Dan Vito credits his uncle, Joe Vito, for inspiring him to become a football coach when he played under him as an 8-year-old on the East Rockaway Raiders, and again in high school.
“He is really the reason I’m in coaching,” said Dan, who is an assistant football coach at East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School, where he graduated in 1989. “He’s the guy that got me into physical education, got me into coaching and motivated me to do this, because I don’t know another coach that works harder than him. And because of that, I try to prove that I can work just as hard, and he’s the guy that I kind of emulated through my whole career.”
Dan’s hard work culminated in him being named the New York State Assistant Football Coach of the Year by the New York State High School Football Coaches Association. He was honored at a ceremony and banquet at the State Convention Clinic at Turning Stone Casino upstate in Verona on Feb. 9. East Rockaway head coach Russ Pajer nominated him for the award.
Dan, 46, has been a Rocks assistant coach for 23 years under Pajer, who he grew up playing football with. He now lives in Lynbrook and is also a phys-ed teacher at the school. Dan was previously named Nassau County Assistant Coach of the Year in 2005. He said he couldn’t envision himself coaching anywhere else and added that many of his former players end up coming back to the team in various coaching roles.
“One of the major things that we try to do as coaches, we put a tremendous amount of effort into helping our players become respectful young men,” Dan said. “ … It’s really what life’s all about — the relationships that we build — and that’s really what we take the most pride in.”
Dan said the support of his wife, Kathy, has been instrumental to his success. The couple has three children together, Kara, 15, Danielle, 13, and Nicholas, 8. Nicholas plays for the Raiders, like his father did when he was his age.
Joe Vito said he was proud of his nephew for his perseverance, which he called his top quality. He recounted that one coach told Dan that he would never play football in college at CW Post, and he ended up working hard and becoming a starting linebacker. He also recalled that East Rockaway was winless in Dan’s first season, but he still managed to bounce back.
“He’s one of the hardest working coaches I know,” Joe said. “He’s always trying to make himself better.”
Joe began coaching in 1983. He spent time at East Rockaway and Lynbrook and is now the head coach at Roosevelt High School. He said he coached Dan and Pajer in the Police Athletic League and had to make a decision of which one should start at quarterback. He decided to install Pajer under center, he said, and put Dan in at running back, and both thrived.
Though there was a friendly competition between the two when they were younger, Pajer and Dan developed a close friendship and have worked with each other for more than two decades at East Rockaway. Pajer, who has coached and been a business teacher at the school for 25 years, said Dan deserved the award for his dedication and could easily be a head coach anywhere else if he decided to leave.
“He stays here because he loves this school and he loves this town,” Pajer said. “He should be recognized for the work he does.” Pajer added that Dan calls all the offensive plays, and he calls the defense. He likened his longtime colleague to “being like another head coach.”
Pajer noted that his football experiences with Dan date back to 1977, when they played together on the Raiders and eventually won the Long Island championship. They then played together in high school for three years, making it to the championship game twice, and played against each other in college before their paths crossed again as coaches. Their fathers also served in the East Rockaway Fire Department together.
“We have the same beliefs,” Pajer said. “We’re here for the kids. Our goal is for the kids to be men when they get older and better people. Winning football games is great, but it’s developing men.”
Pajer made the trip upstate with many of Dan’s family members, including his uncle Joe, and former East Rockaway Athletic Director Dom Vulpis and longtime softball coach Joe Lores.
Dan said it meant the world to him to have so much support. “It’s awesome,” he said. “I’m humbled and honored to receive such an amazing award. It’s just great, and I couldn’t have done it without so many people.”