By Wayne Witkowski
John Paczkowski, who quickly turned Keyport High School football around in his second season with a 6-5 record and ending with a 35-34 loss to Palmyra High School in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group I semifinals, resigned April 18 for personal reasons.
“I thank the parents and players for support,” Paczkowski said. “I thank the players for their dedication and my coaches for the season we had. The parents, players and coaches have put the program in a great place.”
Paczkowski declined to discuss reported differing outlooks between him and the school administration, and he said he had no coaching position for the fall at this point but planned to continue coaching if given the opportunity.
“I plan on being somewhere, even if it is as a coach [rather than strictly as a head or assistant head coach],” Paczkowski said.
Paczkowski had 10 assistant coaching positions before becoming head coach at Keyport. He graduated from The College of New Jersey in 1994 with a degree in psychology, and he played a football at the college as a linebacker and later a defensive end. He was an assistant at Carteret High School, Bayonne High School and Neptune High School, and he also held assistant coaching positions at the University of Maryland and Hofstra University before it discontinued its program.
Paczkowski succeeded longtime Keyport coach Mike Ciccotelli, who retired after 36 seasons coaching the Red Raiders, primarily as a Group II power for many years.
Keyport went 3-7 in Paczkowski’s first season behind Chase Bright and Ky’Shun Pryor, winning its last two games. It was 6-5 last season, seeing a 34-14 halftime lead slip away when Palmyra scored the winning touchdown by running back a fumble. Last season, Keyport won three straight games leading up to the state finals, including a 21-18 opening-round victory over Asbury Park High School — believed to be its first state playoff victory since 2003.
Running back Des Underwood, one of the leaders last season, graduates from the team, but quarterback Chris Hogrefe returns for his senior season along with fullback Jerome Hansen, who currently is a sophomore, wide receiver Cody Young and tight end Zach Frick. Young and Frick will be seniors in the fall.
Paczkowski continued to coach the team at the end of last season despite the death of his father from a long illness.
“I’m very proud of their accomplishments and seeing about 80 percent of the seniors being accepted to four-year colleges where they’ll be playing football,” Paczkowski said.
He said the Red Raiders also can build for next season with running backs Shykin Treadwell and Devin Wollner and lineman Erik Nellis.