Sal Marchese Jr. has a little history when it comes to preparing for big football games in December. The veteran Delsea coach once again has his team competing in a championship game, and all these years he has done many different things to prepare.

This year, he tried something new: attending a football game as a fan.

That's right. These coaches who chalk up win after win and, in Marchese's case, championship after championship, can also have a rooting interest.

It so happens that Marchese's interest extended to Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Last weekend, Marchese and a few coaching friends attended the Iron Bowl, Alabama's 30-12 win over Auburn.

Marchese was among the 101,821 in attendance at Bryant-Denny Stadium, soaking in the atmosphere and cheering for the nation's No. 1-ranked team.

"It's the first time we went away, and it got us energized," Marchese said.

Did it take a trip to Alabama to find energy?

"I am an Alabama fan," he said.

Who would know that he was a fan of any team and that it would be the Crimson Tide?

Marchese said he has long been an Alabama fan, and one of his goals was to one day see the Iron Bowl.

"It was awesome, unbelievable, with [almost] 102,000 people and such a great experience," he said.

Since Delsea (7-4) didn't have a Thanksgiving game, the third-seeded Crusaders haven't played since defeating No. 2-seeded Burlington Township on Nov. 18 in the Group 3 semifinal.

Since that win, Marchese has had plenty of time to dissect Wall Township, the 9-2 team the Crusaders will meet in the South Jersey Group 3 final at 11 a.m. Saturday at Rowan.

Delsea is the four-time defending Group 3 champion. No South Jersey school above Group 1 has ever won four in a row since the advent of NJSIAA playoffs in 1974.

It's been a remarkable run for a coach who always expects to still be standing while most other teams have handed in their uniforms. Now in his 24th season at his alma mater, Marchese has guided Delsea to eight South Jersey titles as a coach. He also won two as a player at the school.

When South Jersey's football royalty is mentioned, the school from Franklinville is near the top. This will be the Crusaders' 17th championship game appearance, with 13 victories and counting.

This year, Delsea will be the underdog, which is fine with the coach.

"They are a very good team. They are well- coached and a very disciplined and physical team, so it will be a challenge for us," he said about Wall.

That sounds like what other coaches say about Delsea.

The program has been so successful that Marchese's biggest challenge is often coaching against complacency.

"The kids sometimes think it is going to be a heck of a lot easier than it is," he said. "You have to constantly try to guard against that and constantly try to overcome that."

So this year, he took a brief break, although while attending a football game who knows how many ideas he came back with that he might use for the Crusaders.

A coach who has been a life-long winner is always looking for an edge, even if he had to go more than 900 miles to find it.

@sjnard