EAST HANOVER, NJ — Days after Livingston High School senior Joe Cullen was named Essex County Defensive Player of the Year and football coach Robert Breschard was named Essex County Coach of the Year by "Sideline Chatter," the entire 2018 football team was honored at the Lancers’ annual banquet held on Sunday morning at Hanover Manor.
Breschard said that the banquet is the coaching staff’s opportunity to speak individually about each player and reminisce on highlights from the 2018 season.
The Lancers faced adversity early in the season when senior player Matthew Poole was one of two Livingston students to drown in Ramapo Lake during the first week of August.
“On the third of camp this year, all our lives changed,” said Breschard. “Having to go in and talk to the guys about it that day was the hardest moment of my career by far…We never forgot. His locker stayed his locker, we hung his jersey in his locker for every game and brought it out for every game, and on Senior Night, the seniors brought to me the idea of walking out with Mr. and Mrs. Poole.”
Breschard said one of the most special moments of the season occurred on Senior Night, when the seniors all walked out with Poole’s parents and brother, Mark.
Prior to last weekend’s banquet, Breschard was extremely touched when one of his role models, Bloomfield head coach Mike Carter, suggested that Poole be included on the Second Team All-Essex County list.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Matt," said Breschard. "We framed his jersey, we’re going to hang it in our locker room with our team picture on it and that’s something that’ll be with us for at least as long as I’m here. Mark is in college now and his mom and dad are doing well, so everybody is still dealing with it and trying to heal a little bit each day, but he’ll always be in our hearts.”
In addition to Poole, the following players also received “All-Essex County” honors:
- M.J. DePaola – 1st Team All Essex County – Offense
- Jack Ernst – 1st Team All Essex County – Offense
- Joe Cullen – 1st Team All Essex County – Defense
- Drew Nardone - 2nd Team All Essex County – Offense
- Austin Paris – 2nd Team All Essex County – Defense
- Nick Boffa - Honorable Mention All Essex County
The following players also received “All-Conference” honors:
- Jack Ernst – 1st Team Liberty Division Blue – Offense
- Drew Nardone – 1st Team Liberty Division Blue – Offense
- M.J. DePaola – 1st Team Liberty Division Blue – Offense
- Austin Paris – 1st Team Liberty Division Blue – Defense
- Joe Cullen – 1st Team Liberty Division Blue – Defense
- Nick Boffa – 2nd Team Liberty Division Blue – Offense
- Brian Russo – 2nd Team Liberty Division Blue – Defense
- Will Egner – 2nd Team Liberty Division Blue – Defense
- Aidan Conway – 2nd Team Liberty Division Blue – Defense
- Tommy Werner – Honorable Mention Liberty Division Blue
The Lancers ultimately finished the 2018 season at 7-3, marking the first time since the 70s that Livingston has won seven games in the regular season, according to Breschard. Although Livingston came short of the playoffs, the Lancers held their heads high after winning their last three games and defeating two of their biggest rivals in Bloomfield and West Orange.
“The playoff system is semi-flawed right now and that causes a bit of a problem, but we were right on the edge of being in the playoffs,” said Breschard, who was proud of the way the players responded to not making it to the end.
As defeating West Orange was a “huge hurdle” for the Livingston program, Breschard said the team is looking forward to knocking another rival of the list next season.
“We’ve got a lot of talent coming back, and we’re really strong in our skill positions right now,” the head coach said of the returning players. “Our linemen are going to be inexperienced, but they’re tough kids who work hard every day. They’re strong, smart and have a great work ethic, so I think with those characteristics we’re going to be right there competing again. That’s where you want to be—you just want to be able to compete every year.”
Under Breschard’s leadership, Sideline Chatter noted that the Livingston program had between 85-90 players this season during a time when many other high schools are seeing their football numbers decreasing. According to the article, the team winning its final three games was a “vital testament to the full season commitment engendered through Breschard’s leadership.”
Speaking highly of his coaching staff, however, Breschard could not take full credit for the team’s success this season.
“I think I have one of the best [coaching] staffs in the state right now,” he said. “I have a good mix of younger guys and guys with experience, so my staff is phenomenal in that they take a lot off of my plate. I’m kind of the CEO of the operation, but the daily day-to-day stuff is really them—I can kind of just drive the ship and give them direction on where I want to go. The things that they do every day are the reason why we are as successful as we are, and each year the program is getting better and better.”
Cullen, who along with teammate Jack Ernst intends to play at the collegiate level next year, finished the season with 1,032 rushing yards, 112 tackles, four touchdowns and two forced fumbles as the team’s standout linebacker. Sideline Chatter reported that Cullen’s 300 career tackles is “a rarity for any high school player,” leading him to be selected as the defensive player of 2018.
According to Breschard, Cullen and several other players are still being recruited by colleges. In fact, Breschard said that his schedule for December is already packed with visits from several schools who are interested in recruiting Lancers for next year.
Click HERE to read the TAPinto Livingston Athletics Spotlight on Cullen from earlier in the season.