MHS’s Fiore takes over as Elizabeth’s head football coach for 2022 season

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ELIZABETH, NJ — Believe it or not, Elizabeth High School football has finished less than .500 the past three seasons and five of the last six.

Hard to believe, on some levels, that the biggest school in the state has endured a period such as this one.

First-year head coach John Fiore, who guided the Montclair High School Mounties to their last four of eight state championships in the playoff era, welcomes the lofty challenge of getting the Elizabeth Minutemen football team back to where it ought to be: competing annually for a state championship out of North, Group 5.

“We’re excited about starting a new era here,” said Fiore after he was hired earlier this year to succeed 1989 Elizabeth graduate Jamil Jackson, who was the head coach from 2016 to 2021.

Although Jackson’s first two teams, the 2016 and 2017 squads, finished less than .500 at 5-6, they did manage to reach the North 2, Group 5 semifinals. The 2016 team lost at Bridgewater–Raritan High School, 23-9, and the 2017 squad fell at eventual three-peat champion Westfield High School, 13-6.

Jackson’s best Elizabeth team was the 2018 squad that finished 6-3 after falling at Union High School, 28-17, in first-round North 2, Group 5 action.

The past three years, however, have seen the Minutemen come in at 2-8 in 2019, 2-4 in the COVID-19–shortened 2020 season and 3-7 a year ago.

There is talent. Just-graduated senior defensive back Wendell Cadet, for instance, represented the Minutemen in the Phil Simms North/South All-Star Football Classic at Kean University in June.

Elizabeth opens an eight-game schedule, four home and four away, on Friday, Sept. 2, at home vs. Plainfield High School. In last year’s game against the Cardinals, also at home at Williams Field, Cadet intercepted three passes to help lead the Minutemen to a 19-18 triumph.

That win eventually was a big reason why Elizabeth qualified as the eighth and final seed for the North 1, Group 5 playoffs, just ahead of Plainfield. The Minutemen produced just a couple more power points than the Cardinals, despite having one less victory.

Elizabeth fell in the first round at eventual champion East Orange Campus High School, 21-7. Elizabeth’s first scrimmage is home on Wednesday, Aug. 17, at 10 a.m. vs. EOCHS, which also has a new head coach in Roselle Park graduate and former West Orange High School football head coach John Jacob.

The first official day of practice is one week earlier, on Wednesday, Aug. 10.

Elizabeth’s second scheduled scrimmage is also at home, against Hillsborough High School, on Saturday, Aug. 20, at 10 a.m.
Elizabeth’s schedule lists its game-scrimmage for Thursday, Aug. 25, on the road but does not include an opponent.

Fiore was the head coach at Montclair from 2010 to 2020. He guided Montclair to North 1, Group 5 state championships in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2017. The 2012, 2013 and 2017 teams all went 12-0, while the 2014 squad finished 11-1, losing only its season opener, at Pascack Valley High School in Hillsdale, 29-14.

One of Fiore’s top assistants, Peter Ramiccio, has moved on to become the head coach at Governor Livingston High School in Berkeley Heights. Ramiccio was an assistant coach for Fiore at Montclair from 2010-2020 and then last year became the interim head coach at Montclair, when Fiore stepped down prior to the start of the season.

Ramiccio also applied for the head coach position at Montclair, which eventually went to former Belleville High School head coach Jermain Johnson, who is a 1991 Bloomfield graduate.

Elizabeth is situated in a new division this year in the Big Central Conference. There are 12 divisions now, as opposed to 10 last year, including 11 five-team divisions and one four-team division.

There are now 59 football-playing schools in the BCC, after Warren Hills Regional High School dropped out.

Elizabeth is in a division that also includes Somerville, St. Joseph’s Metuchen, Union and Westfield. The divisions have yet to be named.

Elizabeth was in Division 5A last year, which also included outright champion Union, Westfield, Plainfield and Watchung Hills. The Minutemen finished 2-2 in the division, falling to Union and Westfield and beating Plainfield and Watchung Hills.

Photos Courtesy of Gene Nann and Steve Tober.