As far as high school football is concerned, the spring is usually reserved for practices where conditioning and reviewing formations are in the forefront.
And, be rest assured, that’s the case with both Tottenville’s Brian Neville and Curtis’ Peter Gambardella as they prepare for the fall.
But as fate would have it, the two head coaches are seeing each other a bit more than usual this spring. And this time, it’s actually on the same sideline.
The Staten Island Boys Football League (SIBFL) is running a spring season at its Travis complex and just at the start of the season a few weeks back, there was a coaching vacancy that needed to be filled, and quickly.
SIBFL’s Sal Vitale, who’s in his fourth season as president of the highly popular youth league, made a phone call to Neville, whose son happened to be on the team.
“It happened right before the first week. The first phone call I made was to (Neville) and he was more than willing to jump in and help out, ” said Vitale. “He bailed us out. And he not only brought on a couple of his own coaches, but he said he’d do us one better too. ”
Neville, in fact, asked two of his Tottenville coaches – defensive line coach Mike Giovanelli and defensive coordinator Joe Sarno – to pitch in and they both agreed. Then he gave Gambardella a call.
“I came to the first game and the (original coach) wasn’t there and Sal gave me a call the next day,” explained Neville. “I was hesitant because I’d be coaching my son (Jack), but I decided to do it because I didn’t want the team to be without a coach any longer.
“I than spoke with Gambo and I told him what happened, ” the seventh-year coach added. “He mentioned if I needed any help, to let him know and I was like, ‘yeah, sure.’ ‘
Hence, Neville and Gambardella, who are on opposite sides of one of Staten Island’s biggest sports rivalries at least once, and sometimes twice, a year, are brainstorming together for the Irish Rebels of the SIBFL’s Senior Division (7th & 8th graders).
“When I was told the situation the team was in, I didn’t want to leave them hanging. I wanted to give a hand, ” explained Gambardella, who will enter his 15th season as the Warriors’ head coach in the fall. Gambardella’s son, AJ, aged out of the SIBFL last year.
“Brian and I speak often, just not on (Curtis-Tottenville) game week, ” he added. “We do what we do for kids. That’s what we do. And it’s been fun being around football and seeing the kids learn the sport as they get ready for high school. ”
Vitale, who said the six-game spring season has an enrollment of 575 kids and 24 teams, is extremely thankful to have a number of high school coaches helping out this season. And, under the circumstances, that especially holds true for Neville and Gambardella.
“To me, it’s a real win for Staten Island, the Staten Island Boys Football League and the PSAL,” said Vitale. “The spring season is really about learning and developing the kids and, just like all the coaches, it’s great to have two guys (like Neville, Gambardella) helping out and teaching the kids how the game is played. It’s great seeing them work together. ”
“We’re teaching them the best we can,” added Neville. “We were up against it putting in our offense and defense in really just two days when the rest of the league was practicing for weeks, but it’s been fun. ”
Vitale said his league has a number of coaches from the high school ranks contributing this spring, including newly inducted New Dorp Hall of Fame coach Chris App Sr .; New Dorp head coach Brian Murphy and assistant Dan Rosenfeld; St. Joseph by-the-Sea head coach Tressor Baptiste and assistant Richie Doyle; Monsignor Farrell head coach Rocco Del Priore; Port Richmond assistant coach Rob Schroeder; Moore Catholic assistant coaches Nate Ryan, Anthony Ivany and Tony Vacatello; Susan Wagner’s Tom Lotito; St. Peter’s Jon Velasquez; Xavier’s Andy Gonzales and Lincoln’s Joe DiSiena.
“It’s a great situation having so many high school coaches participating in our league‚ ” Vitale said. “We’re rocking and rolling with the numbers and the kids are learning. We appreciate everything they do. ”