Zack DiGregorio experienced a roller-coaster year in 2011, his junior season on the Princeton High football team.
DiGregorio had a knee operation in July but was in uniform as the back-up quarterback for the opening day win over Northern Burlington in early September. A week later, DiGregorio was the starting QB due to an injury to Alex Mitko.
“The first day was a little bit of a transition; I had settled into my role,” said DiGregorio. “Alex was going to be the leader, he was playing well and I was going to be the backup. The seniors were incredibly supportive, that really helped me.”
Growing into the role, DiGregorio completed 4-of-7 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-7 win over WW/P-N but then was benched later in the season.
In reflecting on the topsy-turvy season, DiGregorio said he took some key positives from the experience.
“I gained a lot of leadership experience that I was not expecting to get,” said DiGregorio.
“I gained a lot of trust from my teammates and that helped as a senior. I had such good role models at quarterback in Mike Olentine and Alex Mitko, they established the template for me.”
Applying that experience, DiGregorio led PHS through a tough season last year that saw it prevail against Northern Burlington in the opener and then lose eight straight before topping New Brunswick in the finale.
“When we started losing, I was trying to put it all on my shoulders and I realized that wasn’t the best way to do it,” said the 5’9, 160-pound DiGregorio.
“I started demanding more from the team after they saw I was demanding more of myself.”
For getting the most out of himself and playing hard through adversity, DiGregorio has been chosen to play in the 2013 Sunshine Classic all-star football game, which is taking place on July 2.
“I have gone to the game the last three years,” said DiGregorio, reflecting on his selection.
“When I heard that coach [Joe Gargione] nominated me, I played it cool. I was absolutely elated when I found out that I had been picked.”
In preparing for his senior campaign, DiGregorio picked up a lot from working with former New York Giants star quarterback Phil Simms.
“I went up to northern Jersey four times in late July and August to work with him,” said DiGregorio.
“I worked on not being so tight and be so rigidly fundamental. I needed to use my body in a better way. I learned how to go slower to be stronger.”
After enduring eight straight losses last fall, DiGregorio and his classmates were determined to produce a strong finish as they faced New Brunswick in an NJSIAA consolation contest.
“All the seniors wanted to go out on a high note,” said DiGregorio. “We had to keep the underclassmen going. The season was so long with all the injuries.”
Although PHS ended up prevailing 22-14, DiGregorio had to fight through some more adversity.
“I told my dad [assistant PHS coach Steve DiGregorio] I finished like I started,” said DiGregorio.
“When I was a freshman I had four picks and two fumbles a game. In that New Brunswick game, I had two fumbled snaps and two interceptions. The offensive line did a great job and the defensive line got some turnovers to make up for my mistakes. Javon Pannell had a great game; I think he rushed for around 170 yards.”
After the game, the PHS seniors shared some poignant moments with their New Brunswick counterparts.
“I think the emotions were more sober than I thought they would be; I got most of my tears out of the way before the game,” said DiGregorio.
“It was unspoken. When we went down the line to shake hands with the other team, we didn’t know them but we could tell who the seniors were. They were going through the same thing that we we were and we gave them hugs. It was cool.”
For DiGregorio, going through ups and downs on the gridiron has helped him grow as a person.
“I think that without football, I would not be the hard worker that I am today,” said DiGregorio.
“I wouldn’t have the innate sense of perseverance. I would not be nearly the leader that I am. Going through the turmoil of my senior year helped me execute better as a leader and get in people’s faces when I need to.”
This week, DiGregorio will be honing those qualities as he plays for the West team in the Sunshine game.
“The amount of talent contained on one field is great,” asserted DiGregorio, who is doing a post-graduate year at the Hun School and hopes to play for the Raider football squad.
“The game is very competitive even though it is an all-star game and it is for fun. Everyone is really into being out there; the atmosphere is great. It is impossible not to learn in an environment like that.”