BERNARDSVILLE, NJ -- The Bernards football team will begin its 2019 regular season exactly where its 2018 season ended, as the Mountaineers kick off the campaign at 1 p.m. Saturday at Hillside.
Bernards lost to Hillside in the Section 2, Group 2 semifinals last year. Hillside was the only team to defeat the Mountaineers (8-2) in 2018, beating them once in the regular season and again in the playoffs.
And this year, like last, it's probably going to take a team with the speed and physical presence of last year's Hillside squad to challenge Bernards, which will bring a high-powered passing game and plenty of speed to each of its 2019 matchups.
Junior quarterback Teddy Gouldin passed for 1,701 yards with 19 TD passes, eight interceptions and a 56 percent completion rate, and he also rushed for 248 yards and four TDs. A Division 1 recruit at the position, Gouldin has all the requisite skills to run Bernards' dangerous spread offense, and he's got plenty of skilled teammates at his disposal to help that offense go.
Nearly all of Bernards' starting skill players return this season, including Lucas Ritchie, Joey Bilotti, Pat Caldwell and Jackson Tantleff, all of whom can be expected to provide Gouldin with plenty of options in the passing game.
Junior A.J. Mino and sophomore Mike Leanza will both see extensive action at tailback, a spot held down last year by Cookie Desiderio, who has transferred to Somerville High School for his junior year.
"Three-year starting juniors A.J. Mino, Pat Caldwell, Teddy Gouldin and Steven Lopez are expected to make big impacts again this season after starting since their freshman year," Bernards head coach Jon Simoneau said.
"This will be one of the most experienced QB/WR groups in the state with over 80+ combined varsity starts under their belt," Simoneau said.
Bernards took its lumps two seasons ago, but with the longterm view in mind that those freshmen of 2017 would grow into the nucleus of a very formidable football team a couple of years later. That actually happened last year, perhaps a bit ahead of schedule, and now they're a year older and stronger still.
Fullback Luke Burns and offensive linemen LT Austin McCrann, LG John Salliard, center Hugo Gini, RG Brandon Krug and RT John Perling are expected to open holes for Mino and Leanza and give Gouldin the time to find his receivers, although Gouldin also excels and passing on the run outside of the pocket.
Lopez is an accomplished kicker and punter who will give the Mountaineers the advantage over most opponents in the special teams department, where Bernards' ample collective speed will also help in the return game and in coverage.
Defensive backs Caldwell, Mino and Evan Farlow and inside linebackers Burns and Paul Chironna all are returning starters on defense. Nose guard Gini and DE McCrann "will be great assets up front on the defensive line," said Simoneau, who mentioned that defensive coordinator Luke Maginnis will be switching to a multiple 3-4 defense this season.
The rest of the starting defense figures to include DE John Perling, OLBs Ritchie and Gavin Chieff and cornerback Jackson Tantleff.
Additions to the varsity who all have a chance to make an impact this season include sophomore Brady Walsh, senior Brennan Hawkins, senior Sebastian Pross, sophomores Andrew Johnson and Max Malin and freshman Gabe McKinlay.
"Our captains, Hugo Gini, Austin McCrann, Teddy Gouldin, Lucas Ritchie, Jackson Tantleff and Joey Bilotti, have already helped change the culture back to a weight room-first mentality after one of the best offseasons in team history," Simoneau said. "If we can hold our own in our league and win our crossovers, we have a chance at the playoffs, thanks in part to the new strength of schedule format that all teams in our division should benefit from."
BERNARDS 2019 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
9/14, at Hillside (DAY)
9/20, (H) Spotswood
9/27, at Johnson
10/5, at Roselle (DAY)
10/11, (H) Delaware Valley
10/18, at Voorhees
10/25, (H) St. Thomas Aquinas
11/1, (H) Middlesex