Gridiron Classic: Antonucci Creates Distinct Middletown South Feel for Monmouth County All-Stars
Wednesday will not be the first time Steve Antonucci is the head coach of the Monmouth County team in the All-Shore Gridiron Classic, but he made clear it is likely is the last time he will do it.
With that in mind, there is one thing Antonucci wanted to do for this year’s game that he has not yet been able to do in year’s prior: coach with all of his predecessors.
All five head coaches in the history of Middletown South football are still alive and able to coach, so Antonucci wanted to round up the other four and assemble a legendary coaching staff to coach this year’s all-star team.
“When I was asked to do this game, the first thing that came to my mind was to try to get the band back together, so to speak,” Antonucci said. “As fortunate as I have been here, these guys laid the foundation. They’re my mentors, they’re my heroes and when I talk about Middletown South football, I’m talking about these guys.
“I was so excited when I sent out the text and asked ‘Are you interested?’ and they all said the same thing: Yes.”
Rich Mosca, Keith Comeforo, Steve Andl and Bob Generelli laid the groundwork for Antonucci, who has picked up the ball and won six NJSIAA sectional championships in his 24 seasons at the helm. Mosca started the program after the school opened in 1976 and the next three coaches all led Middletown South to NJSIAA sectional championships.
“Coach Mosca is the only one who didn’t win a state championship and he is the one who started the whole thing,” Antonucci said. “We’re here because of him. The rest of the guys then took it to a whole new level.”
Since then, Mosca and Comeforo have both coached in college, Generelli went on for an successful run at Raritan, and Andl has been a valuable assistant at Rumson-Fair Haven and Mosca served a stint as the head coach at Monmouth Regional before also joining the Rumson staff as an assistant.
Comeforo is currently living in Florida and, according to Antonucci, jumped at the chance to return to Middletown South for a week while staying with family still in the area.
“They have all stayed involved in coaching, but this is the first time they have been here in a while and it’s fun to see their reactions,” Antonucci said. “We redid the team room and when they see some of the new things we have, it’s like they get stars in their eyes. Everything this program has become is a product of the work they put in, so it’s great to have them still be a part of it.”
With the entirety of Middletown South’s coaching past and present, two representatives in the game and Monmouth County practices taking place at “The Swamp” on Middletown South’s campus, the 2022 Monmouth County Team has a distinct feel to it – one marinated in one of the state’s best public-school programs over the last 40 years.
“Having the music playing during practice is definitely different,” Middletown South 2022 graduate and Monmouth County wide receiver Ryan St. Clair said. “Other than that, though, I don’t see any changes in coach Antonucci. I think he has the same level of respect for this team and the players on it that he does for our team. He expects a lot from us this week, just like he expects a lot from us in August and during the regular season.”
St. Clair and classmate Jack Willi are the two players representing the Eagles in Wednesday’s game, with St. Clair among the group of wide receivers and Willi playing with the linebackers. The senior duo helped Middletown South go 9-2 and reach the North Jersey Section 2 Group IV championship game.
“Those two kids were solid players for us,” Antonucci said. “Ryan St. Clair didn’t get a whole lot of ink or hype and same thing with Jack Willi, but their solid players. They’re Midd. South kids who come here every day and they run down that hill (to the field) with the same enthusiasm as every other kid. They hit the eagle (statue) on the way in and hit the eagle on the way out. That’s what it’s all about, so I’m excited for those guys to be here.”
For the on-field Eagles duo, the game is a chance to celebrate their Middletown South careers with one more game playing for their high school coaches.
“It’s really cool because as players, we have been here since Pop Warner, when your goal is to make it to South High School and play under the lights, play at the Swamp,” St. Clair said. “Being able to do that at a high level last year with the team and getting another chance to come out here is awesome. We have the banners all around and it feels like it’s one more game week, especially with coach Antonucci and the rest of the staff. It’s a great staff.”