PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- After graduating a slew of seniors who played a major part in last year’s undefeated season and No. 2 ranking in the state by NJ.com, one might think the Piscataway High School football team will justifiably take a step back in 2019.
Gone are the likes of stars Juwon Jackson, Nasir Best, Lord Jones, Nick Recine, Joe Hatcher, Andre Felton, Austin Mosier, Jordin Martell, and more from last season’s North Group 5 bowl game championship team.
But as the saying goes, the Chiefs don’t rebuild, they reload.
Head coach Dan Higgins knows his club is inexperienced, but he’s looking on the bright side of things. While most of his guys -- the Chiefs return about three starters -- haven’t played much under the lights on gameday, these same players practiced against New Jersey’s first-ever 13-0 team a year ago.
Piscataway is widely recognized as the top public program in the Garden State. You don’t get that honor by accident. Every year the team loses top-notch players to graduation, but talented individuals slide right into the open spots and produce. The Chiefs have won 10 sectional titles in 17 finals appearances over the years, and Higgins is 148-35 in his previous 16 years.
“Yeah, we lost a bunch of seniors. Marcel Walker, Khristian Hernandez, and Kristopher Hernandez are returning veteran players who I expect a lot from not only just their play, which you saw today, but also helping the other guys get up to speed,” Higgins told TAPinto Piscataway after a scrimmage versus Phillipsburg in late August. “The good thing about last year’s team is all of these guys trained with that 13-0 team and went against them all year. They just don’t have the game experience, but we kind of get that through these scrimmages. They’ll keep getting better.”
Walker was a force at defensive end last season for the Chiefs. He tallied 59 tackles (23 total behind the line of scrimmage) with seven sacks. He also accounted for 161 receiving yards and two touchdowns at tight end. Walker, a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder, is expected to carry those roles again.
Twins Khristian and Kristopher Hernandez were also threats for the Chiefs’ defense a year ago, which allowed just 7.8 points per game and five shutouts. Khristian and Kristopher intercepted four and three passes, respectively, and they each returned a pick for a touchdown. Khristian also made 45 tackles while Kristopher made 26.
This season, Khristian Hernandez will be one of the team’s running backs alongside Christian White and Jeremiah Major. Hernandez received 21 carries and ran for 142 yards and two scores in 2018.
Catching passes will be receivers Kristopher Hernandez, Daylin Washington, Tahj Bean, Sherrod Cooper, Kaelen Mitchell, Aamir Woods, Kyree Wiley, and Jalen Patterson.
At quarterback, senior Jake Sisk, last season’s backup, and Faraji Screven, a sophomore remain locked in a battle.
“I like to say we have units and no starters yet,” Higgins said. “We’re still figuring out some things.”
Piscataway’s bread and butter has always been in power running game and that’ll be no different. The offensive line will likely consist of players such as Nick Lodato, Angel Laporte, Andrew Cesareo, Zyere Hill, Eliezer Wolfshkehl, and Johaurrie Woolfolk -- all newcomers.
The Chiefs averaged 260.6 yards per game on the ground a year ago and 340.8 total.
Defensively, Laporte and Woolfolk are slated to start on the interior while Walker and Washington are the d-ends. Washington and Laporte also saw action on the d-line last year and combined for 27 total stops.
At linebacker, Marcus Petite is back after making 36 total tackles including nine for loss with two sacks. He’s expected to be the leader of the unit which looks to overcome the departure of Recine, who recorded a whopping 124 tackles, 9.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, an interception, and a touchdown last season.
The secondary is good shape with the Hernandez brothers, Davis, White, Bean, and Woods.
Walker, after the scrimmage against the Stateliners, stood up in front of the whole team gave them a good talking to. He knows what it takes in terms of preparation and how everything is supposed to look on a championship team. Expect Walker to be one of the captains.
“To be honest, I look at it as we’re all leaders. But if it takes for me to speak as a group and talk to everybody then I’ll do that,” Walker said. “Without us being on the same page, we can’t play as a team. We all need to make sure we’re together, do what we need to do, and make it happen. We just have to make sure we communicate more and do our jobs. If we do our jobs, then we’re going to be good.
“We’re trying to repeat and go 13-0 and get back to MetLife Stadium. I don’t have any goals for myself. I’m not selfish. I just want to win and make sure we repeat.”
The 2019 schedule for Piscataway is vastly different than it has been in recent years. The Chiefs moved into the White Division of the Greater Middlesex Conference and will play Sayreville, Edison, New Brunswick, St. Joseph (Metuchen), North Brunswick, and South Brunswick and Mid-state 38 foes Elizabeth, Hillsborough, and Franklin.
“We’re happy to play great competition,” Higgins said. “It only makes the team better knowing that the opponent is of high quality and playoff caliber. It’s an exciting challenge.”
The Chiefs have talent, it’s been that way for decades. But for this year, it’s all about building confidence, learning, and reloading.
“Just learning more about exactly what they need to do at their positions and then gelling as a unit. They’re still learning so they’re not 100 percent confident. So, we got to learn how to play our positions and then the other thing is our chemistry really develops with adversity,” Higgins said of what he wants to see before the first kickoff. “When things are going well, everything looks great. That’s why I want these scrimmages to be as challenging as possible so we can deal with some adversity and with P-burg, I knew it was going to be a tough battle. They have a solid run game and play-action pass game. We have to get better in every facet but we will. We’re working on it. We’ll fix our mistakes.”
Piscataway hits the field for the first time at home against rival Franklin on Sept. 6 at 7:00 p.m. After 54 years, the contest has been moved up to the start of the season.
“I expect us to get better every week, Chris. I expect us to compete every week. I expect us to maximize whatever this team is capable of,” Higgins said. “Where that brings us all depends on how hard we work and how committed we are. We still expect to be a contender at the end of the year.”
Follow Chris Nalwasky on Twitter @ChrisWasky.
Piscataway Chiefs 2019 Schedule
Sept. 6: home vs. Franklin, 7
Sept. 13: home vs. Sayreville, 7
Sept. 20: home vs. Edison, 7
Sept. 27: at New Brunswick, 7
Oct. 5: at St. Joseph (Met.), 2:30
Oct. 11: home vs. North Brunswick, 7
Oct. 18: at South Brunswick, 6
Oct. 25: at Elizabeth, 7
Nov. 1: home vs. Hillsborough, 7
TAPintoPiscataway.net is an online newspaper serving the Township of Piscataway.
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