nelson (5-11, 175) and junior Mike Simone (5-10, 170), who Zampella thinks “is the best all-around athlete on the team.”
The tight end duties are being shared by senior Joe Labrutto (5-10, 220), who was a two-way lineman for the Hawks the last two seasons, and sophomore Thomas Slippe (5-11, 190), who also has a lot of promise.
The offensive line has some decent size, with senior Josh Asmad (5-11, 270) leading the way at tackle. Junior James Ventre (6-2, 260) is the other tackle, with junior Bryant Gilliard (6-0, 230) and sophomore Kamau Laguerre (5-10, 195) at the guards and senior Christian Spiegel (5-10, 200) at center.
Defensively, the Hawks employ a 4-3 set, with Laguerre, Spiegel and Tapia sharing time at defensive end. Asmad heads the defensive tackles, along with Gilliard and promising junior Justin Alston (6-2, 250).
Labrutto, Smith and Monroe are the linebackers, with Carter and Simone at the cornerbacks and Mullins and Albert at safety. Andrews and Bennett also get time in the secondary.
The Hawks got a win under their belts as they travel to face Bergen Tech, coached by former Memorial head coach Brian Meeney, this weekend.
“I think it was real important to get the first one,” Zampella said. “The kids have worked hard and deserve to have a reward for their hard work. I think it was great that a lot of kids contributed to the win. I think they understand the commitment I expect from them. I think the biggest thing I bring is positive energy. It’s a change of the entire culture of what’s expected of them. I expect them to have accountability. I expect them to be like me.
Added Zampella, “So far, I like the way the program’s going. The seniors want to win. They want to go out as winners. They don’t want to say that they just played here. They want to be successful. We’ll see how far that takes us.”
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.