New leader has energized the high school football program

New leader has energized the high school football program

Rick Mantz knew bright and early that he landed the perfect job.

When the new head varsity football coach at Bridgewater-Raritan Regional High School drove into the parking lot of John Basilone Memorial Field one morning during summer workouts this June, he was greeted by members of his squad.

“The kids were there waiting for me at 6:30 in the morning.” Mantz reported. “I am so impressed. They are respectful and just amazing kids.”

Those are meaningful words from a gentleman who is quite impressive himself—he is a member of three elite hall of fames: the New Jersey Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association New Jersey Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the Hillsborough High School Hall of Fame.

A respected veteran of the New Jersey football landscape, Mantz was appointed in April  to take command of a football program that is usually ranked among the heavyweights among Group 5 schools in the state.

After an eye-popping scholastic coaching career, which included a Central Jersey, Group 4 state sectional playoff championship at his home town of Hillsborough High School in 2000, Mantz served as the director of High School Relations at Rutgers University from 2016 through 2020. His personality and his reputation were perfect matches in his job as the liaison between Rutgers and the  high school football coaches and administrators from High Point down to Cape May.

When he left Rutgers, he thought about returning to the sideline but settled to retire from the field.

“There were challenges you had to face and I just told my girl (partner Mary Beth Kayne) that I am done,” Mantz recalled.

But then one day the phone rang.

“I got a call from John Maggio (Bridgewater-Raritan High Athletic Director) and asked if I was interested in the job there,” Mantz revealed.  “He said please come meet our superintendent, Bob Beers, and our new high school principal, Dan Hemberger. They explained their vision to me and I responded and told them ,’where do I sign.’ “

His first meeting with his new troops came in April and “*82 kids showed up and I ran out of registration forms,” he said with a chuckle.

In total, 132 Bridgewater-Raritan students have signed up to wear pads, an increase from last year’s figure of 107 players.

During summer workouts that ran during the mornings of June 27 through July 15 at his new surroundings at Basilone Field, Mantz instilled a family-like atmosphere.

“I broke the team into 10 family units. The seniors lead each family. First thing we did was to form carpools between the players so the parents did not have to worry about driving.” Mantz explained. “The leaders serve as big brothers and that will ease the freshmen into school come September. Each family performs fundraising and community events and we award the top three families when conditioning is over. It is peer pressure to outperform your teammates”

Hitting the books, according to Mantz, is even more important than hitting the blocking sled.

“I say that 90 percent of our kids are A/B grade students. I am big on academics and it shows on the field with the kids.”

They will need to study and absorb Mantz’ offense—an intriguing spread option attack that is related to the old-fashioned triple-option wishbone.

He figures that this group of sharp scholars will have no problem, especially since they are what he proudly called, “the most athletic group of kids I have ever coached.”

And he has coached at some high-profile programs, too.

Mantz, who once was an assistant in 1988 and 1989 at Bridgewater-Raritan High School West before the merge here in Bridgewater with East High School, has also coached as the head man  at South Brunswick Township High School where NFL wide receiver Mohamed Sanu starred for him, and Passaic High School. Sanu is now with the Miami Dolphins, his fourth NFL team 

With the support of Beers, Hemberger and Maggio, Mantz was able to assemble a staff of 15 coaches, which included both paid staff and volunteers. His chief lieutenant is the highly acclaimed DJ Catalano, who will be the defensive coordinator and strength coach. He enlisted from Somerville High, where some of his fellow coaches followed him to Basilone Field. 

“Our goal is to run a college football program at the high school level,’ Mantz declared. “We are the University of Bridgewater-Raritan.”

Maggio should be commended for delivering that phone call  to connect with Mantz.

“We are extremely fortunate to have Coach Mantz leading our football program. Rick possessed a strong football background, work ethic and a stellar reputation,” Maggio claimed. “His past experience and success at the high school and collegiate levels made him the perfect person to lead our program.”

Mantz’ enthusiasm is not hard to notice.

“Rick hit the ground running in April and hasn’t stopped. He has done two years of work in four months and has assembled an outstanding staff,” Maggio shared. “Coach Mantz has a super high energy level and his enthusiasm for coaching football and working with our student athletes has been very impressive. He knew exactly what needed to be done and how he wanted to do it. Coach Mantz has positively impacted our entire athletic program. He has been a pleasure to work with and we are looking forward to the upcoming season.”

The season will provide some rugged foes in a schedule that includes two heavy hitters from Union County, Union High School and Elizabeth High School, a  skilled Passaic County Technical Institute in Wayne and one of the top programs from the highly competitive Middlesex County, Old Bridge High School. 

The Panthers will play in the Big Central Conference and are stationed in the American Silver Division.

Meanwhile, the local competition is also fierce as Bridgewater-Raritan will dig in against Hillsborough High School, Phillipsburg High School, Hunterdon Central Regional High School, Basking Ridge High School and Watchung Hills Regional High School.

Regular practice to prepare and tackle this challenging schedule will begin the week of August 8 at Basilone Field.

Mantz, who still lives in the community where he grew up, Hillsborough, is the father of a son, Michael (age 27), and a daughter, Kaitlyn (23). 

Any predictions for the season Coach Mantz?

“Yes, the kids will have a great year.”