John Liberato is stepping down as head coach of Summit Football on a high note.
After leading the Hilltoppers to a 30-0 state sectional title over Palisades Park in early December of 2012, the second in his six years as head coach, Liberato told Patch Wednesday that “it’s the right time” to leave his position.
“I just felt it was time to make that decision,” Liberato said. “I have the support of my family. The people here in Summit are tremendous; this has to be the best place to live in the world. Everybody here is very, very supportive and they’re very complimentary on everything that we’ve accomplished.”
Liberato said he began telling his players individually about his decision on Monday, who were very supportive and thanked him for everything he did as head coach.
“I really didn’t want to have a meeting or something like that. To me, it’s not really a big deal,” Liberato explained. “Nobody is bigger than Summit Football. No one is bigger than the program, and that includes me.”
Summit Football’s two undefeated seasons and state sectional victories since 2009 are a “reflection of everyone involved from the youth program on up,” Liberato said.
“[Rick Carbone, who leads the youth program,] just does an outstanding job with his coaching staff and he’s actually one of my offensive line coaches at the high school so there’s a lot of consistency throughout the grades 6 to 12 football program here in Summit,” he explained. “[The younger players] come up to the high school with a lot of confidence. I’m hoping that doesn’t change because that’s been the secret to our success.”
Liberato, who has been a teacher and coach for football, wrestling and track at five schools during the past 25 years, said he will still continue as a physical education teacher and assistant wrestling coach at Summit High School.
While there isn’t a replacement for Liberato yet, he said he’s confident the Summit School District Administration will do a great job in finding his successor.
Liberato moved to Summit in 2007 with his wife, Virginia, and sons, Sal and Nick, when he became a physical education teacher at the high school and took over as head coach of the football program. Both of Liberato’s sons played for him on the team.
Sal, Liberato's oldest son, is now a wide receiver and long snapper for Monmouth University, a Division 1 school in the Northeast Conference, Liberato said. His younger son, Nick, is graduating from Summit High School this year with plans to play for Sacred Heart University, also a Division 1 school in the NEC, as an outside linebacker.
In 2007, Liberato led the Hilltoppers to a 3-7 season, followed by a 5-6 record in 2008.
The biggest moment where Liberato said he felt the whole school community came together was in 2008 when the Hilltoppers made the playoffs for the first time under his direction and had a game scheduled on the same night as the high school's fall play.
"The people in the play postponed the play because we were playing a game Friday night at Hanover Park and we winded up winning,” Liberato explained. “We had a huge, huge crowd there and our football team went to the play on Saturday night. That’s when I knew this was a real special place.”
Liberato, who loves coaching, said his two most significant moments as head coach were when the team won the state sectional titles in 2009 and 2012.
“Being at the Meadowlands with 8,000 Summit people there, cheering for our kids at the end of the game while we were getting the trophy at the 50 yard line, those are memories for a lifetime for our whole community,” he said.
Throughout the past six years, Liberato said he tried to teach his players to be persistent.
“We took over the program that didn’t have any wins and we just talked to our kids about being persistent,” he said. “That’s a life lesson that you can take beyond football. If you have a goal, you set it, be persistent and see that goal through.”
Liberato led his team to the playoffs every season since 2008.
After his team's successful 2009 season and 28-19 state sectional title win over Orange, Liberato was given the New York Giants Lou Rettino High School Football Coach of the Year Award, a prestigious honor that covers the states of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. Liberato's award was announced at the Giants-Eagles game in December of 2009 at Giants Stadium.
Liberato's first head coaching job was at Howell before he moved on to Parsippany, where he spent six years as the wrestling coach and as an assistant football coach, according to a Summit Patch article from 2009. He got back into head coaching at Hanover Park, where he spent eight seasons, before heading back to New Providence High School, his alma mater.
Under his former head coach in New Providence, the legendary Frank Bottone, Liberato kicked off his New Providence coaching career in 2003 by winning a state championship as Bottone's assistant coach, according to the 2009 article. Liberato left his assistant coaching job at New Providence High School after the 2006 season to take over the reins of the Summit football team.
Liberato instilled two simple core values in his team year in and year out.
“Pride and discipline,” Liberato told Patch in 2011. “We want our kids to be proud of who they are and where they come from. The discipline comes in setting goals and having the persistency to go through with them.”