The Student News Site of Bridgewater-Raritan High School

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The Student News Site of Bridgewater-Raritan High School

The Prowler

The Student News Site of Bridgewater-Raritan High School

The Prowler

The best is yet to come for the high school football program

The best is yet to come for the high school football program

The past five years have been anything but victorious for the Bridgewater-Raritan High School football program.

But those days will be long gone.

So said Daniel (DJ) Catalano, who just completed his first season as the head coach of the high school football team.

While Bridgewater-Raritan posted just a 3-7 record this fall, Coach Catalano is confident that the future looks bright.

Catalano has referred to the Bridgewater-Raritan football program as “the crown jewel program of Somerset County” because Bridgewater-Raritan is a bigger school “which means bigger opportunities,” according to Catalano.

“I think the competition is a lot harder. I think that there’s a lot of kids. I just felt like we could make it bigger,” he said.

The prospects of what can be a highly productive football program is what lured Coach Catalano to Bridgewater-Raritan for the 2022 season.

He joined the staff under first-year coach Rick Mantz as the defensive coordinator, a position that he had held for three season at Somerville High School. He also became a teacher of Health and Physical Education at Bridgewater-Raritan High School.

Mantz, who is a member of there hall of fames, came to Bridgewater-Raritan with an impressive resume that featured 113 victories in his 26 years of coaching. He coached  a Central Jersey, Group 4 state sectional playoff championship in 2000 while at his alma mater, Hillsborough High School, and also served on the staff at Rutgers University.

But after a 4-6 season in 2022 and a first-round state sectional playoff defeat to Westfield High School, Mantz resigned, citing health and personal reasons.

Up stepped Coach Catalano, who was named the head skipper on February 21. 

Coach Catalano was a standout defensive tackle at Montgomery High School before graduating in 2006. He attended Monmouth College for one year before transferring to Northern Michigan University, where he started on the football team for four years. 

He began his coaching career at his alma mater, Montgomery, as a defensive line coach. He also has experience at the college level at Rutgers University where he was a defensive assistant, and as a defensive coordinator at prominent New Jersey high schools such as Randolph, Neptune and Somerville.  

Coach Catalano quickly outlined his goals after moving from Somerville in a concise mission statement: be the best public school football program in the state of New Jersey.

“This is a place where you can absolutely do that because the resources are here for that,” Coach Catalano said.

When Coach Catalano attended Montgomery High School, he was guided by veteran coach and founder of the football program, Zoran Milich.

Coach Catalano didn’t understate the impact Milich has had.

“Just the way that he demands excellence,” Coach Catalano said. “That was the number one thing. Demands toughness. I am very, very close with him. I mean, he was my high school football coach, and I have talked to him almost every week for my entire life since then.”

Coach Catalano, who had directed the weight training program when he first came to Bridgewater-Raritan, put his players to work in preparation of his first year as head coach.

“People don’t realize this, we were working since June, but even before that, in November [2022], we had our whole off-season program. So we’ve been going, working for a whole year, thinking about that game,” he revealed.

The football season started with Organized Team Activities  (OTA) on June 12 and then pre-season practice was launched on July 10. During the summer, the players participated in strength and conditioning training, until they traveled to Stevenson University in Maryland for minicamp in early August. 

“We were in great shape, and our coaching staff did a great job installing a brand new offense, brand new special teams. That’s pretty complex. I mean, the thing is that we do things a little bit differently than some other high schools. We run it like a college program. And we run college program type plays,” Coach Catalano said. 

The team then spent the rest of August preparing for the opener against Edison High School on August 25. Bridgewater-Raritan dominated a defending state sectional champion en route to a 44-12 victory.

 “It was the greatest feeling in the world,” Coach Catalano reflected that evening at Basilone Memorial Field in Bridgewater.

However, September was a tough month for the Panthers.

Bridgewater-Raritan lost five straight games—-defeats that came against Union High School, Hillsborough High School, Hunterdon Central Regional High School, Watchung Hills Regional High School and Ridge High School.

Coach Catalano said his opinion flat out.

“I’m not happy with the results. It kills me. It kills me because I know how hard our team is working and I know that it kills them. From an outside [perspective], like someone from the outside that has no idea what they’re doing [might think] ‘they’re a bad football team.’ But, man, the way that they handle themselves in adverse situations and just keep going to work. That’s something special. We have a foundation right now that I’m really excited to build on with your class,” Coach Catalano said.

He went into detail about what preparation went into the away game against Watchung Hills, which was played in what could be described as a monsoon. 

“We played in a wet game [against Watchung Hills]. Guess what we did? We wet the balls. We dunked the balls in water. Had them practice it. We had four fumbles. So I look at, how are we teaching ball security? Well, we have a ball security circuit, do we talk about it every day? Yeah, we do,” he  said.

A team’s record is only one indication of how they function.

Under Coach Catalano’s leadership, that is definitely the case. The implementation of culture throughout the locker room was one point that Catalano emphasized. One key point was the leadership meetings that were held during the off-season. 

“So, all throughout the year, we had culture talks, or leadership meetings as we would call them. And we talk about, you know, the attitude one, and how to be a leader. That’s the first thing. We define leadership as going from A to B and bringing others along with you. We talked about how the leaders need to create the culture, which influences the behavior, which produces the results,” Catalano said. 

Another major area that was discussed was the two mottos that are visualized over and over again throughout the locker room.

One of them, “E.A.T.” as Coach Catalano called it, is placed on the front of the facemask clip on every helmet. He said it stood  for, “effort, attitude, toughness.”

He claimed that those are the three things they can control. 

Another motto, “E+R=O,” sits on a giant metal placard above the lockers near the coaches office.

“There are events that happen in our lives, which we refer to as E, that we can’t control. But we can control our response, which is R, and that will equal an outcome. We call it ‘E+R=O.’ If you have a positive response, you’re probably going to get a positive outcome. So these are things and lessons that we’ve gone over all year,” he said.

Coach Catalano also spoke about the biggest catalysts of this culture. When asked if he could provide an example of any player who he thought had the most impact, Coach Catalano wasn’t quick to name names, saying there are many.

“You know, I think the best programs are the ones where every single person thinks of themselves as a leader. And that’s why we don’t have team captains per se. We have game captains and it’s just based on what you do that week of practice,” Coach Catalano said.

He did however name a couple of players who he was especially proud of. One in particular was senior linebacker and wideout/back Joe Spirra.

“He’s a really, really good football player,” Coach Catalano declared. “Probably our best football player, right? He just does everything the right way and he goes about it in a way that he’s very humble with it.”

Spirra not only shine don the field but also off the field with his mature personality.

The senior expressed his gratitude in the leadership role that he earned, and the fact that many of his teammates ”gravitate towards him,” as Coach Catalano put it.

”I just think that that is really important to me,” Spirra said. “Because, senior year, you start to really realize, especially later in the year, that you’ve got limited time in high school, you gotta enjoy a lot more. So, I appreciate my teammates looking up to me and like, being able to trust me on things that I can say. You know what I mean? Like, they listen to me and I feel like that’s how I could have such a big role in leading this team.”

Coach Catalano also mentioned a few others who he believed were the biggest leaders on the team: Alex Berberian “who works his tail off;” Steven Pikulin “who doesn’t talk much, but is tough as nails;” Anthony Confalone and Logan Krizan with the way that “they communicate in the back end and make all the checks;” and Joe Loctrotondo and “his passion.”

“Nobody loves football more than Joe Locrotondo,” Coach Catalano said with a smile. 

Bridgewater-Raritan had arguably its biggest  victory of the year on October 13 when it posted  a 22-19 comeback victory against Elizabeth High School on Homecoming Night.

The atmosphere was electric, as the student section organized a pink out and brought the energy.

“We can’t do it without them,” Coach Catalano said. “It’s support. I mean, that’s what it’s all about. That’s why it’s a community and that’s why I want to be here. I want to be a part of the Bridgewater community. I live here now. I’m just so excited. They make the game special. I absolutely love it. I hope it gets bigger and bigger and bigger and grows and grows. I love all the little themes that they do. I love the social media.”

The Skyland Conference is arguably one of the toughest in New Jersey.

Even though this year has not gone as many have hoped, Coach Catalano knows exactly where the football program will be in five years: state champions and the best public school football program in New Jersey.

“I have no doubt about it,” he concluded.


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