NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — After a heartbreaking loss in the state playoffs last season and a tough season opening this year, the West Essex Knights football team turned things around with six consecutive wins this season in large part due to star lineman Bardhyl Gashi’s leadership both on and off the field.
“You can tell the team had a chip on its shoulder; especially the players that came back with the feeling from last year,” said Gashi. “The seniors know that we don’t want that to happen again so we’re doing everything we can to make that not happen again.”
As one of the team captains this season, Gashi has made it a point to lead by example and educate the squad on how to play hard-nosed football.
“We’re young, so my goal was to show the younger kids the West Essex football way,” he said.
The senior captain has been a staple for the squad over the last three-plus seasons. At nose tackle this year, Gashi leads the team with six sacks and 26 tackles.
“[I have been] trusting my technique really,” said Gashi. “Coach [Chris Benacquista] teaches us technique, and the key is to trust it, go through play with passion and trust it.”
Gashi doubles on the offensive side as a right tackle for the team’s offensive line. The 300-plus-pound Gashi has helped pave the way for a rushing attack that’s garnered nearly 3,000 yards.
“It’s just hard work,” said Gashi. “Every single day, we come to practice, we bring the energy and we get work done.”
Gashi made sure to focus on his own improvements for this season. While some prefer to look at one weakness and work on it, Gashi looks at his game as a whole through intense film study to correct any potential flaws.
“There’s always little things when you watch film—either your step was off or your hand placement was a little wrong—so I do that every week to try and fix the little things to make myself better,” said Gashi.
Although the focus every year for West Essex is to win a state championship, the Knights not lost sight of the task immediately at hand. Despite a rough loss to Parsippany Hills on Friday, the group will look to march onto victory in a regular-season matchup against West Side on Friday.