BUFORD, Ga. – Bergen Catholic got a warm southern welcome, for exactly 90 minutes.
The Crusaders, the No. 1 team in the USA TODAY Network New Jersey state poll, capped a long day of travel with a 90-minute practice/walkthrough at Buford High School, the site of Friday’s clash between Bergen Catholic and Grayson High School of Georgia at 5:30 p.m. It’s part of the Georgia vs. The World showcase this weekend.
But it was just 90 minutes, as the Crusaders were limited because of youth teams coming on to the field exactly at 5 p.m.
“We finished at 4:59,” laughed first-year Crusaders coach Vito Campanile.
The weather (rather mild compared to what we have experienced in North Jersey lately) and facilities at Buford High School also caught Campanile’s eye. Multiple practice fields, and at least a four-story tall scoreboard at one end of the stadium.
While out-of-state matchups have become also passé in North Jersey, and one can question how much they really mean, Campanile feels like the exposure to this type of atmosphere and talent can only benefit his squad.
“Just look at this facility, I was in awe of it,” said Campanile. “It’s just tremendous. Getting our kids in front of that, seeing different parts of the country has so much added benefit and value. Football is so important in the South. We want to expose our kids to that.”
Football is important in Oradell, N.J., too, where Bergen Catholic is coming off a Non-Public Group 4 title. They will take the field Friday without standout running back Josh McKenzie, who suffered a torn ACL in the Crusaders final scrimmage.
It is a huge blow to the Crusaders offense, and an emotional letdown as well. But Campanile accurately notes that no one is going to feel sorry for his team. He hinted that he would rotate a few players at McKenzie’s spot at tailback to try to replace the expected production.
Johnson is Bergen Catholic’s other running back, who has committed to Nebraska.
While this will be Campanile’s debut as head coach for the Crusaders after stints at Seton Hall Prep and Westwood, it will also be Andrew Boel’s debut as the starting quarterback. Campanile said he’s been impressed with Boel since taking over.
“He’s as committed a guy as you could expect a guy to be,” said Campanile. “I would not trade him for anybody. He has the drive to want to be great and he’s the first one in, last guy to leave. He’s totally taking ownership of the position.”
While there are players back from last year, expect some new Crusaders stars to emerge maybe as early as Friday. Campanile praised sophomore defensive tackle Tywone Malone and linebacker Javon Cruz. Freshman lineman Tyler Booker has been talked about all off-season as someone who could come in and make an immediate impact.
Meanwhile, Grayson is 1-0 already having dispatched Tucker High School, 42-7, in their opener. Some coaches feel like it’s an advantage to have already played a game, while others like having the element of surprise on their side. Campanile said that Grayson is stocked with talent.
“It looks like they have 15 guys on defense every play the way they get to the football,” said Campanile. “They have great talent and athletes and they line up and play hard. They will challenge every throw in the passing game because their cornerbacks are such tremendous athletes.”
Campanile said he was expecting to get a good night’s sleep, and that it was finally settling in that opening night was here. He’s just as excited as everyone else to see the Crusaders. And Friday night, the only time limit will be four quarters.