Vineland High School has turned to one of its own to rebuild its long-struggling football program.
The Vineland Board of Education approved Dan Russo as the Fighting Clan’s new coach Wednesday night. Vineland finished 2-8 last fall for its ninth straight losing season.
Russo, a 1993 Vineland graduate, starred at linebacker and running back for the Fighting Clan. Russo then played tight end at The College of New Jersey in Ewing Township, where he earned Division III All-American honors.
“I’m so humbled and honored to even have this opportunity,” Russo, 38, said. “I bleed red and grey (Vineland’s colors). I’m so passionate about this, I can’t even sleep at night.”
Russo’s enthusiasm impressed Vineland athletic director Don Robbins.
“The No.1 thing I see with Danny is his passion,” Robbins said Wednesday night. “It’s not only his passion for football but his passion for Vineland football. He’s a product of our football program.”
Russo said he heard from so many friends and old teammates Wednesday night that his cell phone ran out of power.
The Newfield resident will be a physical education teacher at Vineland.
Russo has high school coaching experience. He was an assistant at West Morris (Morris County) and Livingston (Essex County) high schools.
“Some of the kids that are playing now (at Vineland), I know their fathers,” Russo said. “I’ve been getting calls from guys I played with looking to help. Their kids are coming up through the program now. I really think we’re going to keep our kids here in Vineland.”
Russo replaces Josh Hedgeman, who resigned in December with a 10-20 record after three seasons.
Vineland football has struggled for years. The Fighting Clan have had just two winning seasons in the past 22 years, finishing 6-2-1 in 1991 and 7-3 in 2003. But the school has one of the largest enrollments in South Jersey.
“In my opinion, Vineland is a sleeping giant and it’s about ready to get woken up,” Russo said.
Russo said the key word for his first season is progress.
“Progress is the big word,” Russo said. “Obviously my goal is to win every game we play, but as long as the program is showing progress, the winning will take care of itself.”
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