With 300 wins approaching, veteran North Bergen coach remains unfazed
The career coaching victory total stands at 298 for North Bergen's legendary leader Vince Ascolese, which means that he's just two wins away from attaining a milestone that only two other coaches in the history of New Jersey high school football have ever achieved.
But reaching the 300-win plateau isn't something that motivates the veteran grid legend these days. He's more concerned with developing an extremely young team and making them battle-tested for the start of the 2003 campaign this week.
"I'm not thinking about that one bit," Ascolese said. "It's something that eventually will happen and it will be nice when it happens, but in the big picture, it's really not that important. I think it's a sign of longevity more than anything else. That's what gets you there."
However, success is another factor in the formula - and the Bruins have never had a losing season in the three decades that Ascolese has been the coach. The Bruins also own the longest consecutive streak of state playoff appearances, having qualified each year since 1987 and only failing to make the playoffs twice since the system was implemented in 1974.
"It's also about the kids you have playing for you," Ascolese said. "I've been very fortunate to have some great players over the years. They're the key to the success."
The 2003 season represents a new challenge for Ascolese, considering that the Bruins will return only one offensive starter from last year's team.
"It's not easy," Ascolese said. "It's all part of the learning process, especially offensively. It's all about execution and timing. We're getting there."
One of the facets of this year's team that excites Ascolese is the team's overall speed.
"I believe we're going to have a little more speed than we've had in the past," Ascolese said. "That's a positive sign and will allow us to do some different things. The kids have been working hard and we've had some positive moments in our scrimmages. We're getting better, but it's important to keep getting better. When you're green, you're going to grow."
Junior William Macias (6-1, 185) inherits the position as the starting quarterback. Macias, the brother of former Bruin standout linebacker Eric (currently at Columbia University), has displayed a fine passing touch during the preseason scrimmages.
"He has a good arm and a good delivery," Ascolese said. "He's really held up well so far. I think he's a player."
Sophomore Reggie Caicedo (5-10, 175) has emerged as the Bruins' go-to guy in the backfield. Ascolese likes the way Caicedo runs. Senior Ronnie Zarza (5-9, 150) is the Bruins' halfback and junior Mike Rodriguez (6-0, 210) is the fullback.
The wide receiver slot will be shared by junior Hamsel Abedelhadi (6-3, 180) and junior Omar Seville (6-3, 185).
The lone returning starter is the talented tight end, senior Santiago Hernandez (6-3, 240), who has received some college offers from Rutgers and Miami. Hernandez was slightly hobbled during the preseason, but appears fit and ready to start the season. He's a player to watch.
"Santi is a legitimate prospect," Ascolese said.
Among the offensive line, only senior left tackle Mike Roman (6-0, 220) saw considerable playing time last year. The rest of the line features newcomers, with senior center Zach Weissner (6-0, 220), junior guards Vic Lara (6-0, 180) and Chris Daus (6-2, 205) and junior tackle Alan Peak (6-0, 255).
The Bruins turn many of the same characters around to play defense. Hernandez is a downright stud at defensive end and could earn All-County honors once again. Senior Rocco Dioguardi (5-10, 180) is another defensive end.
Roman is a stalwart at defensive tackle, with junior Nick Martinez (5-10, 225) playing nose guard.
Rodriguez and senior Joel DeMarchenia (5-9, 185) man the linebacker slots, with Zarza and Bob Schoener (5-9, 150) at cornerback. The safety position is up in the air, with Caicedo and Abedelhadi battling with senior Tony Fuda (5-10, 185) and promising freshman Evan Rodriguez (6-3, 190), who Ascolese vows will become the first freshman to play varsity football at North Bergen since Dennis Taibl in the early '70s.
"The kid is raw, but he's an athlete," Ascolese said of Rodriguez. "He can run very well. He's learning and will play for us."
While Ascolese isn't blessed with the biggest team in the world, and they're certainly not experienced, the veteran coach has a good feeling about his team as they prepare to face state-power St. Peter's Prep in the season opener Friday night.
"I think we have a tremendous group of kids who have solid work ethic," Ascolese said. "They're always there at practice and willing to work. We just have to get better and the wins will take care of themselves."
Much like that approaching milestone. - Jim Hague