New era

New era

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New era

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“Vineland football is a sleeping giant, we just have to wake it up.” — Vineland High School football coach Dan Russo

That’s how new Fighting Clan head coach Dan Russo wants to usher in the new era of Vineland football.

There’s no questioning Russo’s passion for the game or his beloved Vineland High School. It’s one of his characteristics that was most appealing when he interviewed for the position, according to several members of the hiring committee.

That fervor could go a long way in helping generate interest again in a program that has become a virtual nightmare with just one winning season in the past 20 years. It also could help pump some life into a school that hasn’t had much spirit or things to cheer about on Friday nights in the fall.

However, it’s going to take a lot more than just inspirational speeches to rouse this program from its deep slumber.

Russo is well aware of that.

The new coach knows the significance of the midget football programs and how they could unlock a potentially successful future for the high school program. He quickly points out that Vineland has the best of both worlds with two midget leagues within its city limits, one weight-limit league and one unlimited, and envisions a “10-year education into the Vineland football program” for players who come up through the ranks and into high school.

That’s the blueprint Delsea has used to develop into a perennial powerhouse program, and Russo has been a part of that plan at the midget football level working with the Delsea Knights.

A successful bond between the midget leagues and high school level sounds easy to connect, but it’s been been shaky at best in Vineland over the years.

Russo wants to change that and strengthen the bond, not break it. And maybe the hometown kid can be the one to finally do it.

Before talking about his plans of offensive and defensive schemes, Russo talked about being honored and humbled by the opportunity to coach Vineland football.

The 38-year-old pigskin junkie knows what it’s like to walk the hallways at VHS. That’s because he did, the same exact ones that his players do.

He says he knows what makes this town tick.

While some consider the VHS head football position to be a tough, unrewarding position, Russo actually calls it “his dream job.”

He believes he’s ready for the challenge of tackling one of the toughest coaching jobs and says he’s going to do it with the same spirit that the former linebacker played with during his days at Gittone Stadium when he used to snuff out opposing running backs.

Russo knows he can’t do it alone either. Short on coaching experience at the high school level — he’s only been an assistant coach for a short time at West Morris and Livingston — Russo says he will put together a top-notch staff to power the program into the future.

A well-organized leader, Russo already has a long list of football goals for his players written down on paper for all of them to see. The goals range from the importance of scholastic achievements to becoming positive role models. It also doesn’t forget the importance of a victory on Thanksgiving Day.

Russo says he hasn’t been getting much sleep in recent weeks. He says he’s too pumped up to get started.

The alarm will buzz in less than five months. Will the Fighting Clan hear it or will they reach for the snooze button?

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