SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - Following a scrimmage last week at Roselle Park, South Plainfield High School football head coach Gary Cassio said he liked some aspects of how his team is performing ahead of its season opener versus St. Joseph Metuchen on Septemeber 11th, but there is always room for improvement.
“Let’s just say it’s a work in progress right now,” Cassio said. “At some points they’re doing excellent.”
Above all, Cassio stressed the word balance when describing how the Tigers plan to attack on the offensive side of the ball this season. He believes they can move the chains equally via the ground as well as through the air.
“We’re a very balanced team. We have a good mixture of seniors, juniors and sophomores, and even a freshman at the varsity level. A lot of guys don’t have as much experience but that balances off with the guys who do.” Cassio figures the offensive line to be a key strength for the Tigers. “Three fifths of the offensive line came back, and we got two guys to step right in, so our line is looking pretty good.”
Cassio also has high expectations for a few players in the premium positions. “We have a very good running back in Jason Lee. We have (quarterback) Patrick Waldrop who had a couple varsity games under his belt last year, in the second half of the year, so he brings some experience. We have very good tight ends in Josh Siegenthaler and Jean Sapini. Jean will play tight end and defensive tackle.”
Cassio elaborated on the offensive strategy. “It will be an even mixture of running the ball with Lee and Bernie Gonzalez. We also have some guys who can catch the ball, but Jason Lee is probably the best receiver on my team. He’s our running back, but he probably has the best hands on the team,” he said.
“On the defensive side of the ball, our defensive line is very good, led by Justin Counts and Kevin Adams, our cornerstone defensive ends, along with Mike Abreu.” Cassio said. As for the defensive game plan, Cassio wants “to be very aggressive.”
“We’re going to attack you; we’re going to go at you. We have guys (Counts, Adams) who can get to the quarterback. The quarterbacks won’t have much time back there this year. But our main goal is to stop the run. If we stop the run, we win. That’s our main goal this year” he said of his defense.
One departure on defense that left a significant void was the graduation of Johnny Chillemi. Chillemi participated in the Snapple Bowl for Team Middlesex in July along with teammates Kyle Dickerson and Xavier Wilson. Cassio said he went out to Kean University to see his three former players strap on the pads for one last high school football game. “They all did well, they all represented our school, and they were excellent,” he said. “We’re losing three big players there, but, again, going back, we may be even more balanced than last year. Guys have a lot more experience under their belt and I think we’re going to be very balanced this year.”
When asked how his squad stacks up against opening night opponent St. Joseph’s, Cassio was candid. “It’s tough to know,” he said. “St. Joe’s is a school that brings in new kids every year. Seniors and juniors, and they have a transfer quarterback from St. John Vianney. They have kids from Somerville, five kids from Franklin. I can’t look at last year’s roster and say ‘this is who we’re going against.’ I have no idea who we’re going against. And that’s one of the downsides of playing parochial schools,” he said.
Cassio joked about how St. Joe’s can pull in players from multiple towns but his only option is to pick players from a few different streets in South Plainfield. “So it is what it is,” he said. “You’re asking me how we match up. I don’t know. I’ll let you know the day of the game when I see who they have on their team.”
Other topics discussed…
Cassio on trying to win a second straight Thanksgiving game against rival North Plainfield:
“I want to beat St. Joe’s. North Plainfield is three months away. I have one goal and its St. Joe’s, there’s no other game on the schedule right now other than St. Joe’s.”
On the grueling GMC White Division schedule:
“Carteret and South Plainfield are the only two Group III schools in the White Division. We’re a small Group III school, we should probably be a Group II, but we’re playing Group IV and V schools. Colonia, Woodbridge, JFK, these are big schools. We only have between 350-400 boys in our school and we’re opening up with St. Joe’s who should be a Group V school. They have a lot more boys in their school and they’re playing in a lower division. We beat them two of the last three years, but, again, we’re in a tough division. And we’re going to be right in the mix with top teams like Woodbridge and Colonia, who are the cream of the crop right now.”