Rob Calabrese, a star quarterback for East Islip High School from 2005-2007, is coaching quarterbacks for the New York Jets.
The East Islip native joined new Jets head coach Robert Saleh’s staff as the quarterbacks coach in January. In pre-season camp, Calabrese is preparing a trio of young quarterbacks — third-year pro Mike White, last year’s fourth-round draft pick James Morgan and the team’s second overall 2021 draft pick Zach Wilson — for the upcoming season.
Sixteen years ago, Calabrese, 31, was a sophomore at East Islip and the football team’s starting quarterback under the tutelage of head coach Sal Ciampi, Jr.
“I knew early on, really from the first time that I saw him, that he was really talented as a player, just his basic skills,” Ciampi said. “But then as you coached him, he just had a really superior understanding of the game. He was able to look at things and process them and compute them twice as fast as anyone else.”
Donning East Islip’s red and white, Calabrese continued as the starting quarterback his junior and senior years. After both seasons, he won the Suffolk County Football Coaches Association’s Boomer Esiason Award for most outstanding quarterback in the country.
The award is named after Boomer Esiason, a highly accomplished NFL quarterback who graduated from East Islip in 1979 and played for the Jets late in his career. Calabrese broke Esiason’s school records for career passing yardage, 3,992, and touchdowns, 34.
Ciampi believes Calabrese’s comprehension of the game earned him his scholarship to play at the University of Central Florida.
“That’s probably why they played him so early on in his career,” he said. “And that’s the same stuff that has really helped him as a coach.”
As a quarterback for UCF, Calabrese passed 1,276 yards and 12 touchdowns, and as a wide receiver, he scored two touchdowns.
After graduating, Calabrese pivoted from player to coach. Following one season coaching quarterbacks for Oviedo High School in Florida, he returned to UCF as a graduate assistant working with the team’s quarterbacks and wide receivers.
He then moved back up the coast, becoming offensive coordinator for Wagner College. During the 2018 season, he helped boost the offense’s points per game average almost seven points from the team’s 2017 run.
“Besides being one of the most talented players I’ve ever coached, he was a great leader,” Ciampi said. “He led the right way, by example. And I think that’s why his teammates at every level were willing to run through a wall for him, they just really respected him. Off the field, he’s one of the greatest people you’ll ever meet.”
‘really going places’
From Wagner, Calabrese entered the NFL, joining the Denver Broncos for offensive quality control for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
Throughout those two seasons, he worked with several quarterbacks of varying levels of experience. During Calabrese’s first year in the NFL, veteran quarterback Joe Flacco started the first eight games of the season and completed 65.3% of his passes, the best mark in his 13-year NFL career.
Calabrese also worked with rookie quarterback Drew Lock, who started the final five games — winning four of them.
Now, Calabrese is donning the New York green and white and coaching Wilson, a promising 22-year-old, for the 2021 NFL season.
Ciampi said he was happy to hear Calabrese scored the gig and believes “the sky is the limit” for his protégé.
“I’m pulling for him every step of the way,” Ciampi said. “He’s big-time already, but I think you’re probably looking at something in the future where he’s gonna be an offensive coordinator. And there’s probably a very good chance at a high level of college football or in the pros, he’s gonna be a head coach someday.”
Ciampi said he remained in touch with Calabrese since their time together and that it is even easier to get together now that Calabrese resides in New Jersey. The East Islip head football and baseball coach said he went down to Florida two years ago for his former star quarterback’s wedding. He also receives family photos of Calabrese alongside his wife, Taylor, and their two sons, Kayden and Cooper.
“I’m just very very proud of him in everything he’s achieved in football, obviously he’s really going places at some point,” Ciampi said.
“But just even more important, I’m very proud of the person he’s become.”Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images