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Passaic Valley NJ football believes the best has just begun

For Passaic Valley, the big question is: Was last year a one-off, or the first of many?

In 2023, the Hornets reached their first sectional final since 2009, and won their most games in a season (seven) since that same year. Now the task for coach Max Wassel and his team is to prove that it wasn’t an aberration.

“Pretty much what I have been telling the kids all offseason is you realize how hard it is to win those playoff games and get to that state sectional final, and we didn’t win it,” Wassel said. “You saw what those seniors had deep down inside and how hard they worked. It’s hard to win.”

Like most public-school football programs, the loss of a successful and talented senior class will have an impact. Wassel knows he has to find a new leader for his offense – there are two players competing for the starting quarterback job, but he does have three-year starter Marc Meola back and jack-of-all-trades Dante Benvenuti.

Numbers-wise, the program is strong, with close to 50 on varsity and a large freshman class.

The new schedule matrix for Passaic Valley will be challenging as the Hornets face state power Caldwell, perennial contender Wayne Valley, West Essex – the team that beat Passaic Valley for the sectional title.

Coaches talk about building a program and a culture that creates success. This year is a chance for Passaic Valley to prove that it’s a serious contender.

“In my four years, I feel like we have improved each year, you can tell how the kids are playing for each other rather than playing for themselves and for their own stats,” Wassel said. “That’s always been my MO. When I played, I didn’t care if I made a single tackle as long as we won. These kids love to win now. Losing stinks. Everybody wants to be a winner.”

The tradition

Passaic Valley counts four sectional titles in the Playoff Era (1974-present), with the last one coming in 1986.

In the last few years, Passaic Valley has become one of the best environments in North Jersey to watch a game with lights flashing after touchdowns, a new turf field and a typical large crowd ringing the field.

The challenge

The Hornets have one of the more unique schedules in North Jersey, playing three games on Thursday nights and three of their first four games on the road.

They have a marquee showdown with crosstown rival Wayne Valley in Week 2 and could very easily be facing an uphill climb to make the playoffs after two weeks.

Passaic Valley has become known as a tough, physical team up front, with dynamic play-makers. They’ll need to retain that identity in 2024.

Expectations

Wassel has done an excellent job building the foundation for the program.

Last year was one of those years when all the stars lined up. They had a senior quarterback and a confident group that played better as the season went on.

The Hornets program always had the makings of a perennial contender. We find out if they are in 2024.

Schedule

Sept. 5: at Caldwell, 7 p.m.

Sept 13: at Wayne Valley, 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 20: vs. West Milford, 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 26: at Millburn, 7 p.m.

Oct. 5: vs. West Essex, 6 p.m.

Oct. 10: vs. Wayne Hills, 6:30 p.m.

Oct. 18: vs. Nutley, 6:30 p.m.

Oct. 25: at Lakeland, 6:30 p.m.

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