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Delsea's Sal Marchese on brink of joining predecessor John Oberg with 200 wins

The Delsea coach can join his mentor as the only coaches in state history to win 200 games at the same school.

Delsea head football coach Sal Marchese at practice November 28, 2016.
Delsea head football coach Sal Marchese at practice November 28, 2016.Read moreTOM GRALISH / File Photograph

Sal Marchese Jr. never needed to knock on John Oberg's door.

The only two coaches in the history of Delsea High School football used to live in adjacent homes on Judy Avenue in Franklinville, and Marchese would walk around back, enter his neighbor's house and head downstairs to watch film with Oberg, his sons and other assistants.

Marchese was 5 years old at the time.

"I was over his house more than I was over my house when I was a kid growing up," Marchese said. "I had four sisters. He had two sons that were my sisters' ages, older than me. So I was always there.

"I was like a son. I would just walk in."

Oberg is the father of Delsea football. He started the program when the school opened in 1960. He coached for 33 seasons, compiling a record of 230-67-16 and winning five South Jersey titles after the creation of the state tournament in 1974.

Marchese went from water boy to statistician to star quarterback to assistant coach to head coach, taking over for his mentor in 1993. He has coached the Crusaders for 25 seasons, compiling a record of 199-69-1 and winning eight South Jersey titles.

On Saturday, Dec. 2, Marchese will lead Delsea into the South Jersey Group 3 title game against Woodrow Wilson at Rowan University. Kickoff is 11 a.m.

A Delsea victory would secure the program's 14th sectional title, and seventh since 2008, and would link the old next-door neighbors in a unique way: Marchese and Oberg would be the only football coaches in state history to win 200 games at the same high school, per state historian Chuck Langerman.

"He knows the game," the 84-year-old Oberg said of Marchese. "He's been around it his whole life."

Marchese has followed Oberg's formula in maintaining the lofty standards of Delsea football. The Crusaders still run the football about 12 times a game more often than they throw it. They still play a tough, physical style that reflects their offseason commitment to the weight room.

There still is something old-school about the program, from the nondescript, red-and-white uniforms to the triple-option offense, from the constancy of the coaching staff to the faith in the value of hard work.

"These coaches, they put everything they've got into this program," Delsea senior quarterback/defensive back Mason Maxwell said. "From the summer through December, that's really all they do."

But there's another, deeper similarity between the old Delsea program and the current one.

Marchese said it's "eerie" how much his coaching staff resembles Oberg's coaching staff, in terms of longevity, loyalty, and versatility.

Sal Marchese Sr. was a Delsea assistant under Oberg for more than 30 years. He coached the offensive and defensive lines, and ran the weight room, too.

For years and years, Oberg was surrounded by the same assistants, guys such as the elder Marchese, John Roberts, Jimmy Rafferty, Walt Serad and others.

"Those guys, they were always together," the younger Marchese said. "They were together after games, their families were close, they all coached everything under the sun."

It's the same thing with Delsea football today, as Marchese has veteran assistants such as defensive coordinator Tom Maxwell (23rd season), line coach Ronn Flaim (19th season), special teams coordinator/wide receivers coach Rob Briles (18th season), assistant line coach Darryl Price (7th season) and running backs/defensive backs coach Jim Procopio (7th season).

In addition, freshman coaches Bob Parks (28th season) and Brian Carione (25th) have spent years and years with the program, and former assistants Joe Smith (17 seasons) and Rick Zemanik (10 seasons) were around for an extended period before stepping away.

"It's eerie how much we parallel each other as far as coaching staffs and programs," Marchese said. "I lived it … his staff, they were together 25-30 years.

"No one left that staff and now the same thing here, we've been together for over 20 years, all of us."

Oberg believes the value of a loyal, experienced and talented coaching staff can't be overstated.

"When you have guys who believe in what you're doing as much as you, that means a lot," Oberg said. "It's a must."

Marchese grew up with Delsea football, tagging along with his father, attending practices and games, talking football with Oberg's sons, John Jr. and Kevin.

He came to understand the game but also the dynamics of a successful program, and the vital importance of a steadfast coaching staff.

"One thing about my staff, they're very competitive people, they're very hard-working people, and they love helping kids," Marchese said. "I think back and 40 years ago, 30 years ago, the same attitude, the same virtues that those guys had, these guys have the same qualities, the same approach.

"We're like brothers, we're always together. Thinking back with that staff, it was the same thing, they were always together. Their families were close. Our families are close."

Marchese still remembers his first game, in the 1993 season opener vs. Woodstown.

"I was so nervous," Marchese said. "I was taking over for 'Obie' and I didn't know what to expect. Luckily, I had [quarterback] Jason Poles, who was one of the best leaders I've been around.

"I was following him around the field because he was such a dynamic player and leader. I just had to latch on to something.

"He turned to me and said, 'Coach, I got this.'"

Delsea won Marchese's first game by 39-0. There were many more wins in the early years, but the young coach still felt himself in the shadow of the old coach.

Not that Oberg was anything but supportive of the young man who grew up next door, played on South Jersey championships teams in 1982 and 1984 and took command of the program.

"When I asked for advice, he gave it," Marchese said. "But when I didn't ask, he didn't give it. He always was behind me."

Still, Marchese was following a living legend.

"There was a lot of pressure in the beginning, a lot of self-induced pressure," Marchese said. "I knew the history. I lived it. I grew up with Delsea football.

"It wasn't just 'Obie,' it was whole program — my father, all those guys, all they did for Delsea.

"I finally stopped feeling pressure maybe in the early 2000s, when we started to win consistently, won a couple of championships, 2000, 2005.

"I was like, 'Now I can just coach. It was kind of like the monkey was off my back."

Delsea in 2005 went 12-0 and won the South Jersey Group 3 title. Since 2008, the Crusaders are 91-28 overall and 23-2 in the playoffs, with six titles and three other appearances in the finals, including Saturday's game against Woodrow Wilson.

With a win, Marchese will have led the Crusaders to nine sectional titles, including seven in the last 10 seasons. In that span, no other public-school coach has won more than three.

Marchese also will have 200 career victories, a total reached by just 10 other coaches in South Jersey history.

One of them was the coach who lived next door. In a sense, Marchese will be walking in the door again — without needing to knock, naturally — to once again enjoy his mentor's company.

"You coach long enough, you're going to get wins," Marchese said. "That's not my record, that's all the guys who coached with me and all the players, the tremendous support system.

"That's what makes Delsea football go, not the head guy."

South Jersey football’s all-time leaders in coaching victories

*Paul Sacco St. Joseph 316-62-5

*Joe Frappolli, Florence 302-141-5

*Glenn Howard, Paulsboro 283-61

*Clyde Folsom Bishop Eustace/West Deptford 260-72-5

*Tim Gushue Shawnee 245-112-5

John Oberg, Delsea 230-67-16

Skeets Irvine, Collingswood 223-57-16

*Pete Lancetta Hammonton/St. Augustine 220-70-1

Tom Brown, Paulsboro/Washington Twp. 216-70-5

Tony Barchuk Kingsway 206-155-5

*Sal Marchese Jr. Delsea 199-69-1

* Active coach

Delsea football’s South Jersey championships

South Jersey Group 2 (6): 1976, 1982, 1984, 1986, 2008, 2009.

South Jersey Group 3: (7): 1979, 2000, 2005, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015.