Holy Spirit Names A.J. Russo Head Football Coach
The Holy Spirit Spartans will have a new face on the sidelines for the 2015 football season.
Ventnor resident AJ Russo, 51, will take over, replacing John Iannucci who was 24-12 in three seasons at Holy Spirit.
(Listen to new Holy Spirit football coach AJ Russo on the South Jersey Sports Report with Mike Frankel)
"I am very excited for this opportunity," Russo told me via text message today. "Holy Spirit has great tradition and I am looking forward to working hard to continue it. My goal has always been to get to the high school level and coach, I've always wanted to be at Holy Spirit and the timing just felt right."
Russo, has plenty of ties to the Spartans program and football in the area. He not only played at Holy Spirit, but was a member of Holy Spirit’s 1978 Parochial A state championship team and a star defensive back for the 1980 undefeated South Jersey Conference champions.
Holy Spirit has great tradition and I am looking forward to working hard to continue it
He also served as an assistant coach under the late Ed Byrnes at Holy Spirit and he was the President and football coach for the Ventnor Pirates in the Atlantic County Junior Football League from 1997-2013. The Pirates are one of the more successful youth programs in the area and Russo think that his ties to the Pirates and the junior league coaches could be a key to success at the high school level.
"I think it will be very helpful, Russo explained. "The bonds I have built with the other youth coaches, they understand what I am all about and what Holy Spirit is all about, those relationships will help immensely."
Iannucci came to Holy Spirit with a reputation of success and he didn't disappoint. His triple option offense was a key to directing the Spartans the Non-Public Group II state final in his first year, beating Immaculata 30-6. Overall, he led the Spartans to three consecutive appearances in the Non-Public Group II state finals.
"John did a very good job with these kids," Russo said on the South Jersey Sports Report. I look forward to helping them out and picking up where John left off."
While Russo was known for his play on the defensive-side of the ball while at Holy Spirit and later playing for Gettysburg, he will bring a new style of offense to Absecon. The triple option will be gone, Russo tells me to expect a more balanced attack with more play-action passing.
"We'll definitely have a different style," Russo said. "We'll be a more balanced offense."
Holy Spirit did make their third straight trip to the Non-Public II state finals this season, but there is no doubt this was labeled as a down year by Spartans standards. The young roster was littered with underclassman, finishing the season 5-7 overall and just 3-4 in the Cape Atlantic League National Division.
"Right now we're really young," Russo stated. "The main thing is to get these kids in the weight room, get them prepared, get them strong, they are just starting to grow into their bodies."
One of the big hopes with this move is to re energize the alumni and fan base, with Russo being a Holy Spirit alum, that is something he is very aware of, he understands how important the football program is to the school. Russo also recognized that to compete with some of the North Jersey schools, that the Spartans need to develop more depth and have more of a two-platoon system.
"Over the last 14 hours, its amazing how much support I have gotten from alumni, former coaches, players and students," Russo stated. "We are actually starting up in the weight room, some alums coming out to help, we plan on doing that right after Christmas break."