In the wake of an NJSIAA rules violation that led to the program being put on probation and the school suspending its head football coach and athletic director from game-day operations for the remainder of the season, Mater Dei Prep has retained the former New Jersey state education commissioner, David C. Hespe, to conduct a compliance review of the school’s athletic department.

“The discipline we exhibit to achieve our high curricular standards must have equal application to extra-curricular activities,” Randy MacDonald, Mater Dei’s Board of Trustees Chairman, said in a press release. “Mr. Hespe’s experience as education commissioner, along with his legal expertise, should give Mater Dei Prep the solid base to launch its [corrective action plan].”

The release said that Hespe, who represents the law firm Porzio, Bromberg and Newman in Morristown, will “evaluate the school’s athletic processes and procedures - including school policies, practices and training protocols - in accordance with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association regulations”.

On Oct. 27, Mater Dei Prep agreed to implement a corrective action plan in conjunction with the NJSIAA that stemmed from the Seraphs violation the NJSIAA transfer rule in a regular-season scrimmage with Canada Prep.

Mater Dei had six players transfer into the school prior to the season without a bonafide change of address, which, by NJSIAA rules, requires the players to not participate in games for the first 30 days of the regular season. Mater Dei Prep played a nonconference game against Canada Prep on Sept. 30 and used those players in the game, which was not at least 30 days from the Seraphs season-start date of Sept. 9. The game with the school from Ontario, Canada was originally scheduled as a regular season game but was changed to a scrimmage. Mater Dei was under the impression its transfers could play in the game, but NJSIAA rules allow transfers to participate in preseason scrimmages, not in-season scrimmages.

Mater Dei was summoned to NJSIAA headquarters in Robbinsville for a hearing on Oct. 19, where the school then became aware that it had neglected to assure two of its football coaches completion of one of the online portions of the NJSIAA certification process. Those coaches were not identified at the time, but it became clear they were head coach Dino Mangiero and offensive coordinator Lance Bennett, who is also Mater Dei’s athletic director. The two did not coach in Mater Dei’s Oct. 27 game against Delbarton, which the Seraphs lost, 28-26, to snap their 17-game winning streak.

Financial instability nearly forced Mater Dei to close after the 2014-2015 school year before $1.5 million was raised to keep the school open.

Mater Dei made a major coaching splash ahead of the 2016 season when it hired Mangiero, the former head coach at Brooklyn powerhouse Poly Prep who was a standout defensive lineman at Rutgers and played in the NFL. Several transfers came to Mater Dei shortly after, including now-senior quarterback George Pearson, who played his first two years at Matawan and led the Huskies to a state title as a freshman.

An also-ran program for most of its existence, Mater Dei went 12-0 and captured the NJSIAA Non-Public Group II title last season for the first time in program history. The Seraphs started this season 5-0 before falling to Delbarton in Week 8. Mater Dei clinched its second straight Shore Conference Class B Central division title when it defeated Point Pleasant Beach, 28-6, on Nov. 4.

Mater Dei will defend its state title beginning this Saturday when the third-seeded Seraphs host Holy Cross in the first round of the Non-Public Group II playoffs. Mangiero and Bennett are still allowed to coach during the week, but on game days it has been Shannon Hoadley serving as acting head coach. Hoadley was the Seraphs head coach for the 2015 season prior to Mangiero being hired.

Mater Dei also has former Sayreville head coach George Najjar, who brings a wealth of championship-level football experience, on its staff. Najjar had a 165-54 record in 20 years as Sayreville’s head coach, including several state championships, but was fired as head coach following a high-profile sexual assault hazing scandal that ended with the cancellation of the Bombers’ 2014 season.


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.

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