Camp Confidential: Piscataway
MSG Varsity will visit the top teams in the Garden State during preseason camps and provide all the latest news leading up to opening kick-off. In today’s edition of Camp Confidential, we take a look at Piscataway.
LAST SEASON: The Chiefs finished 10-2 and won their second consecutive North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 championship with a 41-34 decision over Elizabeth. Piscataway lost two of its first three games, then spun off nine straights wins to close the season. The Chiefs were undefeated in 2010.
HEAD COACH: Dan Higgins (10th season)
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: QB/DB Nadir Barnwell, WR/DB Kyle LaPorte, WR/DB/P David Claybrook, FB/LB Kevin Butler, TE/LB Marcus Roundtree, FB/LB Adrian Farfan, RB/DB Tyrell Judson, RB/DB Jamall James, OL/DL Amir Nave, OL/DL Denzell Lockhart, WR/DB Charles Gratz, OL/DL Justin Jaryo, OL/DL Evan Rosenburg, OL/DL Tre Beckley, WR/DB Oladiren Isrjola, WR/PK Chris Mosier
NOT-SO-NEWCOMER: RB/DB Cameron Nash grew up in Piscataway and came through its renowned Pop Warner system. His family moved to Delaware several years ago, but recently returned. The senior reunites with old pals to fortify an already strong backfield and defensive secondary.
BOTTOM LINE: Nadir Barnwell, a major Division 1A recruit, led the Chiefs to back-to-back sectional titles and returns for his fourth season as starting quarterback-- a remarkable achievement for a program of Piscataway's size and stature as a perennial powerhouse. There is stunning speed at all skill positions, experience and talent at linebacker, a solid kicking game and, of course, a deep winning tradition.
In other words, looks like more good days ahead for Piscataway.
Ah, but it was less than one year ago when that could not be said with confidence. The Chiefs had graduated their entire starting linebacker crew and several key linemen from the 2010 North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 championship team---and it showed. Piscataway struggled to find cohesion defensively and began 2011 at 1-2.
"Our linebackers had to develop," Higgins said of then-juniors Marcus Roundtree, Kevin Butler and Adrian Farfan. "Things picked up after that third week and developed in a positive manner. To have a high-ranked team fall to the depths of such doubt and then pick up and finish the way we did…that made it a very memorable season. It was awesome for these kids to learn what they're capable of if you are committed to something."
Because of that rough start, Piscataway earned the eighth and final seed in routinely one of the most competitive sections in the state. It needed overtime to edge top-seeded Hunterdon Central, 34-31, an impeccable defensive effort to escape No. 4 East Orange Campus, 7-0, in the semifinals and a record-breaking rushing effort by Tevin Shaw to rally past No. 3 Elizabeth, 41-34, in the title game.
It was a jagged start for the Chiefs and a heart-stopping end to the season. The growth and unity realized in those few short months can and should carry over nicely to this season.
"It was a really satisfying year. We did go through some trials and tribulations," Higgins said. "These were great life lessons for all those kids involved. They realize there are bigger things than just 'Me' now. We did not start the season on the same page, but finished it with a team-first mentality. That was a challenge."
Piscataway is expected to charge out of the gate this season, opening its Greater Middlesex Conference-Red Division schedule Sept. 7 against Edison and continuing the next two weeks against Old Bridge and J.P. Stevens.
Sayreville and South Brunswick (last year's GMC-Red champ) should once again be exceptional teams, Woodbridge will be competitive as always and East Brunswick will be much stronger than last year. If Piscataway wants that GMC-Red title, it will have to earn it. But there's no doubt that it has the talent, experience and leadership to do so.
The most uncertain aspect of Piscataway's defense at the start of the 2011 season soon became one of its most trusted weapons due to the rapid maturity of Roundtree, Butler and Farfan. They now enter the 2012 season as one of the more feared LB units in all of New Jersey. What a luxury that is for Higgins and his squad.
"When you have experienced linebackers, you find out they can make up for a lot. Having experienced linebackers is almost parallel to having a returning starting quarterback. They impact plays," he said. "The only way these guys are going to struggle is if they're going to get pushed off the line. I don't see that happening."
WHAT'S MY LINE?
The Chiefs graduated three outstanding linemen in Damien Stevens, Ryan James and Jonathan Kinslow. Amir Nave, Justin Jaryo and Evan Rosenburg all were regulars last season (Jaryo and Rosenburg split time at center), but there still are spots to fill. This is not a dilemma of any dimension for the Chiefs, but there is some uncertainty.
"Getting the line right is important. We won't be as big on the interior this year, but we have some good upperclassmen who didn't get a chance to play," Higgins said. "There isn't a ton of experience, but that doesn't mean they're not good players. They've been behind some excellent players in the program and have been spending a lot of time going against the starting defense on our scout team."
NOT JUST NADIR
Nadir Barnwell is definitely the face of Piscataway football right now, and rightly so. The four-year starter already has helped deliver two sectional titles, he's a respected leader on and off the field and one of the most highly recruited players in the state. He has some 25 firm 1A offers, most with intentions of playing him at cornerback, but some entertaining the idea of split receiver.
But Barnwell does not have to carry Piscataway's lofty goals all by himself. Hardly. There is a prodigious amount of speed and football talent all around him, from Jamall James, Tyrell Johnson and Cameron Nash at running back to Kyle LaPorte, Charles Gratz, David Claybrook and Oladiren Isrjola at receiver.
"We expect to be balanced this year as far as run and pass," Higgins said. "We might have more spread sets because of the depth and ability of our kids. For us, flexibility is a strength. You get more guys involved if you can play to what you have year in and year out."
NO LEG UP
Piscataway is conducting an unexpected search for a kicker to temporarily replace senior Chris Mosier, who was both the Chiefs' placekicker and kickoff man last year. He is also a receiver. Mosier sustained a broken leg (a non-weight bearing bone) in a recent practice and could be out four to six weeks. The kicking game was to be strong this year with Mosier and also David Claybrook back to handle the punting chores.
"I was expecting our kicking game to be a force this year on return and coverage," Higgins said. "That's such an important component of the game."
Sept. 7 vs. Edison
Sept. 14 vs. Old Bridge
Sept. 21 at J.P. Stevens
Oct. 5 vs. South Brunswick
Oct. 12 vs. Sayreville
Oct. 19 at Monroe
Oct. 26 vs. North Brunswick
Nov. 2 vs. East Brunswick
Nov. 22 at Franklin
Mike Kinney covers football for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS