By Ella Brockway - Red Bank Regional Student Correspondent

LITTLE SILVER — Success, people say, is not so much about the destination as it is the journey.

Red Bank Regional head football coach Nick Giglio is one of those people.

“Along the way the past few years, (the players) learned something. They’ve worked very hard at getting here. They became a better team, better teammates, and each a better person, and they’re going to be successful in life because of what they did in the past few years. You can’t doubt that. That’s priceless right there.”

Photo by Ella Brockway.

Those were the words of a coach who, despite the circumstances, kept his composure and remained soft-spoken, just as he had done throughout his program’s best season in four decades, after the biggest game of his seven-year coaching career at Red Bank, on the biggest stage: the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III championship game.

Red Bank’s 21-0 loss to top-seeded Rumson-Fair Haven on Saturday night at High Point Solutions Stadium marked the conclusion of the Bucs’ season, and a somber finish for the underdog team that defied everyone’s expectations until the very end. The Bucs shocked the Shore Conference and the entire state of New Jersey this year with their win over perennial powerhouse and rival Red Bank Catholic, a Class B North title, and numerous appearances in the polls of the top 20 teams in the state.

Even though Red Bank could not handle the power of the Rumson rushing offense or crack its tremendous defense that night, which led the Bulldogs to their third straight state title, the game meant something much more than just a score. For all of the players on the field in maroon and white, it was not just their first time playing for a state championship. It was their first time playing on a college football field on a Saturday. And for most of them, it was also their last.

The state championship was the destination for the Bucs from the beginning. It was two years ago, when most of the seniors on the team were sophomores fighting their way through a 1-9 season. It was last year, when a 5-5 finish was good, but not good enough for a chance in the Central Jersey Group III playoffs. And it was this season, as each game passed and another tally was added to the win column.

As the Bucs came closer to their first state championship appearance since 2003, the excitement in the community grew, both inside and outside of school. In-school parades complete with flags, cheerleaders and the marching band took place on the Fridays before the state semifinal game against Ocean and the championship game. The marquees outside the elementary schools of the sending districts of Red Bank, Little Silver and Shrewsbury cheered on the Bucs. Once it was decided that the championship game would be between Red Bank and Rumson-Fair Haven, schools that are separated by just 2.5 miles on Ridge Road, the build-up to the game became even more intense.

And even once the game had ended, when the final destination wasn’t the one that the Bucs had wanted, the fans remained, just as they had through the ups and downs of past years. An escort of six police cars and fire trucks down the main street of Red Bank brought the final leg of the Buccaneers’ 2015 odyssey to a close. The players would remember that moment for the rest of their lives. They’d remember when they stepped onto the field at Rutgers, and turned to see the scarlet red bleachers overtaken by a sea of maroon. They’d remember when the Red Bank student section stormed the field after the win over RBC, and when their fellow students poked their heads outside their classroom doors to see their Bucs walk down the hallway the day before game day. Those moments and the 576 minutes of football they played together this year are what made the entire journey worth it.

“It’s our job as a coaching staff and as a community to let them know how proud we are, and build them right back up,” said Giglio after the game.

Throughout this football season, everyone in the Red Bank community has realized that there’s something even more important than the destination, and something just as important as the journey--the people who sit next to you on the ride.

The RBR campus is quiet on the Sunday morning after the championship game. The cannons outside the school are painted maroon and grey, courtesy of the “RBR O-Line”, as the painted sidewalk reads. There’s an echoing silence in the locker room. It’s unusual for a place that was home to much of the celebration and noise that came with this season--some of which still remains in the form of posters and quotes taped around the room.

Photo by Ella Brockway.

“This sport will give them (the players) so much more than just will give them the chance to have success in life,” reads a letter from an RBR football alumni that hangs on the wall. “But when all's said and done, what they will remember and miss the most will be each other.”

More than a dozen pairs of cleats hang from rafters on the ceiling. They were tied together and tossed up by players when they returned to Little Silver after the championship game, relics of the season that no one in this area will ever forget. They are a literal and visual representation of letting go, but even when the cleats are taken down, the memories will still be there.

Photo by Ella Brockway.

Someday, people will tell stories of this year’s 11-1 Bucs in the same way that Red Bank’s lone championship season in 1975 is talked about today. Someday, a new group of Bucs will stand in that same locker room and admire the sign that celebrates the 2015 B North champions.

Someday could be next year, or in five years, or in twenty-five years. But whenever someday comes, a Bucs team will again play for a state championship and remember the team that put Red Bank Regional back on the map, and inspired a whole community, and each other, along the way.

“It (this season) has jump-started a whole community and a whole school,” Giglio said. “And you know what, we’re not done there. We’re not just going to stop and say ‘that’s all’. We hope to do this for years to come. This senior group has built a foundation for all underclassmen to follow.”

Red Bank’s journey did not end at Rutgers. It has just begun.