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“Together” is the mantra of the North Brunswick High School football program, which has enjoyed a remarkable transformation since alumnus Mike Cipot returned to his alma mater to become head coach.

North Brunswick’s success is an extension of that eight-letter word, as many throughout the township and school-community have played a vital role in the Raiders becoming a perennial Central Jersey power.

“Me and the whole town are beaming at the way Coach Cipot has just taken our talent and raised it to the next level,” North Brunswick Mayor Francis “Mac” Womack said. “It just spreads happiness across the whole town and a sense of togetherness in the community.”

Cipot took over the gridiron program in 2017 and immediately engineered one of the fastest turnarounds in Greater Middlesex Conference football history.

Inheriting a team that finished 2-18 over the two previous seasons, Cipot guided North Brunswick to a 6-4 record as a rookie head coach, helping the Raiders win as many games in 2017 as they did in the previous four years combined.

As a second-year mentor, Cipot elevated the program to unprecedented heights. The Raiders set a single-season school record for wins in 2018, compiling a 10-2 mark while reaching a sectional final for the first time since 1979. North Brunswick won as many playoff games that year (two) as it did in all the school’s previous seasons combined.

North Brunswick has continued its winning ways, compiling a 24-7 record over the past three years including a return trip to a sectional final last season.

During the Cipot era, more than a dozen North Brunswick graduates have gone on to play football in college at schools such as Syracuse, Central Michigan, and Monmouth. The Raiders have been ranked among the Top 20 teams in the state, ascending to the No. 8 position three years ago. Cipot’s players have set many single-season and career school records.

Myles Bailey became the all-time leading rusher (5,096 yards) and scorer (314 points). Samod Wingo set the career standard for sacks (29.5). Frankie Garbolino, who will be returning in the fall for his senior season, has already established new career marks for passing yards (3,572) and touchdowns thrown (40). Recent graduate Marquis Perry holds career marks for receptions (91) and receiving yards (1,450).

Perry will be showcased in the Bellamy and Sons Paving Marisa Rose Bowl, which North Brunswick is hosting at Steve Libro Field on Thursday at 7 p.m.

All proceeds from the event will benefit The Marisa Tufaro Foundation, a nonprofit which assists pediatric patients and children in need throughout the greater Middlesex County area.

Formerly known as the Snapple Bowl and Autoland Classic, the contest has generated $715,000 for charity since its inception in 1994.

“This is just another accomplishment through our program’s progress and working together and being together as a town and all the people that support us,” Cipot said of the Raiders hosting the state’s most successful charity all-star football game.

“This is something that’s really nice when you look back on it and can say that we hosted an all-star game.”

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Marquis Perry, a North Brunswick High School graduate, practices during the first day of practice for the Marisa Rose Bowl football game, a charity all-star football game of recently graduated high school seniors from across Middlesex County, which will be played July 21st, at North Brunswick High School in North Brunswick, NJ Monday, July 11, 2022.

The intra-county contest features more than 120 recently graduated players and cheerleaders from Middlesex County high schools.

Jayden Myers, the school’s second all-time leading receiver, will join Perry at wideout in the game, while teammate Brandon Harrison will line up at defensive end for Team Rose against Team Marisa. Crystina Cofer will represent North Brunswick’s cheerleading program.

Cipot and two of his assistants, including his brother, John, and Danny Gorzynski, are committing their time and expertise to coach Team Rose. North Brunswick football managers Shannon Welsh, Abigail Warren and Adriane Selover are serving in that capacity as volunteers for the Marisa Rose Bowl. Longtime North Brunswick play-by-play announcer Korbid Thompson of the King James Radio Network will join sportscaster Mike Pavlichko for a streaming live broadcast of the contest at www.cjsportsradio.com, giving the game an additional township connection.

“We support this all-star game because we support Coach Cipot and we support our team,” Womack said of the township working with school administrators to ensure Steve Libro Field could host the event.

“But more than that we realize we are part of a bigger community in Central New Jersey and that when we have the opportunity to shine, as our football program has let us do, we are so anxious to have the opportunity to share what we have here in North Brunswick with the rest of the area and show off a little bit of our pride for our team and our town.”

Marisa Rose Bowl founder and game director Marcus Borden, a New Jersey Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee, knows North Brunswick’s usually exuberant student section and award-winning marching band won’t be in attendance at the summer all-star game, but still expects the host school to generate a festive atmosphere.

“There’s great enthusiasm in the community,” Borden said. “Kids want to play football at North Brunswick. You’ve got a township that supports them and if you haven’t been to a Friday night game at North Brunswick against a rival or playoff opponent, you don’t know what’s happening in Middlesex County.

“What has transpired at North Brunswick under coach Cipot has just been phenomenal. He has brought the program to prominence in Middlesex County as one of the top teams right now year in and year out. He’s put himself in a position to bring a state championship to the program.”

The North Brunswick football team celebrates after beating rival South Brunswick on Sept. 2, 2021

Cipot is quick to deflect attention from himself. He credits players, their parents, assistants, school administrators, township officials, alumni, board of education members, and sub-varsity and Pop Warner programs with North Brunswick’s success.

He said Schools Superintendent Janet Ciarrocca, Principal Michael Kneller and Athletics Director Shaun Morrell “jumped” at the opportunity to work with Womack to ensure North Brunswick could host the charity all-star game.

“This wouldn’t be possible if they didn’t give us the OK or if they weren’t excited about it,” Cipot said. “This shines a positive light on North Brunswick football and North Brunswick Township as a whole. We’ll do anything to make this happen, to make this work, and make sure it’s a successful event.”

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Last summer, the Raiders generously donated to the all-star game’s beneficiary, using their touchdown club’s highly attended annual golf outing as a fundraiser, not for just the football program, but also for The Marisa Tufaro Foundation.

North Brunswick donated $1,000 to the nonprofit from the event, which was held at The Meadows Golf Course in Plainsboro on July 30, the date on which Marisa Rose Tufaro would have turned 18 years old.

“That was the best thing,” said Cipot, noting North Brunswick’s golf outing coincided with the birthday of The Marisa Tufaro Foundation’s namesake.

North Brunswick and South Brunswick high school football teams met Friday night at the South Brunswick high school football field.

Marisa Rose Tufaro, who would have graduated last year from Edison High School, survived six open-heart surgeries and a heart transplant before succumbing to a rare form of cancer in 2017 following a valiant battle.

Despite being hospitalized for more than two years and maintaining hundreds of doctor’s appointments, she lived a vibrant life that inspired.

Since its inception less than five years ago and through the remarkable generosity of countless others, including many from the North Brunswick school-community, The Marisa Tufaro Foundation has donated a quarter of a million dollars to fulfill its mission.

The nonprofit has also spearheaded multiple initiatives, resulting in the collection of thousands of toys, nonperishable food items, winter coats, baby supplies and other items for donation upon which the nonprofit has placed no monetary value.

The foundation has awarded $26,500 in academic scholarships to 38 high school graduates including North Brunswick alumna Darcy Fruhschein (Class of ‘21), a section leader for the Raiders’ marching band.

With the Raiders benefiting from so much community support during their resurgence, Cipot wants to continue to teach his players about the importance of giving back.

“There’s more to life than football,” Cipot said. “Being kind to people and doing good deeds goes a long way. When you show action and do something for your community or an organization, you’re a better person for it.”

Giving back off the playing field is ingrained in the township’s fabric. For more than two decades, the North Brunswick Youth Sports Festival benefits township athletics programs including soccer, football, basketball, baseball, and softball.

The annual event, held in the township for nearly two weeks each summer, features a sizable midway with carnival rides and games for all ages, live music, a wide selection of food, nightly fireworks, and more.

North Brunswick's Shannon Welsh, Abigail Warren and Adriane Selover volunteered for the 2022 Marisa Rose Bowl

“There’s not a lot of towns that do something like that,” Cipot said of the fundraising festival, which benefits North Brunswick Pop Warner, a feeder system for the high school.

“A majority of my (rising) seniors, about 90 percent, were North Brunswick Indians. All those kids came up through the system and learned from our middle school coach, who is doing the same stuff we are. Being a former North Brunswick Indian, I know the importance of the program.”

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More than two dozen of those seniors are returning from last year’s sectional final team, including four starting offensive linemen, three top running backs and record-setting signal caller Garbolino, whose acumen on the field and in the classroom (4.5 grade-point average) have made him an Ivy League-recruit.

“This core group of kids went through the system,” Cipot said. “They played Pop Warner and middle school and now are all seniors. We’ve got a veteran staff. A lot of the same guys have been with me for five years. We have high expectations and are working hard in the offseason. We’re excited. We’ve been on that (sectional championship) stage twice and want to finish the job.”

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Should North Brunswick finally claim an elusive sectional title, Cipot can say his program, the school-community and township accomplished the feat “together.”

Bellamy and Sons Marisa Rose Bowl

When/where: July 21, North Brunswick High School, 7 p.m.

Who/what: Recently graduated football players and cheerleaders from Middlesex County high schools will participate in an intra-county charity all-star game with all proceeds benefiting the Marisa Tufaro Foundation.

About the game: Formerly known as the Snapple Bowl and Autoland Classic, the contest has raised $715,000 for charity since its inception in 1994.

Practice schedule: Practices will be held at North Brunswick High School July 11-14 and July 19 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and on July 18 at St. Joseph High School in Metuchen from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. A walk-through for July 20 is TBD.

Game Tickets: Can be purchased for $10 at the gate on game night or at any of the practices.

About The Marisa Tufaro Foundation: Since its inception less than five years ago, the nonprofit has donated a quarter of a million dollars to assist pediatric patients and underserved children throughout the greater Middlesex County area. The foundation has also donated thousands of toys, nonperishable food items, winter jackets, baby supplies and other items upon which it has placed no monetary value. The nonprofit has awarded $26,500 in academic scholarships to 38 Middlesex County high school graduates.

About Marisa Rose Tufaro: Marisa survived six open-heart surgeries and a heart transplant before succumbing to a rare form of cancer in 2017 following a valiant battle. She was just 13 years old. Despite being hospitalized for more than two years and maintaining hundreds of doctor’s appointments, she lived a vibrant life that inspired.

Marisa Rose Bowl Banquet: Will be held at the Pines Manor in Edison on July 20 at 6 p.m. 

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