Mater Dei Prep enjoyed a magical 2016 football season.
Under Dino Mangiero, who was in his first season coaching at the Middletown school, Mater Dei finished 12-0 and won the Non-Public, Group 2 state playoff championship.
Mangiero, who played in the NFL for six seasons during the 1980s, looks beyond the victories and defeats. He values the sport of football and how it teaches the lessons of life to the students who play for him.
“We don’t really judge our program by wins and losses,” Mangiero said. “Other people can judge their programs however they want, but we judge our program by the character and the academic standing of our players. We’re concerned about those two things first. If they’re great kids and they’re great students, then we’ve done our job.”
The experience of playing scholastic football, according to Mangiero, is one that he wants his players to cherish.
“Guys are going to catch balls, drop balls, fumble the ball, have good plays and have bad plays,” Mangiero said. “They’ll have great memories from high school football either way. We want them to know when they leave here, they have a great education and they’ve learned something about commitment and dedication and teamwork and hard work and being part of team. That’s an important aspect of life.”
Mangiero has grown up cherishing the sport.
He earned All-East honors at Rutgers University in the late 1970s and then played as a defensive lineman in the NFL from 1980 through 1987 with three teams: the Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots.
The Staten Island native, who is in the Rutgers Football Hall of Fame, had a highly successful career as the coach at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn before he came to Mater Dei.
Mangiero has some key veterans returning.
“We have a senior quarterback coming back,” Mangiero said. “That’s always nice to have a veteran player coming back at quarterback; that’s always nice. We also have a couple senior offensive linemen. When you look at a football team, you’d say, ‘Hey, I want a veteran quarterback and vets on my offensive line. Everyone else can probably be on the younger side.’ As long as you have those two pieces, you should be OK.”
George Pearson returns at quarterback and will be counted on for his skills and leadership ability.
Mangiero will also count on seniors Sam Morgan (offensive lineman), Thomas Olausen (center) and Jon Leverlock (wide receiver and cornerback) to be big contributors.
Mangiero is calling on his team to create turnovers on defense but to limit turning the ball over on offense.
“Defensively last year, we were really good,” Mangiero said. “However, we really need to create more turnovers. Our last five or six games last year, I think we only had one turnover, and that was because the other team just happened to fumble the ball. We really got to work defensively on our turnovers. Same with the offense — we had way too many turnovers last year. We’re going to work on it this year.”
Both Morgan and Olausen are anxious to prove the toughness of the Mater Dei program.
“I just want to have a really good season,” Morgan said. “We have to prove to a lot of people that we can do the same thing we did last year. Everyone says that we don’t play anyone, so we just have to do what we can to win.”
“We have a lot to prove,” Olausen said. “We have to prove again to people that Mater Dei is here to stay and that we’re a perennial powerhouse.”
The two leaders of the offensive line believe the route to repeating starts on the practice field.
“We got to compete at a high level,” Olausen said. “Both in games and on the practice field — especially in practice, because if you compete here, it’ll carry over into the games.”
“We always go hard at each other in practice all the time,” Morgan said. “We don’t lay off each other. Usually, when we go hard in practice, it holds over into the game.”
Olausen is hoping the team becomes more consistent.
“We need to keep up that level of competing in practice,” Olausen said. “We’ll have good days some days, then the next day we come out a little sluggish. So we have to keep the tempo high all the time.”
The two want to make their last year memorable before heading to college.
“To be honest, I want to compete for another state championship, but I want to play as hard as I can and maybe play at the next level,” Olausen said.
“It’s all about playing in college,” Morgan said. “I want to try to play in college. That’s what all of us want to do. So we have to work together to make that happen.”
The Seraphs begin their season on Sept. 9 on the road at Keansburg High School.
“We got awful lucky last year,” Mangiero said. “It’s hard. There’s so many good football teams out there, it’s hard to repeat. We’re not looking to repeat. We’re looking to play hard every week and see where that gets us.”