2019 Shore Sports Network Football Coach of the Year: Wall’s Tony Grandinetti
For head coach Tony Grandinetti and the entire Wall High School football program, the excitement for the 2019 season began to build on Thanksgiving Day in 2018.
A young but talented Crimson Knights team had nearly upended Timber Creek in the state playoffs despite being without senior quarterback Dylan Richey, who was injured in the first half. But in that game Wall found its quarterback of the future in then-sophomore Logan Peters. Three weeks later, Richey returned on Thanksgiving and Wall took down a ranked Manasquan team which had just played in a sectional final.
Right then and there, the wheels were set in motion for Wall to make the jump from a 6-3 team to a squad that would contend for championships in 2019. With Peters, running back/defensive back Casey Larkin, linebacker Charlie Sasso, lineman Ian Ackerman and more standouts returning the pieces were in place for a great season. The challenge for Grandinetti and his staff was how to put it all together.
“It’s a puzzle,” Grandinetti said. “We knew we had the pieces but where we put them to have the most success was what we had to figure out.”
Wall entered the year high on potential so its success was not surprising, but the level to which the Crimson Knights ascended became the prevailing headline of the season. Grandinetti pushed all the right buttons as Wall set a school record with 12 wins, won the Colonial Division title, captured the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 3 state sectional title and finished as the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and as a top-10 team in the state. For guiding the Crimson Knights to a historic season, Grandinetti is the 2019 Shore Sports Network Coach of the Year.
“There are a lot of great coaches in the Shore Conference so for me to be chosen is a big honor,” Grandinetti said. “It’s reflective of my staff. We wouldn’t be here without them. With defensive coordinator Jeremy Balina, quarterbacks coach Mike Cerminaro, running backs coach Bob Grace, wide receivers coach Fred Sprengel, offensive line coach Brian Duffy, defensive line coaches Tim Heaney and James Cadigan, outside linebackers coach Kyle Watson, secondary coach Joe LaFerlita and freshmen coaches Victor Rivera, Dan Shine and Matt McDonough, I couldn’t ask for a better staff. They give a huge commitment. The first thing I do at the banquet is to thank the staff and the wives.”
Wall began the season ranked No. 9 in the SSN Preseason Top 10 and started 1-0 with a 23-10 win over Middletown North. The Knights were sluggish early but turned in a dominant second half to earn the win. Their penchant for being the better team in the fourth quarter would become a theme as the season progressed.
The next four games cemented Wall’s status as the best team in the Shore, and it started with an eye-opening 14-3 victory over Rumson-Fair Haven. The Bulldogs were also 1-0 after taking down Red Bank Catholic to start their season and have been arguably the best public-school team in New Jersey over the last seven years.
“A couple of games stand out early in the season,” Grandinetti recalled. “We had Rumson circled with who they are, being defending (state sectional) champs and winning five of the last six. To get that one was big for the program.”
Wall followed with a 24-0 win over Jackson Memorial by scoring all 24 points in the fourth quarter, earning a bit of revenge after a 12-6 overtime loss to the Jaguars a year ago. Jackson would lose only one more game the rest of the season and go on to reach the Central Jersey Group 4 championship game.
After a 42-21 win over Freehold pushed the now-No. 2 ranked Crimson Knights to 4-0, they prepared for a road tilt against a top-ranked Mater Dei Prep squad that looked unstoppable. Mater Dei had bludgeoned Jackson, 41-7, crushed Freehold, 55-0, and cruised past St. John Vianney, 35-0, in consecutive games. Most gave Wall little chance to win the game.
Instead, Wall authored a shocking upset by taking down the Seraphs, 14-7, thanks to another great second half.
“To go into Mater Dei where not a lot of people gave us a shot and do what we did…,” Grandinetti said. “We knew going into the week it was a 48-minute game and we all knew if we got to halftime and it was a close game, we would win. Going into halftime it was 7-6 and we ended up coming out on top.”
Wall’s ability to be the better team in the fourth quarter against all of its opponents was a huge reason it was now 5-0 and the top-ranked team in the Shore. Incredibly, Wall did this all season while having almost all of its players playing both ways.
“That’s a credit to the players,” Grandinetti said. “Our offseason conditioning is very intense. I definitely challenge them and it starts in the summer. When they come in for workouts they’re long and grueling, but nobody quits. I preach through those workouts that if you want to win you have to win in the fourth quarter.”
Wall wasn’t tested much over the next five weeks as it earned victories over Brick Memorial, St. John Vianney and Brick to end the regular season 8-0. The Knights then defeated Allentown, 49-7, and Lacey, 35-18, in the first two rounds of the Central Jersey Group 3 playoffs. That set up a second meeting with Rumson, this time for the sectional title.
Taking down Rumson in the regular season was one thing, and although Wall entered 10-0 and as the No. 1 team in the Shore while Rumson was 6-4 and ranked No. 9, the Bulldogs postseason pedigree suggested they would be no easy out. That was indeed the case, but Wall prevailed, 14-13, to capture the program’s fifth sectional title.
Six days later, Wall defeated Manasquan, 14-6 on Thanksgiving, to become the first team in school history to go 12-0. They had accomplished all their goals and then some, but one last opportunity awaited. With the NJSIAA adding an additional round of games last season – now named Regional Championship Games – Wall had the chance to become the first team in Shore Conference history to go 13-0.
The Knights’ opponent, Woodrow Wilson, presented a significant challenge with three FBS recruits, including Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year Fadil Diggs. That doesn’t include sophomore quarterback Devin Kargman, who entered the game with over 3,200 yards passing and 43 touchdowns. To compound matters, Wall would be without Larkin, who suffered a concussion against Manasquan.
Wall’s defense was up to the task and held Woodrow Wilson to just 12 points, but the offense couldn’t find a spark as the Tigers came away with the 12-7 victory. Wall’s lone defeat couldn’t dampen a tremendous season, however. If anything, it gave the Knights a clear goal for 2020. With Peters, Larkin, Sasso, linebacker Colin Riley, lineman Grant Puharic, wide receiver Matt Dollive, tight end Blake Rezk and more returning next season Wall has the goods to make another championship run.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.