Samuel L. Venuto, Salem High coach, athletic director

Samuel L. Venuto
Samuel L. Venuto
Posted: July 17, 2014

Samuel L. Venuto, 87, of Cape May, longtime coach and athletic director at Salem High School who was named to the New Jersey Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1989, died of complications from pneumonia Saturday, July 12, at Our Lady's Multi-Care Center in Pleasantville.

Mr. Venuto had been named South Jersey Coach of the Year in 1977, a son, Sam, offensive coordinator for the Villanova University football team, said in aninterview.

"He just grew up loving football," his son said.

As a star baseball catcher and football running back, Mr. Venuto was named in 1999 to the Haverford High School Sports Hall of Fame.

"As much as anything, he loved working with and developing young men," his son said.

Not only the winners.

"I know one of the teams he enjoyed coaching the most was in 1978," he son said. The team lost the South Jersey Group II championship game, "but he loved coaching that team. A group of great kids."

Dave Whitzell was an assistant coach for Mr. Venuto before taking over as Salem High head coach in the late 1980s.

"The legacy he left is not just his profound ability in coaching football, but in coaching young men," Whitzell said. "His importance is his ability to change the lives of the people he came in contact with."

Whitzell acknowledged that "he took me off the streets, as he did for many other kids in Salem. . . . If it was not for him, I would not have gone to college," and later become a high school teacher and coach.

Mr. Venuto, he said, "was a tough guy with a good heart."

His son said that Mr. Venuto began his Salem High coaching career while also teaching physical education there, in 1954.

An accident took him there.

His 1952-53 career as a running back for the NFL's Washington Redskins was cut short, his son said, "when he got tackled out of bounds, hit his head on a bench," and suffered a severely pinched nerve.

He was a starter on Redskins special teams, and in the 1952 season he scored his one professional touchdown, on a 6-yard run, against a team lost to memory.

During his 35-year career at Salem High, his son said, Mr. Venuto was football coach from 1954 to 1979 and athletic director until he retired in 1989.

He spent his first summers during that time at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where he earned a master's in education in 1956.

Mr. Venuto's teams were Tri-County champions four times - the best in Camden, Gloucester, and Salem Counties - and South Jersey Group II champions twice.

For his efforts, he was named to the Salem County Hall of Fame.

Born in Ardmore, Mr. Venuto was a member of the Class of 1944 who dropped out to join the Marine Corps and, after combat in the South Pacific, returned to graduate with the Class of 1947.

At Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., Mr. Venuto earned a bachelor's in education and was named a first-team small-college all-American halfback in his junior and senior years, his son said.

For both his baseball and football exploits, he was inducted into Guilford's Athletics Hall of Fame in 1996.

He was a member of the Corinthian Yacht Club of Cape May and the Beach Club of Cape May.

Besides his son Sam, Mr. Venuto is survived by son Jason; daughters Becky Hansen and Melissa Battiato; a brother; a sister; and four grandchildren. His wife, Rodney, died in 1999.

A life celebration was set for 11 a.m. Thursday, July 24, at Cape May United Methodist Church, 635 Washington St., Cape May.

Donations may be sent to a charity of one's choice.

Condolences may be offered to the family at

610-313-8134 @WNaedele

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