July 31, 2014 at 12:29 p.m.
Last month, Activites Director Brett Carlson announced the hiring of Sam Ferraro as the next head football coach, replacing Nick Nitti, who departs after three years.
Nitti resigned his teaching and coaching positions at the end of the school year. He amassed an 8-21 record during his three years, including opening round section wins in the past two seasons.
Nitti will be replaced by Sam Ferraro, who was most recently the special teams coordinator for the Champlin Park Rebels and has 16 years of coaching experience under his belt.
Ferraro has coached at some large schools, but like Nitti, this will be his first time in charge of a program.
Before Champlin Park, Ferraro coached at baseball at Cambridge-Isanti and football at Bemidji.
Ferraro, who is 42, grew up in Forest Lake and graduated in 1990. He played football, basketball, hockey and track for the Rangers before playing football and baseball at the University of Minnesota-Morris.
After a five year stint at Bemidji from 1995 to 2000, Ferraro began moving south, stopping at Cambridge-Isanti for one year before settling in at Champlin Park in 2002.
After all those years of experience, Ferraro knows what he wants to bring to the football program in North Branch. “I am a technician. We’ll do things over and over and get the little things done right,” he said. “We can’t do anything until the little things are done right.”
Ferraro fancies himself a defensive specialist, particularly the defensive backs, which is the position he played at Morris.
On defense, Ferraro will be running a 3-4 Shell. “It’s a balanced defense and an easy transition to a 4-3 or 5-2,” he said.
The offense will be run by Dan Johnson, who has previously the head coach at Mississippi 8 rival Big Lake.
Johnson will be running a Double Wing offense with two wide receivers and two narrow slots. “The offense allows us to throw or run, depending on what we want to do,” Ferarro said.
The new coach said that may change from year to year. He said it was the coach’s job to recognize the talent the team has and adapt the team and gameplan to that.
No matter what is going on on the offensive side of the ball, Ferraro said he wants to emphasize the defensive side. “We can control our effort, and defense is all about effort,” he said. “We need to have 11 guys focused and 11 guys around the ball at all times.”
Mike Korton, who is the head coach at Champlin Park and has worked with Ferraro since 2002, was confident in Ferraro’s abilities as a football coach.
“Coach Ferraro is very clear and to the point. He loves the players and will do anything to help his kids out,” Korton said. “Sam will work hard and will be the first person at the school in the morning and will be the last person to leave the school at night. He will give you everything he has.”
Korton does admit that Ferraro’s situation of coming into a head coaching position with the summer already started is “interesting”, but Nitti got an even later start when he took over the program from Justin Sawyer.
“Sam is one of my best friends, so it is hard to see him go, but at the same time, I am very happy for him,” Korton said. “This is something he has wanted to do, and I think North Branch will be a great fit for him.”
North Branch Activities Director Brett Carlson was excited with the hire and the pedigree Ferraro brings with him to the program. “When Nick resigned, I started looking for a coach right away, and we were able to get Coach Ferraro.”
North Branch fans and alumni have seen football coaches come and go for the last decade. Ferraro will be the seventh in 10 years, and each one before him has pledged to be in it for the long haul, but Ferraro sees a difference between himself and the rest of the coaches. “This is close to where I grew up. I love it here. I’ve been waiting to come back to the right situation,” he said. “North Branch reminds me a lot of Forest Lake. The people, the community, the kids.”
Not only is Ferraro excited about being the coach, he’s also coming on as a half-time Math teacher and half-time Project Lead the Way coordinator, and eventually plans on taking that over as a full time position. “I can’t wait to teach and be a part of this school,” he said. “I’m looking forward to both things.”
He already has made a few changes, with the first major one coming in the first practice. The boys will kick their season off at the earliest possible minute, hosting a midnight practice on Monday, August 11. The public is invited to attend the practice to watch and learn what this season will be all about for the Vikings.
The team will also host a passing scrimming tonight, Thursday, July 31 against St. Francis where there will be 7-on-7 drills from the skill position players and some fun with the lineman. There will be food and beverages available from the NB Quarterback Club.