SOUTH PLAINFIELD, N.J. -- The end of summer is near and that means the start of high school football season across the state of New Jersey is right around the corner.

Last year, South Plainfield went 6-5 and advanced to the semifinals of the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 tournament and ended its campaign with a very convincing 40-0 home victory over rival North Plainfield.

What will 2019 bring? Coach Gary Cassio, who is back for his eighth season at the helm of the Tigers, sports a record of 39-35 through his first seven years. With the season fast approaching, Cassio likes the effort his team is giving and likes the roster mix of underclassmen and upperclassmen.

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“Camp is a work in progress. There are a lot of things we are excited about and some things we are concerned about that we need to address and improve on,” Cassio told TAPinto South Plainfield. “The boys are working hard but need to start finding that next gear. We are a very young team with primarily sophomore and juniors starting, but have experience with a few seniors.”

While the team lost a number of defensive standouts including Zach DelVecchio (wrestling at Rutgers), Luke Niemeyer (wrestling at Bucknell), Brian Maszczak, Brenden Hedden, Dondre Tate, and TJ Massaro from a year ago due to graduation, Cassio is hopeful the younger guys make a jump.

“You can't replace those guys. They were one of a kind,” Cassio said. “But hopefully these younger guys paid attention to how they played the game with attitude and how the prepared day in and day out.”

Offensively, Cassio is excited about what he has at every spot except for wide receiver which is still coming along.

Senior Sammy Nieves will be under center/behind center at quarterback once again. He threw for 507 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 639 yards with six more scores in 2018.

Running back Kyshon Hopkins was slated for a solid freshman season a year ago, but broke his ankle against Colonia. He’s back as a sophomore and is expected to carry some of the load. Tight end Austin Scott, who had three catches for 45 yards, is being recruited by colleges.

The Tigers will look to run the ball effectively using their option attack and it all starts up front with the offensive line. With big guys Everett Pfeiffer (left tackle) and Abdul Cokley, Cassio believes one of his team’s strengths is the offensive line. The rest of the will consist of Greg Algarin, John Padavano, and Myles Cheatham. Fullbacks Josiah Harvey and Bryce Hollis will aid in blocking defenders as well.

“This is one of the biggest offensive lines we've had,” Cassio said. “They look the part but need to develop cohesiveness and need to be more physical and nasty.”

Defensively, Harvey at linebacker, Julian Medina and Cokley on the d-line, Scott at d-end, Hollis at linebacker, and Hopkins and Nieves in the secondary will be called upon to fill the shoes of the last season’s previously mentioned veteran bunch.

South Plainfield losses 11.5 sacks from a combination of Tate, DelVecchio, Niemeyer, and Hedden. However, Scott did wreak havoc by tallying a team-leading 7.0 a year ago while making 56 tackles. Nieves made 32 stops while Harvey had 45 tackles with two forced fumbles.

“Our d-line should be very good but we lost a lot on defense due to graduation,” Cassio said. “Guys need to show they can play on Friday nights.”

Senior Ashwin deGroot, arguably the Tigers’ biggest weapon on both sides of the ball, is currently out due to injury and it is unknown when he’ll be healthy enough to play. He tore his ACL earlier this summer. His presence on the gridiron, or lack thereof, could greatly factor how South Plainfield’s season goes. As a junior, deGroot rushed for 907 yards and four touchdowns, caught seven passes for 233 yards and a touchdown and had 63 tackles including 5.0 for-loss with two sacks. He also was the team’s kicker as he handled kickoffs and made 17-of-22 PAT and a 34-yard field goal.

“Well, after the loss of Ashwin, who was our Mr. Everything, guys have to step up,” Cassio said. “Ashwin was our starting running back, strongside outside linebacker, kick returner, and kicker.  He suffered a freak non-contact injury while running. This is going to put a lot more pressure on Nieves, sophomore Hopkins, Harvey, and our offensive line. So basically to answer your question, this is the biggest team sport there is and we need to rely heavily on everyone.”

All in all, Cassio is optimistic about the upcoming campaign. South Plainfield will play three road games in a row to start the season before coming home to face St. Joseph (Metuchen). Foot hits the ball at Immaculate on Friday, Sept. 7, at 7:00 p.m.

“The outlook is to focus on Immaculata in the season opener on September 7th. We have to take it one week at a time and improve every week,” Cassio said. “We need to stay healthy.”

SPHS Football 2019 Schedule

Sept. 7: at Immaculata, 7

Sept. 13: at Iselin Kennedy, 7

Sept. 20: at Woodbridge, 7

Sept. 27: St. Joseph (Met.), 7

Oct. 4: Colonia, 7

Oct. 11: at North Hunterdon, 7

Oct. 18: at Edison, 7

Oct. 25: Carteret, 7

Nov. 1: North Plainfield, 7

Follow Chris Nalwasky on Twitter @ChrisWasky.