At this time, three years ago, the Snyder High School football program simply did not exist. It was part of the Jersey City school's history.
School officials decided to suspend operations after a host of problems tore the once-storied and proud program from its roots. A head coach was hired, then was forced to be dismissed, because it was learned that he had been arrested for sexual assault on a high school student at his prior place of employment.
A few years prior, the team captain, Tahid Ramsey, collapsed on the field during a game and later died. Safe to say, a dark cloud hovered over the entire Snyder program. It looked as if Snyder might not ever field a football team ever again.
Enter Eric Piccolo, the former Dickinson and Hudson Catholic head coach who was handed the indubitable task of trying to revive the Snyder program. Piccolo took on the challenge and tried to tackle it head on. Piccolo knew it wasn't going to be easy, building a program from complete scratch. It showed when the Tigers were winless for the 2000 season.
However, there was a light at the end of the tunnel last year, when the Tigers won four games. A 4-6 record doesn't exactly excite the masses in some football communities, but it was enough for a celebration at Snyder. Winning four games just two years after apparent extinction was next to miraculous.
"We were pleased," Piccolo said of last year's performance. "We were actually hoping to do better. But to win four games after not winning anything was important. We had simple goals. Our first goal was to win a game. Then, we wanted to win another."
What helps Piccolo get prepared for the 2002 campaign is a bunch of dedicated and devoted kids who have been giving of their time throughout the summer months, all for the betterment of Snyder football.
"We have a good, small group that is committed and dedicated to the program," Piccolo said. "If we have a practice, they're there all the time. If we have weight training, they're there. They've been working non-stop. We don't have much, but what we have is quality. It's an ongoing battle convincing the kids to commit to the program, but we're getting there."
Piccolo welcomes back many of those dedicated souls for this year's team, including senior Larry Holmes (5-9, 150), who moved from tailback to quarterback for the final two games of 2001 and led the Tigers to two wins.
"He's a great kid and an excellent leader," Piccolo said of Holmes. "He's willing to work and learn. He has the ability to run the option and do it well."
The starting tailback is senior Daewoo Shaw (6-0, 225), a transfer from Virginia.
"He has good speed and size," Piccolo said of Shaw. "He was a two-year starter in Virginia and comes to us with the ability to run tackle to tackle very well. He's been a gift to us."
Another running back is senior Reynard Howell (5-10, 175), who is also the team's top receiver. Howell is being recruited by Rutgers and Hofstra.
"We want to give him as many touches as possible," Piccolo said. "I think he's right up there with the top receivers in the county. He's our go-to guy and the real deal. If he stays healthy, he's going to do a lot of things."
Another skilled player is junior running back Salic Wigfall (5-6, 150), whom Piccolo calls "a tough kid who can make big plays for us."
Senior Victor Lebron (6-0, 195) is another receiver and capable target for Holmes.
"He has a set of hands," Piccolo said. "It's his first time out for football, but he's going to do some things for us."
The Tigers have some good size and experience along the line of scrimmage. All of the starters are seniors. The tackles are Richard Johnson (6-4, 235) and Mike Bell (6-0, 260, the guards are Jamal Williams (5-10, 225) and Lamar Vaughn (5-10, 215) and the center is Justin Pinckney (5-10, 220).
Piccolo knows that most of his offensive players have to turn around to play defense.
"When you have only 22 kids," Piccolo laughs, "they go three ways. They play offense, defense and bring the water in and out."
The defensive ends are Johnson and junior Eric Jackson (6-2, 210). The defensive tackles are Bell and junior Angel Capo (6-1, 215). Vaughn, Shaw and Williams play the linebacker slots, with Williams the player to watch there.
The cornerbacks are Wigfall and senior Ryan Aiken (5-8, 150), with Howell and senior Marcus McNeil (6-0, 175) manning the safety slots.
The Tigers open the season with Bayonne this weekend, which is a cause for concern.
"I think if we stay healthy, we can be competitive," Piccolo said. "But our schedule will be better as well. We've been building to compete for two years, then all of a sudden, they raise the stakes on us. It's like we've been playing on the quarter tables in Atlantic City and now, we're on the $10 tables. We lost Hudson Catholic and Marist on our schedule and gained North Bergen, Prep and Bayonne. That's the luck of the draw. It's something we have to overcome. I think we could have a worse record and still have a better team. But we have a lot of optimism."
And definitely more than the Snyder camp had three years ago, when there was absolutely none. Credit Eric Piccolo for the immense positive strides that have been made. - Jim Hague