By Andy Loigu
Optimism abounds as the school year and football season begin. This is our year, everybody says. You can’t win them all if you don’t win the first one.
When the Big Red of Belvidere steps on the field next Friday night in Union County to face the Bulldogs of Jonathan Dayton High School, this columnist is reasonably confident that Belvidere’s defense will present some major problems for their opponents’ offensive coordinator and quarterback.
That’s because Tony V is back.
Tony Villante was Belvidere’s defensive coordinator back in 1999, when Big Red had an outstanding 11-1 season and won the North 2 Group 1 sectional championship with a shutout victory at New Providence. Big Red was a major underdog in two games that season against teams (both bigger schools) that had started the season looking like world beaters. They won at undefeated Somerville and then shutdown a Scotch Plains team (5-0 in the tough Watchung Conference) that featured a future NFL player (Nathan Jones) in its explosive backfield. Like a “mad scientist” in an old black-and-white movie, Villante concocted the perfect plans and schemes to frustrate and shut down his foes.
Of course, after the victories, he gave the credit to his players for carrying out said plans, to perfection. One of those players was linebacker Josh Costantino, Warren County Player of the Year for his two-way performances, who now serves as the head coach for Big Red. He knows what Villante can do devising masterful defenses.
If the name sounds familiar, Villante was the head coach at Hackettstown from 2006 to 2012, leading them to playoff berths in North 2 Group 2 in 2008 and 2011. The Tigers won his last game against another bigger school, Warren Hills, in the annual Beater Board rivalry game (more about that in November). Before heading to Tigertown, he was the head coach for the Falcons of Jefferson, a traditionally strong program in Morris County.
His forte is developing an aggressive, hostile, and effective pass rush. The opponent never knows where the blitz is coming from.
Personnel wise, Big Red has just what he needs, experienced senior linebackers in Jon Wolfinger, Ryan Kowawski, Zach Vought, and George Duckworth. Many a left tackle who misses his block will yell to his quarterback, “duck,” as the red wave engulfs another quarterback.
Offensively Belvidere operates a veer-option system, but with a quarterback who can throw deep with accuracy, that too will present surprises to opposing defenses who line up against spread offenses in most of their games. Senior David Kinney has the kind of athletic mobility that allows him to take off and run whenever the play breaks down. And, he can spot a receiver who gets open when the defense over-pursues, and complete a pass for a big play.
Big Red had an 8-2 season last fall, but lost several key seniors from that team. But with good athletes at key positions, and Tony V dialing up the blitzes, Belvidere is a team well worth watching and is likely to be in the mix in the North 2 Group 1 playoffs as the leaves turn brown.
Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.