SHP Football Won Its Battle with COVID

Following the cancellation of all New Jersey high school sports in the spring of 2020, the NJSIAA and Governor Murphy began to plan for the following fall season. The two sides understood the challenge that they faced; they needed to balance the dangerous realities of COVID while also allowing student athletes to play the games they love. After much deliberation and debate, the committee decided to let the kids play, but with modified schedules. This meant different things for different sports, but it seemed to affect the football season the most. 

Football being the dangerous sport that it is, athletes are already only given a limited number of games per year. With COVID, the normal nine game regular season was decreased to just six. On top of that, the post season was eliminated entirely; instead, each team was given the opportunity to schedule up to two extra games following the regular season. With this plan laid out, the Seton Hall Prep football team had to quickly get in shape after an entire spring of weightlifting was lost. Even with the season beginning a month later than usual, the team did not have much time in the summer to prepare. 

In the heat of mid-July, the team commenced for the first time in months with a single objective in mind: get ready for game one against Delbarton. The new realities that COVID demanded were immediately clear. Weights were laid out on the field instead of in the weight room. Everyone was wearing masks when not running. Weights and footballs were wiped off immediately after use. It was certainly a strange sight to see, but the players and coaches kept their heads down and worked. Coach Fitzgerald talked abundantly throughout the summer and into the season about what it would take for the program to succeed this year. He emphasized in his speeches to the team that it would take everybody to make this season work. He specifically called upon the underclassmen, those that will get limited playing time throughout the year, to be smart and allow the seniors to have the season they deserve. 

On October 3, the team finally began its season against its arch-rival, Delbarton. The lack of practice revealed itself as the Pirates were outmatched by the Green Wave, losing 24-7. This trend would continue into the next two games, with the Pirates falling to 0-3 on the season. This dreadful start to the year put a glum feeling into the locker room. The season was going on without a hitch, which was great. Just the ability to play, though, was not good enough for this hungry team; the senior class wanted to win. This is the point where the tide of the season began to shift. On Senior Day against Union City, the offense had the best day it did all season, scoring 49 and getting the win. The momentum was on their side and the team felt as though they were beginning to turn their season around. This hope seemingly vanished, though, when the season was forced to be put on hold.

After an accumulation of COVID-19 cases in the school, all SHP athletic teams had to put practices and games aside for two weeks. For the third time, the football season was shortened. Emotions were felt throughout the program, especially by the seniors, because the future was unknown. While other teams around the state played the sport they love, SHP football players had to sit at home and wait for the quarantine period to be over. 

Two weeks passed, and the team was handed some uplifting news: students were safe to return to campus and begin athletics again. With a game scheduled for the following Monday against Pope John, the team once again had to prepare quickly. Throughout the entire week, the players practiced with a passion unseen all year, taking each snap as though it was their last. Coach reemphasized many of the same themes in his speeches, but also made it clear to the players that this will be a moment they will remember for the rest of their lives. No matter the outcome of the game, the program was going to show more resilience and passion than it has ever shown in its history. And when the game came around, the team did not disappoint. Despite obvious struggles that would come with limited practice, the team gritted out a 7-0 win to beat Pope John. Under circumstances no Seton Hall Prep football team has ever had to face, the 2020 Pirates earned a program-defining victory. A week later, the team would show that this game was no fluke. 

The Prep played their final game of the season on November 23 against St. Peter’s Prep. Originally scheduled for Thanksgiving, the game had to be moved up to Monday due to COVID problems on both sides. Going into the game, Peter’s was not only ranked first in the state, but also in the top 25 in the United States. They were playing their first game in weeks, though, because of coronavirus concerns. They came out flat, similarly to the Pirates the week before, but unlike Pope John, The Prep was able to capitalize. The game went to overtime, and Peter’s was awarded the ball first. Scoring a touchdown on their drive, they decided to go for two, a gutsy move by their coach. The Pirates were able to stop it, and then scored a touchdown on their first offensive play in overtime. With Nick Conforti’s ’22 extra point, the team won the game 26-25.

For the second straight year, the Pirates beat a top team in the state, but this game felt different from last year’s win against St. Joe’s. With all the setbacks and questions going into the fall, many around the school were unsure if the season would even happen. But on the November 23, all of that was forgotten. The seniors’ end to the season will go down as one of the greatest moments in Seton Hall Prep football history, and it will indeed be a memory they will hold on to for the rest of their lives.