Tom Letson has seen a lot during his distinguished coaching career as a defensive coordinator, first at Middletown High School South and now at Colts Neck.
But he is the first to admit he is amazed at what Colts Neck senior Anthony Gargiulo accomplishes on a football field.
“I have never seen a player at the high school level do what he does,” Letson said. “He’s a 1,000-yard tailback, so he’s a big target. He takes a lot of hits on offense, drags kids for yards and then turns around and plays defensive end against usually the other team’s best offensive lineman, and he never comes off the field.
“It’s not like other tailbacks who may play defense at cornerback or safety. I’m not taking anything away from them. That’s a feat in itself. But, to take a pounding on the defensive line and to excel and to be our Defensive Player of the Year as a junior. Then, to turn around at “A” Back (the lone running back behind the quarterback in the spread) — and take these snaps — it’s unbelievable. I don’t know he does it., and he doesn’t say a word.”
When one considers the number of outstanding football players Letson was around during his stint as the defensive coordinator at Middletown South in the late 1980s and through much of the 1990s, where he ranks Gargiulo on the list of players he has coached says a lot.
“Anthony Gargiulo is the best player I’ve ever coached,” Letson said.
And among those players Letson has been around include the great Stephen Michael Pitts, who was Middletown South’s tailback from 1987-90, went on to play collegiate football at Penn State and briefly played in the National Football League with the San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins.
Gargiulo, who rushed for 270 yards and three TDs last Saturday in Colts Neck’s 35-14 win over Neptune in an NJSIAA Central Group IV quarterfinal, has set school records for touchdowns in a season with 21 and yards for a career with 3,150. He is also one of the Shore’s best defensive players.
“He’s a blue-collar type of kid and we can’t ask for anything more than we’ve gotten from him,” said Colts Neck head coach Greg LaCava, who was also an assistant coach at Middletown South when Pitts played for the Eagles. “He’s been exceptional as a player and he’s been exceptional as a young man.”
Gargiulo has had the career he has had by letting his performance on the field do the talking for him.
“I’m not a big jokester,” Gargiulo said. “I want to get things done, and hopefully win the game. I don’t want to fool around out there. I’m pretty quiet. I don’t like getting too loud because it’s just wasted energy to me.”
One would not think the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Gargiulo is a tailback if they looked at him for the first time.
“I had a hard time trying to tell them (members of the Colts Neck coaching staff) ‘I play halfback. I can do halfback,’ ” Gargiulo said. “They said, ‘No, no. You’re a fullback.’ I was like, ‘Let me show you. I can play halfback’ ”.
LaCava said he first saw Gargiulo when he was in seventh grade and attended the Colts Neck football camp. He said Gargiulo had the same personality then as he does now.
“We knew he was going to be a good player, and the thing with Anthony was we didn’t know where he was going to be a good player, ” LaCava said. “He wanted to be a running back. Quite frankly, I did not think he was a tailback. But, he’s proven me wrong. That’s for sure.”
Gargiulo is not only a bruising player who takes a pounding on both sides of the ball, but he also has deceptive speed. His TD runs against Neptune were 77, 48 and 21 yards.
“We are continually amazed in game situations — when he gets into the secondary — and no one catches him from behind,” LaCava said. “I’ve never seen him get caught.”
What Gargiulo has is football speed, which is different than sprinter speed.
“I definitely feel a big difference from just lining up in a three-point stance and then running 40 yards and getting timed by a little thing then if somebody is trying to get me from behind and trying to stop me from the end zone,” said Gargiulo, who said he has received offers to play collegiate football from the United States Naval; Academy, Yale and Dartmouth and has attracted interested from Boston College, the University of Connecticut and Maryland.