Lasting Nesquer Memories
July 29, 1999|by RUDY BEDNAR (A free-lance story for The Morning Call).
"The following year (1938) he (Sam Pagano) played for the Hazleton Redskins, a Washington Redskins' farm club along with several area high school coaches including Jim Horn (West Hazleton), Nick Kotys (Pottsville) and Steve Martinec (Coaldale)."
"In between, he (Pagano) managed to play for the Nesquehoning Hurricanes while also assisting Lansford's Mike Lukac in coaching the Panther Valley Big Greens in the Pennsylvania Semi-pro football league."
My story in the Oct. 31, 1949 edition of the Sunday Call-Chronicle was headlined "Nesquer Nuggets."
It was about the success of Nesquehoning High School football and why the Nesquers were suddenly so dominant.
I had no idea about the dynasty being established. After all, as an alumnus of Palmerton High, where basketball, not football, was king, this was new to me.
But, it was also newsworthy.
Not knowing much about the school's grid past before I came here in 1946, and unable to research it in our files, I simply based the story on my first two years on The Morning Call sports beat.
An 8-1-1 record in 1946 followed by a 7-1-1 finish in 1947 convinced me there was something behind this mastery on the gridiron.
Hence the story on the Nesquer Nuggets and longtime coaches Tony Mezza and Sam Pagano.
Both are deservedly enshrined in the Carbon County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in recognition of their amazing achievements.
Mezza had just completed his 18th season at the Nesquers' helm when this story appeared and Pagano had been at his side for 10 years.
They came to Nesquehoning in the mid-1930's from different worlds, but they clicked -- did they ever.
Mezza arrived first.
A native of Milano, Italy, he migrated to the USA with his parents as a small boy along with nine other brothers and sisters. The family settled in Rome, N.Y. where he attended Rome Free Academy and excelled as a four-letterman in football, basketball, baseball and track.
Football was his favorite and for three successive years he was named all-state. Scholarship offers poured in. He selected Bucknell where more fame was to come to the son of an Italian tradesman.
An older brother achieved athletic stardom as a professional baseball player in the Pacific Coast League, but he was to claim glory of his own as a college gridder under the astute Carl Snavely.
Mezza won honorable mention honors on several all-American teams as a halfback and blocking back; was a unanimous choice all-Eastern and a first-team Italian all-American in 1931.
Even though he was overshadowed by teammates -- three-time All-American Clark Hinkle and Justine Brumbaugh, both of whom went on to great NFL careers -- he did provide winning margins in two key Bisons' games as a senior.
Against Fordham he plunged for a pair of (1-point back then) PATs to give Bucknell a 14-13 win and against William and Jefferson, he scored a TD and booted a 35-yard field goal to give the Bisons their first win over W&J in 40 years.
He passed up pro offers and instead accepted a teaching/coaching post at Nesquehoning High. He succeeded Jake Wolfersburger as the head coach of the Maroon and Gold in 1933.
Pagano came to Nesquehoning in 1937. His feats as an outstanding scholastic and collegiate athlete preceded him and Mezza would soon welcome his new aide, also of Italian descent.
Together they used their vast scholastic and collegiate experiences to become a successful tandem.
The Lock Haven native and 1932 graduate of Mount Union High in Huntington County where he played there years of football and basketball, accepted a full scholarship to Albright College.
Following his freshman season, he transferred to Catholic University in Washington D.C. after Albright revoked all scholarships. In his junior season Pagano helped the Cardinals' 1936 Orange Bowl team beat Mississippi 20-19.
As a senior, he was named to the Eastern College all-star team along with legendary Vince Lombardi.
They faced the Philadelphia Eagles in a benefit clash at Temple U. stadium, giving the NFL Birds a tough time before bowing 13-7.
While working as a substitute teacher at Mauch Chunk Township (Nesquehoning) High and also as a clerk in his mother-in-law's (Mrs. Greco) general retail store, Pagano, who still lives in Nesquehoning, found time on weekends to play semi-pro ball with the Washington Presidents of the Dixie League.
The following year (1938) he played for the Hazleton Redskins, a Washington Redskins' farm club along with several area high school coaches including Jim Horn (West Hazleton), Nick Kotys (Pottsville) and Steve Martinec (Coaldale).
Before joining the NHS faculty full-time and becoming Mezza's assistant, Pagano was hired as a physical education teacher at East Mauch Chunk High, taking over for Bud Eiler, who was drafted by the Army.
He also filled in the following year for Army-bound George Roscoe in physical education at Nesquehoning High where he coached basketball as well. That's when Mezza and Pagano got together for the first time.
Pagano's 1943-44 Maroon and Gold courtiers had won the Black Diamond League title and toppled Weatherly in a district playoff before being beaten by Palmerton.
In between, he managed to play for the Nesquehoning Hurricanes while also assisting Lansford's Mike Lukac in coaching the Panther Valley Big Greens in the Pennsylvania Semi-pro football league.