Steve DiGregorio – a man defined by his humor, strength of character, loyalty and devotion to those closest to him – has passed away after a courageous battle against cancer. He was 60 years old.
Known to everyone who knew him simply as “Digger,” he was a man whose heart was filled with love and laughter. In the end he died the way he lived – surrounded by those he loved the most, smiling and joking, connecting with all of those lucky enough to be his friend. A man born to be around people, he loved to poke fun at those closest to him and have them poke fun at him. He spoke with a deep, husky voice in a quick, determined cadence, punctuating a large number of his sentences with his unique, ever-present laugh.
Digger was at his core a family man, whether that be his nuclear family, the extended family group the DiGregorios formed with the Levy and Giles families or the widely extended family of former football players whom he coached and the army of friends he picked up along the way. He was most especially an integral part of two football worlds, that of Nutley High School, where he played and later was the award-winning head coach, and at Princeton University, where he coached for 13 seasons and to whose staff he had just returned. He often spoke of his love for every player he knew who wore the Nutley or Princeton uniform, and in turn they loved him back just as much. Dozens of them reached out to him during his illness, which brought him an irreplaceable joy and a reaffirmation that his life’s work had been impactful and purposeful.
More than anyone else, though, he held his deepest possible love for his wife of 30 years, Nadia, and their three boys: Zack, Derek and Aaron. To see the DiGregorio family up close is to feel the love that emanated in an impossible-to-miss fashion. The family was constantly laughing, constantly having fun, often making fun of each other, all in an endless support of each other, even when faced with obstacles most families could not have handled at all, let alone with the strength and determination of the DiGregorios.
Derek was born with a disease so rare that nobody in the family had ever heard of it before the diagnosis. After the enemy was given a name, Ataxia-Telangiectasia, and an accompanying grim prognosis, Digger mobilized family and friends to combat the disease, through fundraising events, awareness, education and anything else that might help as part of what they named “Derek’s Dreams.” When the DiGregorios called, everyone answered, and the result was an unprecedented wave of money to research treatments and possible cures. Wherever the family would go, Derek would be there as well, even in his wheelchair when he could no longer walk, and their collective inspiration has been awesome.
Digger was the adopted son of Silvio and Rose Mary DiGregorio, to whom he referred as “the greatest people who ever walked the earth.” He grew up in Nutley, where he was a defensive end on the high school football team he would one day coach. From there, he attended Muhlenberg, and he would eventually be inducted into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame.
His first job after graduating in 1983 was in the Caldwell, N.J., school district, and it was there that he met Nadia Hubal. They would marry in 1991 and raise their three children in Princeton, where Digger first coached in 1987, after stops at Hobart and Allegheny.
All three children graduated from Princeton High School. Zack graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played on the sprint football team. Derek attends Mercer County Community College, and Aaron is in his final semester at Franklin & Marshall, where he has been a member of the track and field team.
When Digger left Princeton after the 2000 season, he returned to the high school level, coaching first at Paramus Catholic and then at Nutley while also teaching U.S. Government at Nutley. In his final season as the head coach at Nutley, he was named the New Jersey high school football Coach of the Year. He was inducted into the Essex County Football Hall of Fame in 2000. During his career, he would coach seven players who would go on to play in the NFL, including one, Jason Garrett, who would also become an NFL head coach. He would also coach the current Princeton head coach, Bob Surace, when he was an undergraduate.
In addition to his immediate family and friends, he is survived by his sister Lynda and her children, his niece Allison and nephews Jack and Alex, as well as his aunt Carol Palkowetz and many cousins who were a huge part of his life beginning in his childhood.
Steve DiGregorio was a loving, caring, wonderful, passionate man with a gigantic heart and boundless spirit. He will live on in the hearts of all of those to whom he meant so much.
Visitation will be held on Monday, October 18, 2021 from 9:30-11:30am at St. Paul’s Church, 216 Nassau St., Princeton, NJ 08542. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11:30am. Burial will follow in Princeton Cemetery. Arrangements are under the direction of The Mather-Hodge Funeral Home, Princeton.