The percentages are somewhat staggering.
About one in 17 high school football players, or 5.8 percent, will go on to play on the collegiate level. Approximately one of 50 college football players, or two percent, will be drafted by an NFL team.
And the chances of a college player making an NFL team? Try nine in 10,000, or 0.09 percent.
So when Nutley native Guy Albanese talks about his high school and college football career, which landed him an opportunity to compete for a job and play a pair of preseason games with the Jets some 38 years ago, it was clear that Albanese had indeed overcome some pretty impressive odds.
And it’s that determination that landed him a free agent opportunity with the Jets in 1980, which has buoyed him today as a successful businessman, as well as a proud son, husband and father.
A 1976 graduate of Nutley High where he was a standout football player and hurdler for the Raiders’ track team, Guy, the son of Joan Albanese and the late Vince Albanese, attended Ferrum College, a junior college, in Virginia in the fall of ’76.
“I needed to get stronger and work on my grades,” Guy recalled. “I ended up playing on a national championship team in 1977. It was a good experience for me.”
Having a successful career on the junior college level gave Albanese, a free safety, some options to continue playing on the collegiate level.
“I had a number of offers,” said Guy. “I’m talking schools like Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and West Virginia. I ended up choosing Middle Tennessee State (University).”
Located in Murfreesboro, Middle Tennessee State provided Albanese a full scholarship to continue playing football and to secure a college education. When he completed his collegiate career, Guy’s dream of playing on the professional level would earn him a free agent tryout with the Jets in 1980.
“I wasn’t drafted, but I had the chance to sign with the Jets and go to training camp,” said Albanese. “It was kind of an awe thing, to be honest. It was surreal. Here I was, in the Jets’ camp, playing alongside guys who I had watched play, as a kid. It was quite an opportunity.”
Albanese would play in a pair of exhibition games for the Jets, at Giants Stadium against the Chicago Bears and then in Philadelphia, opposite the Eagles.
“I made it to the next-to-last cut,” Guy said. “I remember when I was told to bring my playbook and see (then coach) Walt Michaels. Coach said I had a good camp, and played well, but there were too many good players at my position, which at that point was left cornerback.
“But I’ll tell you what, playing in those two exhibition games was amazing. In the game against the Eagles, I remember being reunited with Al Latimer, who was my college teammate at Ferrum. Al went on to play at Clemson, then was in the NFL for a few years.”
After the Jets, Albanese would return to Middle Tennessee State to complete his education and continue working out, with the hope of getting another professional football opportunity.
“In 1981, the Hamilton Tiger Cats (of the Canadian Football League) gave me a chance,” said Albanese. “I was 22, and still wanted to give it a chance. I didn’t want to give up. While I didn’t make it, I’m glad I tried.”
Nevertheless, a kid from Nutley had played football at a pretty high level.
“I know Ben Hawkins had a tremendous NFL career, and he played for Nutley,” said Albanese of the great wide receiver, who died in 2017. “And Mario Benimeo was a really good football player from Nutley, who got a chance in the NFL (also, with the Jets).”
Benimeo was a star lineman at Montclair State, who was eventually inducted into the MSU Hall of Fame in 1994. Nutley’s current football coach, Steve DiGregorio, remembered Benimeo well.
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“Mario was an outstanding football player,” said DiGregorio. “He was one of the best Nutley ever had. And I remember Guy Albanese was one of the best all-around athletes in Nutley history.”
Albanese was a dominant 330-yard intermediate hurdler, while running for Nutley, and was undefeated for two straight years. He also starred as a high jumper, long jumper and was part of a successful relay team.
“The one guy I couldn’t beat (in the hurdles) was Renaldo Nehemiah (of Scotch Plains-Fanwood),” said Albanese of the man many felt was the best high school athlete to ever come out of New Jersey. “I mean, he was in a different league. But I was pretty good in track. I also ran a 4.5 (40-yard dash), which back then was pretty fast. Now you have defensive linemen running a 4.5.”
Albanese’s athletic successes, including induction into the Ferrum College Hall of Fame, have certainly paved the way for his professional development.
“No doubt,” he said. “The competition, in football and competing in track was a great experience for me. I’m very proud of what I accomplished. And the experience of playing with the Jets really helped me with job interviews. It opened the door for me, and provided good conversations.”
Guy and his wife, Yvette, have two children, Luke (16) and Juliet (14). The couple resides in Cedar Grove. Guy also has an older son, Ryan (31), from a previous marriage. Ryan will be getting married soon.
“All my kids are great,” said Guy, who at 60 still has pretty much the same frame from his playing days. “My daughter will be a freshman at Cedar Grove this fall, She’s a pretty good lacrosse and volleyball player. My son, Luke, is a talented young man, outside of sports. My oldest son will be getting married soon, to a wonderful girl. And my wife is a wonderful mother and great person. I’m very lucky.”
Albanese owns a successful business, Free Agent Print, with the name of the business derived from his experience of playing with the Jets.
“There were great times growing up in Nutley,” he said. “It started with my parents, then my coaches at Nutley, including (football coach) Mario Cocchiola, followed by college and beyond. I remember, in high school, playing football against some good Belleville teams. We always wanted to beat Belleville, but to be honest, I’m friends with a lot of those guys now. We were all brought up the same way.
“I also remember as a kid, seeing some of those guys from Nutley play football. They were really tough, and I learned a lot from them. Yes, they were special times.”
Jets writer Andy Vasquez goes position-by-position through the offense in advance of training camp.
Andy Vasquez, Staff Writer, @andy_vasquez
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