In life, there will be people that doubt your ability to succeed, but the opportunity to shut down those naysayers is one of the best feelings someone can accomplish. When the 2018 football season for Montclair State University Red Hawks was underway, the team was projected to finish eighth in the New Jersey Conference (NJAC) standings. While one game is left in the season, the Red Hawks are currently third in the NJAC standings with a strong record of eight wins and only two losses.
A Cinderella story in the sports realm is when a team is proving everyone wrong, and is shocking the world with their performance. Fans usually see a Cinderella Story during the season of March Madness, in which Division One Men’s Basketball takes over everyone’s television. However, this Cinderella Story applies to this years Red Hawks season. In recent years, Montclair’s football team has struggled. The last time Montclair had a winning record, it was in 2014, during which the Red Hawks had eight wins and only two losses. However, what makes this year’s Montclair team special compared to others are the two captains, Mauro Altamura and Jake Weber.
The definition of a captain, according to Webster’s dictionary, is the person in command of the ship. Well, there’s no ship in football, but people can look at the MSU team as the “ship,” and there are captains to help steer it in the right direction. Altamura and Weber are the only mentioned captains on the roster. They’re both seniors for this MSU football team and both of them play a huge role in Montclair’s defense. Number three is proudly worn by Altamura, while his co-captain wears number 54. They were asked what it meant taking on the responsibility that a captain has as a player, and their response was more about leaving their footprint in this year’s season so that it can hopefully change the program. “We wanted the honor but most important, we wanted to ensure to change the culture here,” Altamura said.
The word “culture,” was expressed multiple times when the captains were trying to describe what impact they would like Montclair to have even after the seniors walk down the aisle and receive their diplomas. Though they didn’t say definitively what they meant by “culture,” it was evident that it needed to be changed. While there’s no real definition, Altamura and Weber did mention the term, “sacrifices.” The team worked together throughout winter, about three days a week for eight to ten weeks. If that wasn’t enough, the team would do five a days- which is when the team would train and practice five times in one day- beginning at 6 o’clock in the morning. It’s the dedication and assurance that everyone on that team was sacrificing their time, in order exert hard work and effort into the Montclair State football team. The captains of this ship wanted to make sure that the “culture,” will always be embedded in the program.
This Montclair’s defense has been unbelievable with their captains leading the way. MSU has held their opponents on average of about 9.50 points per game, giving up only 11 total touchdowns in ten games into the season. The players heard the doubters choosing Montclair to finish eighth in the NJAC standings, but that just ignited a fire within the team. Frostburg State and Salisbury University are ranked within the top 25 teams in the country for Division three football, and those are the only ones that were able to defeat the Red Hawks. The captains were asked if their performances this year should result in the Red Hawks being ranked as one of the best in the country; Altamura and Weber believe their performances on the field speak for themselves. Weber explained that they have lost by a total of nine points from the two losses on their record.
“We came a long way from a short period of time… We finish eight and two on the season, there’s no doubt we should be ranked,” Weber said.
Unfortunately, with those two nail-biting losses, it eliminated the possibility for Montclair to win the NJAC since the top team (Frostburg State) is undefeated on the season with nine wins and no losses. So, what’s next for the Red Hawks? “Get to the playoffs, make noise, and help the culture,” Weber said.
This year’s success isn’t just by the big names on the team, it’s a team effort. “We welcomed the freshmen with open arms. The way we gelled, made sure everyone felt a part of this,” Altamura said.
The captains made it clear that it doesn’t matter if a player is a third string quarterback or the starter, each player matters! Head coach Rick Giancola said it as well, “The seniors continue to do a good job passing down the culture and helping incoming freshman assimilate to a new team and environment.”
There’s no bigger and more important position than the Head Coach, who is greatly appreciated by the players. The captains praise the pedigree of coach Rick Giancola and how he’s different than other coaches. “He’s not in your face. He tells you what he expects you should do and he shouldn’t have to motivate you,” Weber stated. There are details that help later on in life not just football the guys were saying. Altamura said, “He’s like an encyclopedia.”
Altamura and Weber have made an impact in their final season while representing the Red Hawks and giving Montclair a great season to remember. For the captains, they played their last game at home on November third and their last game on Saturday afternoon on November 10. With their performances on the field, Mauro Altamura and Jake Weber have left their imprint on Montclair for years to come.