NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – The 2015 season is set up to be a different year for the Pioneers’ varsity football team. No longer is the team filled with big-name stars, like Jack Harvey or CJ Kleisch, who each graduated from the program in the past two years. This group is different. There are no relatively big names, at least not yet, but, according to many, the roster is full of potential.
“There are lots of new faces,” senior back Andy Urness said. “We feel confident in our ability. We don't have that one star, it's a team effort.”
Urness, along with fellow seniors Russell Davidson [lineman], Colin Forbes [lineman] and Vinny Pecca [fullback], captain a team that is full of upperclassmen, but lack extensive game experience.
Take Urness, for example. The senior running back saw significant playing time in just two games last year -- New Providence’s state tournament loss to Shabazz and the Thanksgiving Day game against Gov. Livingston. In fact, Urness had never played running back until head coach Joe Carollo and offensive coordinator Art Cattano threw him in when both Ibn Nash and Yamato Ejiri came down with injuries.
There are many stories similar to Urness’s on the roster this year, which Carollo thinks is both a blessing and a curse.
“The blessing of last year, which in the end was more of a curse, when you lose your quarterback and you lose your running back, at the end we had 11 kids out with season-ending injuries,” Carollo said. “Of those 11, eight of them were playing for us or would have been the fill-ins to play for the injured. It forced us to accept the reality of this year, which was we’re losing a lot of guys. Well, we lost them two games early.”
Both sides of the ball will see almost a complete overhaul. Aside from Pecca, who started every game at fullback, just about every skill position on offense is new, led by sophomore starting quarterback Jack Barletta.
According to Carollo, Barletta’s natural athleticism and leadership skills will help him have a successful career.
“He’s a sophomore quarterback, we’re doing everything we can to ease the load on him,” Carollo said. “He’s more than capable. He has shown some strong leadership skills. He just has to continue to progress, just like the rest of the team. We have to continually take strides. We know he is going to make mistakes, he’s a sophomore, but we also know that he can compensate for those mistakes.”
Barletta will have an array of weapons to use at his disposal, including Urness, Anthony Del Duca, Carter Stumpf and Mike Palmieri.
Defensively, the Pioneers are a bit more experienced. After replacing all four starting linebackers prior to last year, the entire group returns to stabilize the defense. Urness, Pecca, Del Duca and Klaudio Bardhoku will anchor what should be a strong attack for Carollo’s defense.
Despite a rejuvenated look on both sides of the ball, what could be the biggest strength for the Pioneers this year is the leadership group. While Davidson, Urness, Pecca and Forbes were officially selected to be the official captains by their peers, Carollo said any of the seniors could easily be a captain.
“They’re fantastic,” Carollo said. “They work their butts off. They set the tone for practice. When they don’t, I go to them and let them know that they need to. They've done a good job and they have to keep it up throughout the season."
Davidson gives all the credit for this year’s leadership team to the program’s previous captains.
“They prepared basically everybody, as far as that goes,” Davidson said. “All of our seniors are leaders. Nothing goes back to one person. We all learned the goods and bads. Its not like they had many bads, but we learned how to compose ourselves.”
The Pioneers open their season on Friday with a road trip to South Hunterdon, before visiting defending conference champion Belvidere in week 2. New Providence’s home opener is scheduled for September 26 against Pingry.