It was almost a foregone conclusion that John Apicella, a former starting quarterback at Montclair State University, was going to play football. His father’s plan was to teach him about life through the game of football, and he started playing during the second grade in flag football.
It was not until fourth grade that he played tackle. Apicella played on the Junior Dawgs, the Springfield, New Jersey travel team, from fourth to eighth grade. Originally playing running back, it was not until eighth grade that Apicella got his first exposure to the quarterback position.
His father, John Apicella Jr., talked about why he got his son involved in football.
“I needed to put him on the field because he was athletic, so I put him at the quarterback position and I liked his mechanics,” John Apicella Jr. said.
In high school, Apicella did not find much success until his junior and senior seasons, when he was named the starting quarterback at Jonathan Dayton High School.
Apicella commented on his high school days.
“You have to prepare yourself watching film,” Apicella said. “You have to know what everyone on the field does that’s something unique to the quarterback and I took pride in that. I studied the game asking questions, stuff I did on my own along with what the coaches [wanted], and you prepare with the team.”
After high school, Apicella was not sure if he would play at the next level. He was not recruited, but when he got to Montclair State he asked for a spot on the team. The coaches offered him a job working with the video coach and told him to wait for a spot to open up after the season. After the first day of practice, one of the quarterbacks quit, which opened up a spot for Apicella.
Apicella was not the starting quarterback until the last four games of his sophomore season and the full starter in his junior season while playing nine games. In 2016, Apicella struggled with 401 passing yards, two touchdowns, eight interceptions and just a 38% completion percentage. In 2017, Apicella made an improvement with 1,115 passing yards, five touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 50% completion percentage.
Apicella talked about the transition from high school to college.
“Just going from high school to college, the preparation. I think the speed was the biggest change going from high school to college,” Apicella said.
He also elaborated on playing at a Division III level.
“In Division III, you play it because you love it,” Apicella said. “It is a lot of time, so you have to take that into consideration and if you don’t love the sport you’re going to grow to hate it or you’re going to quit. Playing at the higher level that’s more of a full-time job. Practice even more, it’s more regimented, more routine.”
Apicella worked heavily with offensive coordinator Steve Scriappa. Scriappa explained Apicella as a player.
“[John Apicella] was well prepared, cared more about the team than himself,” Scriappa said. “He was really hard to play against, he was a tough son of a gun and I was a better coach because I got the opportunity to work with him.”
A big influence on Apicella was his father.
“Work ethic, things aren’t always going to go your way but good things happen when you work for it and no one is going to hand you anything,” John Apicella Jr. said. “The game is going to end at some point in life. If you can instill that work ethic, it carries over into different things in the real world like school and everything else.”
Apicella also helps out his brother Anthony Apicella, who is currently the starting quarterback at Jonathan Dayton High School. Anthony Apicella talked about how helpful it is to have a brother that is experienced in the sport.
“It’s extremely helpful,” Anthony Apicella said. “It’s valuable information that he teaches me, stuff that most guys who don’t have older brothers, they don’t get it. They don’t get this type of information, even tiny stuff, I go over film with him. There’s so many things that I learn from him.”
Apicella shared how he works with his brother Anthony Apicella.
“I didn’t have someone that played at a higher level teach me,” Apicella said. “I look at it as a learning experience for him where I teach him and after his games we watch film of what he did and the mistakes he made and what he could’ve done better and the stuff he did good. It’s really rewarding when I teach him something and then I see him do it on the field.”
The family is very close and three of them work together.
“My family was always been there for me. They would drive down to Virginia to come see me play,” Apicella said. “Not a lot of people have that kind of support which is really unique and is awesome. I thank them a lot for that just always being there throughout sports in general.”
Apicella shared one of his key life lessons.
“I can’t put into words how many life lessons they’ve taught me just from actions,” Apicella said. “Respect, that’s one of the big ones. Always respect people, care for people. I attribute who I am today to them raising me.”
Apicella looked back at everything he has done.
“I’ve been involved in football almost my whole life and the friendships I’ve made, that’s probably the biggest things that I’ll look back to,” Apicella said. “I’m still friends with everyone I’ve played with, but discipline is one, respecting authority that’s another thing, perseverance. I had a lot of struggles coming from high school and in college being that 5’10’’ guy that can’t throw as far as everyone, but perseverance is probably the biggest thing I would take out of it.”