New Year, New Team: West Orange Mountaineer Football 2014

Head Coach Jim Matsakis talks to players. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Co-captains Shaquille Grosvenor, Chris Morgan and Steeve Francois. Credits: Cynthia Cumming

WEST ORANGE, NJ - West Orange High School head football coach Jim Matsakis has a simple coaching philosophy: every day is an opportunity to get better. As the team practiced in the heat of the morning sun at Suriano Stadium on Aug. 21, Coach Matsakis talked to TAP Into West Orange about the upcoming season.

Implementing a run-and-shoot offense and a 4-3 defense, Matsakis is pushing the team hard to do well this year. In 2013, Matsakis’ first year as head coach, the team racked up a 7-3 record for the season, successful by any standard. Currently, the program (including freshman and JV) has 127 players, 27 of whom are seniors. This abundance of senior players is one of the key strengths of the team this year, says Matsakis.

The varsity squad lost 18 of 22 starters when the class of 2014 graduated. Eighteen new starters took their places, and while many of them lack experience, the vast majority possesses a more important quality: dedication. Numerous senior players have been dedicated to the program since freshman year, and many of those players played in the PAL football program for years as well. That intense dedication is not something that will fade when times get tough.  In the words of Matsakis, “You need eleven to be good, thirty-three to be great.”

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Matsakis also made note of the players to watch this season which include Jarod Vyent (wide receiver, already committed to Fordham University), Chris Morgan (defensive lineman), Shaquille Grosvenor (defensive lineman), Jonah Brodsky (quarterback), Malik Allen (wide receiver), and Robert Bailey (wide receiver).

Said Matsakis, “Anybody can lose a game of football, but not everybody can win.” The Mountaineers are eager to win their first game against Wayne Valley on Sept. 13 on home turf during the 2014 Fanfest.

TAP Into West Orange also talked to the senior captains Shaquille Grosvenor, Chris Morgan, and Steeve Francois. Grosvenor told TAP Into West Orange, “each practice is all about pushing yourself. It’s all about mental toughness.”

Defensively, the group agreed that the 4-3 set consisted of a strong defensive line and a secondary that needs some work. That being said, none of them were deterred, and they felt  confident that the team would do well. “We’re going to make some noise this season,” said Morgan. “We can at least make the playoffs.”

As far as the offense goes, the captains agreed that “nothing is set in stone.” No positions are definite, and everyone is getting a chance to prove themselves. The rotating of positions, they say, is helping to create a stronger bond between teammates.

When asked for any parting words, Francois immediately said, “People are doubting us. We’re seen as underdogs.”

“Nobody thought the soccer team was going to go anywhere, but look at what they accomplished,” said Morgan, referring to their championship win in the 2013 season. Said Morgan, “Don’t sleep on West Orange.”

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