Measuring the rate of growth for Marlboro based strictly on wins and losses masks the gradual climb toward respectability the Mustangs have tirelessly put forth.

Yes, they haven’t had a winning season since going 6-4 in 1999, but that 4-6 showing of a year ago marked the most wins in a season since 2012. And, they picked up three victories in each of the previous two campaigns.

Small, steady gains reside under the surface of overall records and continue to manifest into bigger dreams at Marlboro. The Mustangs are anything but pushovers. Instead, head coach Jason Dagato has instilled a blue-collar work code which has given way to a mounting toughness and grit that spills into this fall. A sense of pride permeates through a program no longer to be taken lightly.

“There’s a difference between excellence and success,” said Dagato. “We are striving toward excellence and success takes care of itself. There’s no glory without struggle. We’re becoming more and more competitive and have to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

Headiness mixed with simplicity...the head coach not only orates in such manner, he’s groomed a squad that encompasses both. The Mustangs boast smart-minded players who’ve grown into competitors who spill their buckets with an unwillingness to settle for old sterotypes stamped on Marlboro by outsiders. 

So, if this season happens to be the one where Marlboro clears a couple more hurdles, like posting a winning season or qualifying for the playoffs, the roots of such accomplishments can be traced back to guys picking each other up from the seats of their pants, dusting themselves off from defeat and getting right back into the fray with resiliency and one notable, invisible force - hope.

From left to right: Vinny Spitalieri, Steven Cassidy, Dom Palumbo, Paul Damato, Allen Volant and Anthony Carcaldi of Marlboro.

Player to Watch: Vinny Spitalieri (Sr. RB/CB 5-10, 175)

The understudy to Dontrell Alston, who rumbled for 1,279 yards and 12 TDs last year, Spitalieri gets full-time status as the tailback in the Pro Set. Don’t underestimate this guy. Even though he got limited touches as a junior, Spitalieri made the most of them, finding the end zone on multiple occasions. He’s quick through a hole, tough to track down and one ankle-breaking juke from breaking off a big gain. 

Player to Watch, Part II: Steven Cassidy (Sr. FB/OLB 6-0, 185)

Cassidy epitomizes the change of culture around the program. He plays likes a snarling bulldog at linebacker, sticking his nose into tackles and covers tremendous ground to the point opponents begin to think there’s more than one of him. And, he makes the sacrifice at fullback, clearing paths with bone-crushing blocks that spring long runs and energize his team. 

“He’s a fantastic leader, a lunch-pail type of player,” said Dagato. “He sets a good example for everyone around him and does a good job of being inclusive when it comes to the younger players.”

Player Under the Radar: Zach Mendes (So. RB/LB 5-9, 165)

Another sign of a program in the making is Mendes. Only a sophomore, he’s peaked the curiosity of the coaching staff in the pre-season to the point he could possibly get notable reps in the backfield and/or linebacker. 

“We’ve been impressed with where he’s at,” confirmed Dagato.

Area of Strength: Running Back

And, for good reason. Spitalieri and Cassidy aren’t strangers to playing time and have run against some stout defenses in the past. But, there is also some depth in the backfield, courtesy of newcomers. Mendes, senior Nick Siniscalchi and senior Rocco Brooks give Marlboro some numbers to develop a rotation when needed.

Seniors Adam Mirza (6-3, 300), Dylan Cherichello (5-9, 215), Allen Volant (6-0, 260), Paul Damato (6-2, 240) and junior Mike Ryan (5-10, 240) along with senior tight end Dom Palumbo (6-2, 220) offer good size and muscle along the offensive line to blaze the way for those charging up their heels. 

Marlboro will be successful if…:

The Mustangs continue to abide by the principles that have gotten them to this point. All that Dagato has ever asked over his previous six years is to play hard and never leave any doubt that everything a player had to offer was left on the field. The formula is working and those following the steps are seeing the progression. Stay the course. 

“The kids have bought in,” Dagato said. “They know you just don’t walk in and win football games. There’s no instant gratification. They enjoy putting in the work. A winning season would be validation of the hard work, everything the coaching staff has put out and all the families have sacrificed. They’ve put their faith in us.”

Who’s the QB?

Probably going to have to wait until the season opener against Trenton to find out. As for now, there is a healthy competition for the position brewing between juniors Nick Wright and Caden Lawless and sophomore Dante Barone. 

Who’s the kicker?

Same answer as above. Senior Max Kornhauser and junior Zac Schneider are getting a kick out of vying for the role. 

New role

Junior Andrew Spinello shifts from running back to wide receiver in an effort to get him more touches in space. The move should be seamless. He played a little bit of both as a sophomore and has a sense of what’s needed. He and senior Anthony Carcaldi will be downfield targets in the passing game. 

Where’s the D?

Marlboro is hoping right in an opponent’s face. The Mustangs bring back seven returning starters. Palumbo, Damato and Mirza will pull two-way duty as defensive linemen with Cassidy, Siniscalchi, Brooks and Carcaldi filling out the box at linebackers. Spitalieri, Wright, Spinello and Lawless comprise an athletic defensive secondary full of potential playmakers.

AT A GLANCE

COACHING STAFF

HEAD COACH: Jason Dagato, 7th season 

CAREER RECORD: 13-37

ASSISTANT COACHES:

Reid Stapp (Def. Coordinator/RB/LB)

Jim Papalia (Special Teams/RB/DL)

Mike Seber (QB/DB)

Tom Caporale (WR/DB)

Bill Cook (OL/DL)

Anais Mixson (Athletic Trainer)

2018 RECORD: 4-6 (1-4 in Constitution Division)

OFFENSE: Multiple Pro

DEFENSE: 3-4

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Vinny Spitalieri (Sr. RB)

Marlboro needs to replace the 1,279 yards and 12 TDs that ‘19 graduate Dontrell Alston delivered. Spitalieri doesn’t have to supply all of it but don’t be surprised if he and a deeper backfield combine to do some significant damage. 

X-FACTOR: Quarterback

As of late August, Marlboro had yet to settle on a starter under center, still evaluating the qualities of juniors Nick Wright and Caden Lawless as well as sophomore Dante Barone. Whoever emerges to earn the role will find transitioning to the head of the offense made easier by the skill guys who surround him. 

IMPACT NEWCOMERS: Nick Siniscalchi (Sr. FB/ILB)

Siniscalchi has impressed during summer workouts with instinctual reads and authoratative tackles to the point he could be starting as one of two inside linebackers in the 3-4. He won’t have to look far for an example to emulate, teammed with another rugged enforcer in senior Steven Cassidy. 

PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 7 at Trenton

A fast start would go a long way toward setting a positive tone for the Mustangs. Facing the Tornadoes, who've qualified for the playoffs in each of the last two years, should give a Marlboro a good idea of where it stands opposite a team that’s recently been to where it aspires to reach.   

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