He once rushed for 754 yards in a game, the same 1950 season he ran for
4,756 yards and averaged 594.5 per game. All are national records,
according to the National High School Sports Record Book.
Giannantonio had magic feet, even as a youngster, before his days at now
defunct Netcong (N.J.) High School starting in 1949.
grew up playing with a football consisting of several rags tied
together with rubber bands.
"I used to play in the parks," the
79-year-old told MaxPreps last month." We used to play until dark.
Nobody could catch me. They (onlookers) told the coach (Jim
McConologue), 'This kid can run,' and that's how I got discovered."
wasn't quite that easy, though, because his father, Costanzo, a native
of Italy, knew nothing about football and - fearing a possible injury -
would not sign the papers so he could play at Netcong,
brother (Eddie, who was five years older) stepped in and signed the
papers," he explained. "I had to buy my own cleats. They cost $16 and
I've still got them. Thank God that I never got hurt."
very big, he always had great speed, developed over years from walking
three-quarters of a mile - up hills - back and forth to school four
times a day. He always came home for lunch.
After scoring 15
touchdowns as a freshmen, his quickness and strength powered him to
those three phenomenal national records mentioned above as a sophomore
halfback in 1950. Curiously, those records weren't officially listed
Remarkably, they were accomplished in a mere eight
games that season. The Indians played in the second biggest division,
Group 2, and went unbeaten.
In his 754-yard effort in a 61-0 win
over Mountain Lakes (N.J.), the local newspaper just listed his yardage
on touchdown runs. The unknown number of shorter runs is not part of
the listed record. Still, he averaged an incredible 83.7 yards per
"I had no idea what I did," Giannantonio told the New Jersey Star Ledger
in 2010. "I just knew I was tired. After the game, my coach put his arm
around me and said, "How do you feel." I said, 'Tired.' He said, "Go
take a shower, you'll feel better.' That was it."A race horse
Well, it wasn't just it for Giannantonio, also known around those parts back then as "Johnny G."
also tied for No. 3 in the national record books with nine touchdowns
in a game and tied for No. 4 with eight touchdowns in a game.
set all those records as a 5-foot-7, 137-pound sophomore. He did,
however, run 100 yards in 10.1 seconds, which was national-class at that
time. He also used that speed to win numerous sprint races in track and
to haul down fly balls as a center fielder in baseball.
Indians used a T-formation and his offensive line averaged around 190
pounds, with several of them later playing college football.
come out and say, 'Set, Go" and I was gone," Giannantonio said. "I got
through the hole so fast. If there wasn't a hole, I went around end."
It's no wonder he soon picked up the nickname "Citation," after the famous horse who won the triple crown.
In that era players went both ways and he also stood out on defense as a safety.
Johnny G was an instant hero and, perhaps, the focus of gamblers,
though that was never proven. Giannantonio had his suspicions.
games, all these men used to come around me in the dressing room," he
said. "They said, 'How do you feel? Do good.' I don't know if they were
betting, but ..."
The news of his gaudy record rushing totals reached far beyond the borders of New Jersey.
used to get write-ups all over the country," he recalled. "Priests
would send them to me for donations and I would send them a few bucks.
Once I got a clipping from Korea that was in stars and stripes."
father owned a barber shop and customers began coming in asking for a
"Johnny G haircut," which was a crewcut. Customers kept asking his
father to "come watch your son" and he did show up for the final game of
his sophomore season.
"It was the Thanksgiving game at Clinton
and it was zero degrees," Johnny G described. "I needed four touchdowns
to set a record. I sat on the bench (after his fifth touchdown). My
father came to the bench and put his coat on me. He tapped me on the
shoulder and said, 'Nice.' They put me back in and I scored four more
His father never did attend another game, but later
he made a beautiful oil painting of his son wearing uniform No. 19 and
it still is a family treasure.
As a junior, Johnny G continued to
run his bread-and-butter play, "45 crossover," and the Indians posted
an 8-1 record. He scored 31 touchdowns and rushed for 514 yards in one
He earned scholarship offers from Syracuse, Notre Dame, Villanova, Miami, Clemson and Holy Cross.Bound for Florida
With his high school coach leaving, Johnny G took a trip to Syracuse and the coaches suggested he play for Bolles (Jacksonville, Fla.)
as a senior and then attend Syracuse. He headed for Bolles with two
players from Phillipsburg (N.J.), but before the first game the Bolles
coach warned him not to play or he would be ineligible.
He did as
he was told, but the other two took a chance and played in the opener.
They quickly were ruled ineligible due to transfer rules. He stayed and
graduated from Bolles in 1953, winning academic honors.
"I didn't want to go home and be a disgrace," he said of his reason for not playing as a senior.
of Syracuse, however, he wound up attending Villanova and averaging
over six yards a carry during his junior and senior years. Two of his
best games were against Texas A&M, then coached by Hall of Famer
He was looking at a chance to play pro football in
Canada when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Following a two-year
stint he launched a 38-year teaching career. He did serve as backfield
coach for two years at Morris Hills (Rockaway, N.J.)
but the rest of his career was spent teaching seventh and eighth grade
math at Andover Regional Middle School (now named after Florence M.
He retired in 1995 as a much beloved teacher and was honored at a banquet.
In 1976 a book about his feats ("Run For Glory"') had been written but the writer never could find a publisher.
Enter son-in-law Geoff Adams, a book publisher who works for another book publisher.
a disbeliever at first, recalled, "He always was telling me all these
stories. He started pulling out these records. It blew my mind. He held
these records for so long and they were not being recognized
(nationally). It was disgusting. It took five or six months to get it
In 2007 the name John Giannantonio popped into the
national records books, seemingly out of nowhere. It was all documented
and - shockingly - there may be more if Adams can get hold of some
records kept by the school, which now is part of Lenape Valley (Stanhope, N.J.)
Adams also saw to it that Lenape Valley retired his father-in-law's jersey at a special ceremony and even emceed the event.
Now Adams is writing his own book about Johnny G and tirelessly searching for his complete records.
Johnny G concedes that today's high school running backs are "big and
fast, but what's good is they (generally) only play offense. They look
like college players and lift weights."
He exercises regularly and eats well, with pasta being his only weakness.
At 5-8 and 178 pounds, he claims, "You know what? I'm not as fast, but I still could compete with them. I'm in good shape."