The spirit of Vineland High School football has seemingly been lost for two decades.
After several seasons of struggle, Vineland made a change at the head coach position that will hopefully find that spirit.
Former Vineland football star Dan Russo, 38, took over for Josh Hedgeman, who resigned after a 10-20 record over the last three seasons. Russo, who graduated in 1993, applied for the job earlier in the year, and was thrilled when it was offered to him by the Vineland Board of Education.
"It's more like a privilege, not a job, to coach where I played in high school," Russo said. "It's a great feeling and I couldn't bring this feeling anywhere else.
"I just have a lot of pride where I grew up and where I played and it's just a good feeling. When I'm walking through the halls where I went to school, it's special, you know?"
Russo surrounded himself with a brand new coaching staff that includes a former coach of his, a former NFLer, and another former Cape-Atlantic League coach.
Running the Vineland defense will be Charles Murphy, who was Russo's position coach at The College of New Jersey where Russo was a Division III all-American tight end.
Also coaching the linebackers on defense is Clifton Smith, who played linebacker for the Washington Redskins in 2003 and the Cleveland Browns in 2006. Gary Lord, who coached at Middle Township for the last five years, will be Russo's offensive coordinator.
Russo feels that the strength of his team this season will be the amount of talent he is working with. Even with that talent, implementing a whole new system will be the main challenge.
"Some of (our players) are seniors and we're trying to work harder so our system can be in place during the season," Russo said. "It's just implementing our system to the program, which we are. The kids are doing well and getting stronger every day."
Russo's main objective is to rebuild a program that has enjoyed only two winning seasons in the last 22 years (6-2-1 in 1991 and 7-3 in 2003). He will do that by taking care of the little things first.
"Some of the things I've been telling them are the little things take care of the big things," Russo said. "Obviously, the big thing is being successful and winning, but certain things like fundamentals and even the way you put your uniform on, everybody's is the same, and for some they had different socks and I made them take them off.
Contact John Russo:
Coach: Dan Russo (0-0, 0 seasons)
League/Group: Cape-Atlantic League National Conference/South Jersey Group V
Last season's record: 2-8
Playoff appearances: 6
Playoff record: 0-6
2013 prediction: Rebuilding - Ex-star-turned-head-coach Dan Russo is attempting to restore a winning tradition in Vineland.
Game to watch: Sept. 27 vs. St. Augustine Prep - The Hermits will be Vineland's first big test of the season.
Key returnees: Angel Rodriguez, Sr. QB, 6-0, 205; Jamil Demby, Sr., OT, 6-5, 300; Chris Atoki, Sr., RB/CB/PR, 5-9, 170; Zack Banks, Sr., OT/DT, 5-11, 285; Ben Anderson, Sr., RB/CB, 5-9, 200; Greg Slaughter, Sr., G/MLB, 5-11, 220; Zayn Itayem, Sr., G/DT, 6-1, 250; Otis White, Sr., RB/FS, 6-0, 195; Brandon Bell, Sr., TE/DE, 6-2, 215; Donavan Bennett, Jr., TE/DE, 6-1, 230; Eric Villar, Jr., C/DT, 6-1, 245; Emanuel Marrero, Jr., FB/WR/SS, 5-10, 200; Lamar Copeland, Jr., G/DT, 6-1, 260; Ryan Banks, So., QB/LB/SS, 6-0, 195.
Top newcomers: Jared Kennedy, Jr., WR/SS, 6-2, 195; Jarred Banks, Fr., TE/OLB, 6-2, 215; DaQuan Crosby, Fr., FB/CB, 6-0, 205; Daivon Seymore, Fr., FB/CB, 6-1, 215; Elijah Hardy, Fr., FB/LB, 5-10, 220.