High school football players come and go. It’s a coach's job to mold the individuals into a team every season and give them the tools for success. For most of his tenure at Parsippany Hills, Dave Albano has been able to get the Vikings to play at their peak. For this year's select few, their best was good enough to play for a state title.
The Vikings face Cranford in a Saturday morning game at Kean University in Union for the opportunity to capture the North 2, Group III state title.
Albano said he hopes the third championship appearance will be the charm: Parsippany Hills advanced to the state finals in 2005 and 2006 only to be denied. His players believe it would be fun to be able to give their coach a gift this year.
“All these guys have been playing so long that we feel a real connection with him,’’ senior C. J. Joyce said. “We want to go out and win games for him. I think it would be great if we could go out and give him his first state title. The ultimate goal is to do it for him.’’
Albano has a solid foundation in football. He grew up in Wayne and learned high school football at Wayne Hills. He played as a receiver at Ramapo College. His college coaching stints included stops at Ramapo, two years at American International College in Springfield, Mass., and a year at Kean University.
Albano earned his first high school varsity head coaching position at New Milford in 1995 at the age of 28. He stayed there for five years and then came in 2000 to Parsippany Hills, where he also teaches special education. As a coach, his teams have been competitive and in some years, extremely successful.
“I’m proud that we’ve been pretty consistent over my 12, 13 years here,’’ Albano said. “We had a bad year last year, but now were back to where we thought we would be as a program.’’
Last season was a challenge for the Vikings. They finished at 2-8 and were a team so saddled with injuries that a lot of young players competed on varsity ahead of schedule. The added experience of the newcomers and the return of some of the injured players helped pave the way for this year’s 8-3 record.
“We couldn’t finish any games last year and I think a lot of that had to do with [us being] banged up. We had kids playing every game at a different position,’’ Albano said. “We stayed healthy and we won two of our first four this year, which was huge for us. We were right in it and the kids started believing in themselves. It was just learning how to finish. A year ago we were finding ways to lose. This year we found ways to win in the end.’’
Albano encourages off-season work and weight training. Once the season starts, his practices are organized with very little time to spare. The players are kept active constantly, which minimizes any need for conditioning later on.
“He tries to keep our minds set on one goal,’’ linebacker Andrew Cupo said. “Whenever we’re out here he is always yelling at us to stay focused. He always has a positive attitude, but criticism is there as well. Constructive criticism always helps you work harder and be motivated to become a better football player.’’
Albano’s teams have the reputation of being prepared and consistent in their efforts from week to week. When it comes to the athletes themselves, he usually knows when to give a player a pat on the back, and also when to get in his face.
“He’s a great coach because he knows how to coach individual players,’’ junior quarterback Tyler Simms said. “He knows this group of guys. If it’s a right time to yell at the guys he yells at them, but if it’s not then he won’t.’’
Over the years, personnel has dictated the Parsippany Hills playing style. The Vikings players have been small and quick, so Albano has tailored the game plan to take advantage of those attributes and encouraged the athletes to be aggressive and hard hitting. His coaching philosophy is simple, logical and effective.
“I try to teach the kids as many life skills in this game as I can,’’ Albano said. “Football has been a part of my life for the last 40 years. I try to teach them the things that my coaches taught me: discipline, effort, hard work, teamwork and family. I hope the kids take a lot of that from this program. I think they do.’’
Simms acknowledges that his coach knows his Xs and Os as well as any coach. The youngster said Albano is also a motivator who knows how to get intense performances from his players.
“I feel bad for anyone who has never heard one of his motivational speeches,’’ Joyce said. “He gives one of the best I’ve ever heard. Everyone in that locker room is going onto that field psyched up for every single game.’’
The Parsippany Hills pre-game talk includes a ritual speech that Albano adopted from the University of Nebraska. That school’s pre-game is one of the most stirring in all of college football. Albano has adapted the emotional pledge to fit the Vikings.
“He will say something and we will say it back,’’ linebacker Will Smith said. “It is Coach’s modified version of it and it really pertains to the team. The words he chooses and the rhetoric of the speech is powerful, and the way he delivers it is amazing.’’
There is only one more time he needs to give speech this season and the Vikings expect it to be the most emotional of all because directly afterward, they'll play for a state title.
“I can’t even explain the feeling that we get at the meetings or in the locker room before the games,’’ lineman Mike Pietrowicz said. “It’s awesome.
“I think it's time (for us to win it). I think with the guys that we have now—we’ve jelled so much that I call all these guys my brothers—I think it's time that Parsippany Hills got its first title. I think we're the ones to do it.’’