WEST ORANGE, NJ — Darnell Grant, the new football coach at West Orange High School, has been heartened not only by his team's efforts during summer camp, but by the interest the community has taken in the program.
"Everything we have done during the summer has received great support," said Grant, who took the West Orange job after a distinguished tenure coaching Shabazz High in Newark. "We had a fundraising car wash, and there were tons of cars; we did a fish fry, got tons of people at that; we had a Friday Night Lights promotion, and that drew a lot of interest too."
Grant is hoping that the enthusiasm he's witnessed translates into a lot of West Orange fans traveling to Rutgers University for the team's opening game under the lights at Rutgers University on Saturday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. against Montclair. Last season, West Orange opened the season with a stunning upset of defending sectional champion Montclair, but closed its season three months later by losing to Montclair in the first round of the sectional playoffs.
Under former coach Jim Matsakis, West Orange played a consistently high level of defense last year, but the offense struggled with penalties and a lack of consistency. Matsikis played a lot of two-platoon football, and the defense had a lot more experience than the offensive unit did. That's a nuance that Grant has acknowledged.
"To my benefit, coach Matsikis played a lot of young guys on offense last year who gained experience, so that has given us much more experience on that side of the ball than the team had last season," said Grant. "A lot of the offensive guys are coming back, and we hope we can capitalize on that."
In a competition among several candidates for the position, junior Mason Murdock appears to have claimed the starting quarterback role after a strong summer.
"Mason has proved himself right now to be the starter," said Grant. "He is a field general. He has the best grasp of what we are trying to do offensively, and he throws a really nice ball. He is a take-charge guy who gets everybody lined up correctly before each snap."
Murdock will be operating a fast-paced spread offense where the coaching staff tries to "distribute the ball to all our playmakers in space." Those playmakers include junior running back Shakhi Carson, who has already attracted interest from the University of Kentucky among other Division 1 schools.
Grant is also intrigued by the prospects offered by wideout Jayson Raines, who "had fantastic summer" and whom Grant describes as an "explosive, big target for Mason. They have developed a good connection." Sure-handed Amiyn Hanks could loom as a solid possession receiver, and tight end Jason Gonzalez will line up in a variety of spots in varied formations.
"We have multiple personnel and formations," said Grant. "We will figure out best way to attack a defense and then take what they give us."
On the other side of the ball, the Mountaineers will play a 3-3 stack defense that Grant said is "predicated on speed and causing confusion on offense."
"It's about attitude and effort," he said. "The effort was there on defense last year. We're just trying to bring consistency and not make mistakes. We'd also like the defense to give our offense a short field to work with."
Some of the keys to the 3-3 defense will be junior middle linebacker Chris Parsons, senior free safety Cade Lipsey, junior end Aquan Robinson (6-5, 250), senior nose tackle Amadu Kamara, and strong safeties Adonis May and Jaylen Rutherford, a transfer from Paramus Catholic. Junior Dorian Rawls, senior Jahmil St. Pierre and junior Sean Brown are also talented players in the secondary.
Senior Brian Reitberger returns as the kicker and junior Adrian Healy handle the punting for West Orange.
"It can be rough on a team changing coaches, and I have really been pleased with the way we've come together this summer," said Grant. "The boys have worked really hard."
During the summer, the Mountaineers won their first-ever "Bergen Shootout" against 16 teams at the newly-opened Pulis Field in Franklin Lakes. Click HERE for the story.
WEST ORANGE 2019 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Saturday, 9/7, vs. Montclair (at Rutgers University), 7 p.m.
Friday, 9/13, (H) Paterson Kennedy, 7 p.m.
Friday, 9/20, (A) Don Bosco Prep, 7 p.m.
Friday, 9/27, (A) Columbia, 7 p.m.
Saturday, 10/5, (A) Livingston, 3 p.m.
Friday, 10/11, (H) East Orange, 7 p.m.
Friday, 10/18, (A) Passaic Tech, 7 p.m.
Friday, 10/25, (H) Bloomfield, 7 p.m.
Friday, 11/1, (H) Barringer, 7 p.m.