High school football is back in New Jersey, and it's an exciting time of the year. Athletes from every community will be taking the field again, ready to lay it out and display all of the hard work and preparation they put in during the off-season.
Of course, it helps to be prepared when a team full of young and talented athletes has the community's support. Eastside head coach James Magazine has one such program in Paterson, N.J. The Ghosts, who open their season Friday night against Snyder, recently received a special surprise from the New York Giants.
The school had renovated its fieldhouse, with a locker room, weight room, meeting spaces, and everything a football program would need – except strength equipment. Magazine reached out to Giants Director of Community Relations and Youth Football Ethan Medley, who enlisted the help of two local businesses to precipitate the franchise's donation of eight power racks to the school in June. Staff from Dancker delivered the equipment, which was then laid out and installed by The Fitness Resource. The Giants also worked to help the school source some additional equipment over the ensuing weeks, resulting in the Ghosts having their own weight room for the first time in several years.
Within a week of the season opener, Craig Fitzgerald, the Giants' Director of Strength and Performance, visited the Ghosts' new facility to celebrate the weight room by participating in their strength program for the day and make sure the team was ready for the big game.
"It's awesome, athletes are athletes - whether they are middle school or high school, college or pro - they're athletes. They just want to train, get better, make their team better," Fitzgerald said. "When they're high school athletes, they're even a little bit more fun because they've got more energy, so it's a lot more fun to be in that weight room."
The team is excited about the new equipment, but Coach Magazine has kept his players aware of the importance of giving back to the community as well as the relationship he has with the Giants community relations team.
"I've known [Giants Director of Community Relations & Youth Football] Ethan [Medley] for about 7-8 years," Magazine said. "I met Ethan originally in my career working in social services [and] he did a Christmas toy drive with the guys years ago and my friend from high school, Henry Baker, was a defensive back coach [for the Giants during training camp in 2016] … so we just met [and] he has just always been into giving back."
Magazine joined Eastside's staff in 2012 and was named head coach in 2019.
"So we did a lot of volunteer work and … when [Medley] found out he was like, 'Mags, why didn't you tell me. I want to help you guys.' Well, yeah. But my thing is our kids these days, especially inner city kids, they're so selfish to not give back. So, we strive always to give back. We did so many volunteer projects in conjunction with Ethan and the Giants; and we've done things here, thanks to his help."
Magazine, a former Eastside quarterback and Paterson native, has already posted three straight winning records since taking over the program and was recognized by the Giants and Gatorade as the Lou Rettino High School coach of the week during the 2020 season.
Strength and conditioning coach Mikal Gamble, who also handles the Ghosts' defensive line, truly understands the significance of what the weight room can do for the players.
"As I approach my third year at Paterson Eastside, I've come to realize just how important the weight room is," Gamble said. "As a former collegiate athlete, I know first-hand how much of a difference it can make in your performance on the field.
"From January until now, I've made it a point to be there for my players because I know that the weight room can be the difference between being a starter or not. In North Jersey football, strength is key, and without it, you're not going to make it far in the playoffs - that's why at Paterson Eastside, we prioritize the weight room above all else. It's not about flashy gear or fancy numbers, it's about putting in the work and building the muscle that will carry you through the season."
The Eastside athletic department is led by Athletic Director T. J. Hill, another Paterson native, who is no stranger to the Giants. As a linebacker, Hill had a brief stint with Big Blue (2003) and played eight seasons in the Canadian Football League.
"Having Coach Fitzgerald and the Giants here is really meaningful to us," Hill said. "It's amazing to see him teach and work alongside our young athletes, who look up to the players he works with as role models and aspire to reach their level. Many of our players dream of becoming professional football players, but we know that's not always realistic - that's why it's so important for them to have this opportunity to learn from the pros and gain valuable life experiences that they can carry with them, regardless of where their future leads.
"We're grateful to Ethan for putting this together and for his unwavering support of the kids. Every time we have an idea, he's right there to help us make it happen. You can see the joy on the kids' faces as they work out with the same strength and conditioning coach as Saquon Barkley. It's a memory they'll carry with them forever."
Paterson's relationship with the Giants has worked both ways. The city has produced Big Blue impact players such as Super Bowl champion and Pro Bowl wide receiver Victor Cruz (2010-2016) and former second-team All-Pro defensive tackle Keith Hamilton (1992-2003). And, this season, the Giants hired 16-year NFL veteran and two-time Pro Bowl safety Mike Adams as assistant special teams coach.