BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - How a team finishes a season can go a long way in determining the outcome of the following season.
For head coach Dan Guyton and his 2015 Governor Livingston Highlanders football team, the hope is that the three consecutive wins to close the 2014 season will spill over to the 2015 campaign. And with a roster that includes 21 seniors, expectations are positive in Berkeley Heights.
“Hopes are high this season,” Guyton, who is entering his third season at the helm, said. “I’m looking for continued improvement from our guys. The kids have worked very hard this offseason and preseason and hopefully that will translate to a stronger start this season.”
The 2014 team stumbled a bit out of the gate last season en route to a 2-5 start but rebounded nicely to finish the season at 5-5. The team finished with a .500 record for the first time since 2009.
This year’s team has a strong chance to top last season’s win total thanks to an abundance of veterans and underclassmen that received valuable playing experience last season.
“Last year’s seniors did a tremendous job staying the course despite the rough patches during the season,” Guyton said. “Yeah we lost a few close games but we still continued to work hard.”
“The hope is that year’s team will continue to fight hard and have the “never-quit” attitude that last year’s team had.”
Guyton will no doubt depend on his seniors for the continued improvement to occur. Of his nine returning starters, six are seniors.
The remaining three returning starters are a trio of junior linemen that Guyton expects to take major leaps this season. The trio of Dan Tomlinson, Bryan Biskaduros, and Ben Collins performed as well as the coaching staff could ask for in their first seasons as starters on the offensive line.
Based on the tone in Guyton’s voice when discussing the trio, the offensive and, perhaps defensive, line groups will be in good hands this season.
“Dan, Bryan, and Ben have done a great job thusfar and have performed well in the scrimmages,” Guyton said. “There’s a strong possibility all three will be playing on both sides of the ball this year.”
Another candidate to play on both sides of the ball this year is a name Governor Livingston fans know very well but still may be shocked to hear: Javon Reis-Wilson.
Reis-Wilson is one of six Governor Livingston seniors who are playing high school football for the first time. Reis-Wilson has started on Governor Livingston’s basketball team the last three seasons and performed admirably doing so.
The senior decided to give football a try this season and by all accounts, the gamble has paid off.
“Javon has done a great job since joining the team,” Guyton said. “He’s four-year letterwinner in basketball and he’s brought that point guard leadership to our team. He’s worked very hard and his varsity basketball experience will be vital for our team this year.”
“His buddies talked to him and persuaded him to join the team, and it was very nice of him to be willing to come out and contribute to our football team this year.”
Reis-Wilson is slated to start at wide receiver this season and is also battling for a starting cornerback position.
Reis-Wilson will look to make things easier on whomever starts at quarterback for the Highlanders. Sophomores Pat De Angelis and Quinn Haddad and junior Doug Anderson are in a three-way competition for the starting gig. Guyton said he has yet to name a starter but as of now, De Angelis has the early lead.
“All three have proven capable of running the offense and I’m excited about each of their potential,” Guyton said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how the quarterback race pans out. There’s even a chance we could play two quarterbacks at times this year.”
As for the running back position, seniors Evan Lerch and Anthony Wong will get the bulk of the carries.
Lerch and Wong are two of the team’s returning starters on a defensive unit that could very well turn out to be the team’s strength.
The defense will be led by a solid linebacker corps that includes Wong and fellow seniors Emmanuel Kanellos and Matt Rothfeld. “I’m really excited about our linebacker corps,” Guyton said. “Having three senior starters is big for our defense.”
Senior Carlton Edwards is the team’s lone returning starter on the defensive line. Edwards will be joined by five juniors who will all be in the mix for playing time: Tomlinson, Biskaduros, Collins, Tommy Jakositz, and Chris Bottone. “We’re going to be very big up front, “Guyton said.
Lerch, who plays cornerback, is the team’s lone returning starter in the secondary. Reis-Wilson is battling fellow senior Nick DeLuca for the other cornerback spot while senior Stephen Sottosanti will start at strong safety.
Even though his starting lineups are already projected, Guyton insists that no positions are set in stone as of yet and said that all positions are still open for competition.
Guyton’s goal is to have enough depth this year at all positions in order to keep his players as fresh as possible.
Guyton has been pleased with his team’s performance in the preseason scrimmages. The Highlanders have held their own in scrimmages against tough opponents such as Matawan, Livingston, and Watching Hills.
“I’ve been pleased with how we’ve played in the scrimmages,” Guyton said. “We haven’t backed down, we’ve been physical, and most importantly, we came out relatively healthy.”
“We still have a lot to work on and fix but the scrimmages have been good tests to get us ready for the season.”
Guyton wants his team to do a better job of protecting its home turf this season after going winless at home last season. If the Highlanders play as well at home this season as they did on the road last season, Guyton is not afraid to mention the “P” word when discussing his team’s potential.
“One of our team goals obviously is to make the playoffs,” Guyton said. “If we are fortunate enough to make the playoffs, hopefully our difficult schedule will have prepared us to advance and not just qualify.”