Interview: Holy Cross football coach Nick Saltaformaggio happy at home, praises the LHSAA, wants split to end
A graduate of Holy Cross in 1977, it took Nick Saltaformaggio 43 years to return home.
After head coaching stints at Chalmette, East Jefferson and Hahnville, Saltaformaggio headed the call, hearing the Tigers roar loudly earlier this year.
At East Jefferson, he guided the Warriors to the 4A state championship in 2013, the only state title in school program history.
At Hahnville, he took the Tigers to a state championship game appearance in 2017.
Though the Lower Ninth Ward campus where Saltaformaggio attended Holy Cross is gone, the new campus is Gentilly is most certainly home for Saltaformaggio.
On April 1, Saltaformaggio was formally named head coach at his alma mater.
Saltaformaggio has had a checkered recent past with the LHSAA.
He was suspended four games at Hahnville in 2018 for a recruiting violation. Though he and the school fought it, the suspension stood and left some harsh feelings and a frayed relationship.
Most recently, Holy Cross was investigated for a reported violation of the LHSAA policies for how many student-athletes could gather on campus during Phase I of the coronavirus restrictions, turned in by an outside source.
Holy Cross professed its innocence immediately.
After a thorough investigation, the LHSAA deemed that Holy Cross was found innocent, with no allegations following while two other schools were found to have committed violations.
Speaking on All Access on 106.1 FM Friday night, Saltaformaggio said he harbors no ill feelings from two years ago or about the most recent investigation.
“I think Mr. (Eddie) Bonine, the Executive Committee and the LHSAA Coaches Association, they’re doing a great job with this COVID situation,” Saltaformaggio said. “I’m never upset with the fact that LHSAA has to investigate us. That was never an issue with me.
“I just think that you have people in this day and age who are so concerned about what others are doing that they kind of lose focus about ‘what is our task, what is our mission?’ I don’t think the LHSAA has ever lost their focus on that.”
Saltaformaggio went on to lavish more praise on the LHSAA.
“I think Mr. Bonine has been really good about the fact that we want to keep it a level playing field, we don’t want people to take advantage of the COVID situation,” Saltaformaggio said.
“I appreciate the fact that we were turned in but more importantly, I appreciate the fact that the LHSAA, Mr. Bonine and the Executive Committee came out and looked at what was presented by Holy Cross and found out that we were still in compliance with what the mission of what the LHSAA was.”
The new Tigers coach even made light of a potentially volatile situation.
“I kind of joked about it,” Saltaformaggio said. “I wish our offensive lineman were quite those guys. I’d be a happy guy every night going to sleep. I appreciate what Mr. Bonine and the LHSAA did with respect to the investigation of Holy Cross and found out that we were being compliant.”
There were players working out on the Holy Cross campus but they certainly did not look the part of Tiger players.
“Those guys were Tulane and Saints players,” Saltaformaggio said. “We were just kind of helping those guys out at the time when their facilities were closed down, giving them an opportunity to work at our place. I didn’t realize how big they were. Cameron Tom was one of them.”
After serving as a head coach exclusively at public schools who got to play regular 32-team playoff brackets, five rounds of games if they reached the title game and got to play the championship game in prime time in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Saltaformaggio is in a dramatically different position now with a dramatically different outlook on the split among Select and Non Select schools in the state playoffs.
“I really wish we could get back together,” Saltaformaggio said. “I really feel like our Select, Division I kids are being deprived of great experiences. There’s something about getting on charter bus the second or the third week of November and traveling up to north Louisiana, central Louisiana, the Lafayette area to play a playoff game. That is unforgettable in your life.
“Now that I’m on the Select side of it, I’m even more adamant about finding a way to ending this split,” Saltaformaggio said.
The monotony of having to play at least one team more than once in a season has gotten stale, make that very stale for Division I schools.
“If we’re fortunate to get to the second round of the state playoffs, instead of getting on a bus and going to a Ruston or going to a West Monroe, we get on a bus and go to Tad Gormley and play a bunch of guys we’ve already played,” Saltaformaggio said. “For the betterment of our kids and the betterment of our association, we have to find a way to unite. We’re depriving our kids of great experiences.”
The 2020 Tigers have a talented squad, including four players who are committed to play college football, including defensive end Barry Sorrell (Northwestern), linebacker/safety Kolbe Cage (Arizona), running back Jaden Handy (Tulane) and wide receiver Jalen Johnson (McNeese).
“I inherited a talented team,” Saltaformaggio said. “We have a really, really good football team coming back. We’re good in where you need to be good. We’re athletic up front defensively. We’re really up front as an offensive group, led by Cole Baiamonte, who fortunately, is only a junior.”
Holy Cross has a talented quarterback about to enter his third year as a starter in John Dade Wooton. What the Tigers need is depth.
“I think he is an exceptionally good player with a whole lot to prove,” Saltaformaggio said. “One through 25, one through 30, we’re as good as anybody we’re going to play. Rummel, (John) Curtis, Catholic, (Brother) Martin. It’s the depth issue.”
The schedule does not set up in ideal fashion for the Tigers.
“Our schedule doesn’t really help us,” Saltaformaggio said. “We have to run the gauntlet twice in six weeks. We end the season with Rummel, Curtis, Martin, Aug (St. Augustine). Then, if we’re good enough to get a bye, but then we’ll have to figure how to get through that same group of teams, plus or minus Catholic of Baton Rouge all over again.”
Saltaformaggio is bullish on his team and his coaching staff.
“I’m inheriting an excellent roster,” Saltaformaggio said. “I have an outstanding coaching staff. I couldn’t speak highly enough about how good the coaches are at Holy Cross. Vance Andry is our offensive coordinator. He won a state championship as a coach at Rummel. It’s funny to coach with Louie Wineski, who I went to school with way back in 1977. Roland Barbay is on our staff. We just have quality, quality guys.”
The mental aspect and approach is critical to success as well.
“We’ve just got to find a way to kind of make our kids believe that they’re good enough to beat those teams that have really been good for a long time,” Saltaformaggio said. “The Curtis, the Catholic and the Rummel’s of the world. That’s the big challenge for me.”
Now, we wait to see if Holy Cross and others get a chance to prove how good they are. Let us hope that is the case.
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