MSG Varsity will visit the top teams in the Garden State during preseason camps and provide all the latest news leading up to opening kick-off. In today’s edition of Camp Confidential, we take a look at Bergen Catholic.
LAST SEASON: 8-3; lost to Don Bosco Prep in Non-Public Group 4 championship
HEAD COACH: Nunzio Campanile (3rd season)
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: QB Jon Germano, TE/DL Garrett Dickerson, WR/DB Kyle Queiro, RB James Dawson, RB/DB John Feaster, WR JJ Kulcsar
BOTTOM LINE: Different year, same mission.
Bergen Catholic has worked feverishly in the last few years to close the gap between its rival Don Bosco Prep, which has won six consecutive sectional crowns. There’s a good vibe around the Crusaders camp, and Nunzio Campanile is aiming to win the illustrious title in his third year at the helm behind many strong returning players.
FOLLOW THE LEADER
After heralded quarterback Tanner McEvoy graduated and moved on to South Carolina, Campanile handed the keys over to a junior named Jon Germano, who originally came to Bergen Catholic as a safety.
The 5-foot-10 Hawthorne native surprised everyone and transformed into a statistic machine, finishing 2011 with 2,359 passing yards, 31 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions.
"He's only been playing QB for one year, so he's getting better and better everyday,” Campanile said. “He played safety and has such a great understanding of the defense. He's one of the smartest kids I've ever coached. He should be a football coach. We'd hire him."
Germano continued to blossom this offseason. He said he’s gained 20 pounds of muscle – most of it in his lower body – and opened many eyes by winning the inaugural MSG Varsity Tri-State Quarterback Showdown, hosted by Phil Simms, Amani Toomer, Mike Quick, Jimmy Cavallo and Steve Levy.
Last season is in the rearview mirror for Germano, who has his sights set on altering the team’s playoff results.
Germano tossed four touchdown passes and Bergen Catholic jumped out to a large, first-half lead en route to blowing by St. Peter's Prep, 42-21, in the Non-Public Group 4 semifinals. That marked the Crusaders’ last victory, because one week later, the Crusaders flopped in the championship game to Don Bosco Prep, 42-14.
The outcome wasn’t a drastic surprise since the Ironmen had been riding a 45-game winning streak and sat atop the USA Today national polls for the entire campaign.
What confused prognosticators and the 10,000-plus spectators in attendance, however, was the score. In Week 4, Bergen Catholic had its rival on the ropes before faltering in the fourth quarter and succumbing, 33-22, in what was later labeled MSG Varsity’s No. 1 Game of the Year.
Perhaps this year will be different. There are many reasons to believe so, and the return of Germano certainly is a big one.
GROUND AND POUND
Since Germano instantly became the offense’s biggest strength, starting running back Mike Gerst served as a role player and blocker. This year, with Gerst gone, Campanile stated that tailback James Dawson will play a major role in the offensive schemes.
“It’s the first time since I’ve been here that we have a featured back,” Campanile said. “We always want to have balanced ball distribution, but Dawson could get 15 to 20 carries per game.”
That could give Bergen Catholic a more diverse appearance on offense, ultimately creating more perplexing sets for opposing defenses. Though it could cause Germano’s passing yards and touchdowns to slightly decline, the Crusaders may be even more dangerous. That’s saying a lot for a program that posted 30-plus points seven times in 2011.
In the early spring, football fanatics began talking up Bergen Catholic as the legitimate favorite to win its section. And who could’ve blamed them? Germano was returning and so was his star receiver John Tsimis.
When Tsimis suffered a torn ACL in preseason workouts, though, the whispers of Don Bosco losing its wide gap grew increasingly sparse. Tsimis, a Rutgers commit who notched 50 catches, 754 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior, is out for the season, leaving Bergen Catholic scrambling for help.
But based on current developments at camp, Campanile’s crew will be just fine at the receiver position.
“Losing John, at least he got injured at a time where other guys can understand they have opportunities now to get better,” Campanile said. “Jared Finkel and Mike Sherlock are two guys who have gotten a great opportunity and are going to be good players for this program.”
The two looked especially good on Monday afternoon, snagging deep passes in coverage from Germano. The pair also seems poised to serve as nice complements to star tight ends Kyle Queiro, Garrett Dickerson and JJ Kulcsar.
“And Kyle (Queiro) plays defense, too, so those guys have gotten even more repetitions,” Campanile added.
While Germano, Dawson and the bevy of ample receivers have worked hard in practice, the entire team has been locked in, according to Campanile.
"It's definitely been a great effort. Everybody's working hard, but obviously there's more work to be done."
Though the Crusaders figure to open the year as a top three team in the tri-state rankings, they definitely have their work cut out for them.
After facing three out-of-state opponents last fall, Bergen Catholic will go up against four this time around: St. Anthony (Long Island), national powerhouse Bishop Gorman (Nev.), Cocoa (Fla.) and Friendship Academy (D.C.).
In addition, the Crusaders will play a very strong St. Joseph Regional team, the on-the-rise DePaul Spartans and, of course, Don Bosco Prep. The team’s final regular-season opponent has sparked the most buzz in the preseason: Paramus Catholic.
The Paladins, who finished 6-5 last campaign, added former Bosco star and All-American cornerback/tailback Jabrill Peppers to an already athletic lineup.
"They're very, very talented,” Campanile said. “I hope everybody we play is really good. Our guys work 12 months a year and deserve 12 good games. (Paramus Catholic coach) Chris (Partridge) is a determined guy and he's got them in the right direction. It's going to become a great rivalry."
Bergen Catholic’s season-opener will be on Friday, September 7 at St. Anthony (Long Island). Game-time is slated for 7:00 p.m. and will be broadcast live on MSG Varsity iO Ch. 14 and MSGVarsity.com.
Contact Brian Fitzsimmons at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter