Morina cousins have Paulsboro on brink of another title

Paulsboro High School junior cousins Santino Morina (left) and Anthony Morina (right) have led the Red Raiders into the South Jersey Group 1 title game.

The temperature sits just above 40 degrees at Paulsboro, and the football team seems unfazed by the bitterness in the air.

The players run from one end of the field to the other after a short whistle blast from coach Glenn Howard.

But this isn’t your typical dreaded Monday afternoon consisting of sprints. Instead, it’s a Monday afternoon of sprints and a game of tag as the Red Raiders prepare to play in another South Jersey Group 1 state final, on Saturday against Penns Grove at Rowan.

Playing tag, Santino Morina hits the near sideline trying to catch the closest teammate. His cousin, Anthony, runs with a group of players on the opposite side of the field in an attempt to avoid being tagged.

“We didn’t do it in the beginning of the season because it was too hot,” Anthony Morina said. “We thought we were going to pass out. … It got real hot out there. The big guys don’t run unless you tag them.”

“It takes your mind off of almost exhaustion and, ‘Oh, how many do we have left?’ ” Santino Morina said.

The cousins, both juniors, have been on each other’s tails since they were kids. But, unlike other siblings or family members who try to outdo each other for personal superiority, the two worked to improve each other in football and wrestling.

“There was never really any competition,” said Santino Morina, a tight end and defensive end. “It was more of trying to get each other better.”

Sports are the heart and soul of this small town, and fans of all ages fill the stands for football games and other sports as well.

The Morinas are no different. They were introduced to wrestling when they were 5. In sixth and seventh grades, they were on their way to playing football. And, as they watched the Red Raiders as kids, it was like a preview of what they would become years later.

“Paulsboro sports are like a tradition,” Santino Morina said. “We would go to all the wrestling matches and football games when we were younger. So watching that was like watching a professional game saying, ‘I can’t wait to be there one day. I can’t wait to be on that mat. I can’t wait to be on that field.’ ”

“When I was younger, you couldn’t wait to have those Arizona helmets or be on that wrestling mat in front of all these people,” said Anthony Morina, a linebacker.

The boys had plenty of inspiration on their way to hitting the football field and wrestling mat. Their fathers, who are brothers, played big parts in developing them into both the athletes and individuals they are today.

Anthony’s father, Paul, is the Paulsboro principal as well as the Red Raiders’ successful wrestling coach. Santino’s father, Carmel, is the Gloucester County Sheriff, a former state wrestling champion and a long-time wrestling coach and official.

“They always wanted us to be better than what they were, I feel like,” Santino Morina said. “They never pushed us because they wanted us to be champions. They pushed us because they know how it feels to lose, and they don’t want us to feel that way.”

Howard said the Morinas are part of a family tradition.

“Both of their fathers went to school here,” Howard said. “I played football with both of their fathers, so they got a long tradition as far as that goes.

“But when they came into the program, I knew that they would be impact players for us. We always talk about team and being a football family. I guess it makes it a little more special since they are cousins and grew up together their whole lives.

“They are close to their family. I think for them, it’s a little bit more special being able to play with a cousin you’re close to.”

This season alone, the duo has combined for 203 tackles, 18 for a loss, 259 yards receiving and three touchdowns and have helped lead Paulsboro to the brink of another sectional title.

“We were fans at one point,” Santino Morina said. “We aren’t only out here for the team and coaches. We are out here for the whole town. It’s great for us, but it’s great to give back to them for their support. It’s crazy because when you talk to the older people, it really makes their day.

“I honestly like when I’m playing, and I look up at the stands and think, ‘All right, I’m doing this for these people out here.’ ”

Even though the cousins are top wrestlers and the sport’s season has begun, they haven’t given it any thought. After all, there is a trophy for which to play.

“Missing a week of wrestling doesn’t compare to the feeling I want to have Saturday at Rowan at around 6 o’clock,” Santino Morina said. “I want to be a champion.”

“I haven’t had wrestling on my mind at all,” Anthony Morina said. “When it’s football season, it’s football season.”

South Jersey Group 1 Championship

Paulsboro (9-2) vs. Penns Grove (10-1), Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Rowan University.

Road to Rowan: Paulsboro beat Pennsville, 42-28, and Salem, 28-20. Penns Grove beat Schalick, 52-20, and Gateway, 36-0.

Previous titles: Paulsboro, 18 (2016, 2014, 2006, 2005, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1993, 1992, 1986, 1984, 1982, 1980, 1979). Penns Grove, 1 (2012).

Coaches: Paulsboro’s Glenn Howard is 283-62 in his 30th season. Penns Grove’s John Emel is 25-17 in his fourth season.

Paulsboro players to watch: Senior RB Dehron Holloway (210 carries, 1,670 yards, 27 total TDs); senior QB Colin McCarthy (115 for 194, 1522 yards, 13 TDs); junior LB Anthony Morina (114 tackles); senior DB Nasser Bateman (123 tackles); junior DE Santino Morina (10 sacks).

Penns Grove players to watch: Junior AP Tyreke Brown (523 rushing yards, 1,093 receiving yards, 28 total TDs); sophomore QB Kavon Lewis (144 for 200 passing for 2,815 yards and 32 TDs); senior WR Josh Martin (35 catches, 996 yards, 9 TDs); senior RB Semaj Moore (154 carries, 1081 yards, 13 TDs); sophomore LB Makhi Scott (154 tackles).

Fast fact: Penns Grove has averaged 46.8 points in an eight-game winning streak.

Pick: Paulsboro, 33-31.