When you think of legendary Morris County football coaches, icons like John Bauer from Randolph, Bill Regan senior from Delbarton, Bill Regan junior from Morris Knolls, Ted Monica from Madison, John Chironna from Morristown, Pete Piccirillo of West Morris and Doug Wilkins from Mountain Lakes might come to mind. And with good reason as their successes and impact on countless young men is immeasurable. However, if you ask any Morris Catholic player that donned the Crusaders uniform from 1966 to 1969, they would say undeniably the coach that would have been at the top of the list if he stuck around would be their beloved coach Dick DeMasi.
“There is no doubt in my mind if he remained coaching, we’d all be saying his name along side all those guys.” Former player Gerry Gallagher stated. “All of his former players talk all the time about the influence they had on them.”
I had the privilege of spending this Friday evening with Gallagher and thirty or so of former DeMasi players and cheerleaders from those years as they got together to pay homage to their former beloved coach at a social event held in the commons on Morris Catholic’s Denville campus. As the group shared stories, ran old game footage and displayed relics from those four impactful years that Coach DeMasi spent as Morris Catholic’s head man, it became very clear the impact he actually made on this group.
“He was tough but he cared about us players and we knew it. And we cared about him too.” Gallagher shared. “He made you understand why he was being tough and we respected him for that.”
As this evening drew on and more and more former players shared their stories, the remarkable man that was Dick DeMasi started to materialize. First of all, he was a phenomenal player himself. He was a three sport athlete at Verona High School where he was an All State football player.
At Montclair State, he was an All American that played offensive guard, linebacker, all kicking duties and even returned kickoffs as well. He also kicked the first field goal in Montclair State football history and had 12 interceptions in two years.
After high school he was an assistant coach at Columbia HS and Hanover Park before taking over the head coaching duties at Morris Catholic. It was there where he took a small private school to contend and beat many larger public teams. In the four years he spent as head coach, he went 4-4-1, 6-3, 5-4 and 5-2-2. But the impact he made on his players was his biggest achievement.
“You have to understand, we were a small school with 200 boys total. We were playing teams like Dover, Randolph, Jefferson, Chatham Township, West Morris and DePaul and they were all much bigger schools.” Gallagher continued. “He would say, to be the best you have to play the best”.
After this four year stint, DeMasi took a position in his wife’s family business and moved to South Carolina. But his influence on the players he coached never left. DeMasi passed away in 2014 and this group never had an opportunity to memorialize his memory the way they wanted to so they felt there was no better way than to have a reunion like this. They also invited his adult children, sons Dickie junior and Jamie and daughter Susette.
Dickie junior helped fill in the gaps of what happened after he left New Jersey. “Dad went on to coach at the youth level when we were kids. He was light-years ahead of the other coaches and there was a four year stint where we didn’t lose a game.”
“He was a father figure to so many boys in our community. Even 10-years after he coached these kids, their families would call on dad to help talk sense into the kids that would stray here and there”, Dickie continued.
After his kids grew up, he did go back to coaching at the high school level, continuing a successful coaching career taking a fledgling program to dominance down in South Carolina.
“He was the coach I tried to emulate my entire coaching career.” Coach Gallagher told me. “Coaches can influence more players in a year than anyone can in a lifetime. Coach DeMasi did that and I always wanted to do the same.”
“I ran his goal line defense all throughout my coaching career.” Gallagher, who coached many years at the high school and college level.
Gallagher talked to his former teammates and shared DeMasi’s pregame speeches. “And right before we were about to take the field, he would say, ‘Are you ready?’. I said that to my teams all throughout my coaching career”, Gallagher added.
1969, Coach DeMasi’s last year coaching at Morris Catholic, was quite a long time ago. But the memory of his legend is so vividly remembered by his former players. After hearing these stories, I couldn’t help to think of what would have been if Coach DeMasi had remained at Morris Catholic and the epic battles that would have been against the amazing collection of coaches that competed during that same era.