SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- With 2020 came a lot of uncertainty, especially for high school sports teams like Scotch Plains-Fanwood Football. Despite all the questions surrounding the 2020 sports season, Raiders football has made huge strides toward being a competitive program after years of struggling.
After going through a quarantine at the start of the year, the team is fighting each day, and players are putting it all out there each game in hopes of catching the eye of college recruiters. Head Coach Austin Holman shared some insight on key players who are doing some great things on the field for his squad.
Holman, who played high school and college football himself as a WR for Randolph High School and Bowling Green State University, came in as coach for the team in July 2019, and immediately placed emphasis on fundamentals and focus on each aspect of the team’s game and play style. Through his focus on the offense, defense, and special teams equally, as well as building his coaching staff with some of the best SPF Athletics has to offer, Holman has seen the group make a strong turnaround.
"Scotch Plains football is exciting again,“ said Holman.
Among the players he says have had big impacts on the revitalization of the program are seniors Shawn Martin, Christian Piesch, Kenny Yeager, Kyle Wester and Dimitri Laylor.
Shawn Martin is "the real deal,' according to Coach Holman. Martin as rushed for over 1,000 yards this season and leads the team in touchdowns. He is one of the centerpieces of Holman’s offense. He also has four kickoff returns of 80 yards or more for touchdowns.
“I’ve been doing this for 17 years, and I’ve coached about 60 players who have played at the next level. This kid has it,” said Holman.
Holman says that Scotch Plains-Fanwood might not have always been top of mind for recruiters during some of the down years, but he firmly believes Martin should be playing on a college team come next fall.
“Shawn is going to go somewhere. When will someone pull the trigger, that’s the question. But someone will,” Holman said. “I’ve spoken to people and sent videos and it hasn’t come through yet.It has been frustrating. ”
When he arrived, Holman sought out the best athletes in the school and is starting players who were relatively new to football that are playing well. The coach says that his staff has been dynamic in getting them to improve. One such player is 6’ 4”, 215 lb., Christian Piesch, who leads the team in receiving yards (279) has shown his value in just a short amount of time as he has only played 15 high school games. Holman says the SPFHS coaches taught him to be a football player.
“Christian Piesch fits every measurable available. What he Christian does, his habits, we taught him. If he’s not successful, it’s because of us,” Holman said.
Kenny Yeager who is a defensive and offensive lineman, is a top tackler on the team this year and is responsible for one of his team’s five forced fumbles this season. “
Yeager has great skill and knows the game. He's a great leader, plays with a lot of emotion, and handles himself well,” said Holman.
Another senior, Liam Mahr, didn’t play football his freshman and sophomore year, but the coach believes he has the size and skill to play in college somewhere.
"We have prospects at every level in this senior class -- from Sprint Football to scholarship level ball," Coach Holman said.
A number of juniors on the team have been impact players this year, including Anthony Robinson, Mike Banic, Damon Schumann, Tommy Schmidt, and Matt Power.
“Banic is a hardworking lineman,” said Holman. "He has a handful of tackles this season and has been able to hold opponents defensive line to allow his team’s offense to go to work."
“It’s important that they get noticed. We have a handful of potential college players including Robinson, Banic, Power, Schmidt, and Damon Schumann, who didn’t even start as sophomores. They can play, and they’re hard hitting,” said Holman “Power has a couple of interceptions this season and several tackles for a loss.”
“Kyle Wester, who came over from St. Joseph High School, has lots of talent also. Tommy Schmidt has size, great feet and can play each game without coming out,” Holman said of his solid junior class.
As Scotch Plains-Fanwood continues to become more competitive and come out on a positive side of games, it’s important to note the bevy of talent that has brought along the resurgence of this program. They have overcome a lot, not only this year, but in their early years when there weren't many positive scores.
"Character and sticking with things are a big reason why this team has had so much success this year," said athletic director Ryan Miller. “These players are living through adversity. It would have been easy to walk away from football two years ago, They stuck with it, and these kids now know there’s nothing they cannot accomplish."
"These kids have a background in overcoming adversity. The COVID lockdown actually helped them bond. They took it seriously and didn’t make a mistake,” Miller added. This is the kind of bonding we have never seen in all my 10 years here."
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