The Montclair State University football team ended their 2019 campaign on the gridiron with a 6-4 record and ended the season strong, winning their last three games.
However, head coach Rick Giancola was quick to express his displeasure at the team’s record.
“For some schools, 6-4 might be acceptable; not for us. We have higher goals than that,” Giancola said.
The football team was looking to keep their winning streak going into this season before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic brought it to a halt. Like the rest of the world, the coaching staff had to wait for protocols to see how they were permitted to work with their athletes.
Although it was an unusual and unprecedented set of circumstances, the team was able to safely get on the field this past October. The precautions began with isolated “pod” workouts involving small groups of 10 players to a coach, working primarily on conditioning. After one week, the team transitioned to full-team practices.
Recruiting coordinator and wide receivers’ coach, Mike Palazzo, had a unique yet recently familiar expression to describe the practices.
“Once we got into the routine, it felt kind of normal,” Palazzo said.
Defensive coordinator Todd Agresta touched on what it meant to have his players back on the field.
“It was great for not only our coaches, but great for our kids to get back on the field again,” Agresta said. “You saw the excitement, the happiness, the camaraderie. I mean, it was awesome, [from] doing zoom meetings [to] now being together on the field; it was fantastic.”
As happy as everyone was to be back on the field, there was still disappointment at losing the seniors’ final season. No one was more disappointed than Giancola.
“It breaks my heart, it really does,” Giancola said. “It breaks my heart to have [the seniors] not get a chance to fulfill their four-year athletic part of their college life, where, through no fault of anybody, it’s just taken away.”
The New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) understands this and is playing around with the idea of a shortened season this spring. It would entail splitting the conference into two divisions, with four teams in each division. Every team would play four games, and the top team from either side would meet for a fifth game to determine the NJAC champion.
Additionally, this abbreviated season would not count as a year of eligibility for participating players.
“The chance of spring games made the time spent on the turf this fall even more important,” Palazzo said. “Those 10 practices are like gold, like a gold nugget every time. I mean, that’s just one step closer to us being able to win the championship in the spring and being successful moving forward.”
Senior defensive back Zack Zaccone is set to graduate this May, and his time looking through a face mask is coming to a premature end. He expressed how grateful he would be just to play football for one more season.
“I would kill to play football in the spring, even if it’s just in conference games,” Zaccone said. “This is my last year at Montclair State, and I would like to go out knowing that I gave it my all on the field. My team and I both know we have some business to finish up, and would love to do it in the spring by bringing the NJAC back to Montclair State.”