By Andy Loigu
Although school-record breaking running back Justin Iaione and his primary blocker John Kelly graduated after last season, the cupboard is not bare for the Warren Hills varsity football team, which started practices this week.
Quarterback Evan Murray, wide receiver Carson Johnson, running back Shane Deemer, and strong safety James McMenamin all return to be the senior leaders of this year’s Blue Streaks.
Johnson had an impressive season in 2014 with 454 receiving yards, 75.7 yards per game, 18.2 yards per catch, and five receiving touchdowns from quarterback Murray.
“We’ve never been a one-dimensional team,” remarked veteran coach Larry Dubiel. “We’ve always coached our team to take what the defense gives it.”
Iaione rushed for over 3,000 yards during his stellar career, and was a bulldozer that the team kept using, but when defenses employed too much manpower to stuff the run, Warren Hills went to the air, often with a post pattern to Johnson.
When asked if Iaione’s absence would force Warren Hills to throw more than it has in recent years, Dubiel answered that it is too early to judge; the team has not even practiced full-contact in pads yet.
“The state of New Jersey gave the kids a break and told us we could not engage in contact yet,” Dubiel said. “But they ran a lot, I need to know who kept in shape this summer, who really has the desire to play,” he added.
“We teach the positions first. Kids who really work at this game grow and develop new skill sets from one year to the next,” Dubiel said. “As our personnel goes, we will decide how much we run or pass. First we need to assess what these kids can do. We don’t allow defenses to dictate to us what we should do. We prefer to make them try to adjust to what we are doing successfully, to take the game to them.”
Dubiel indicated he is pleased with this year’s turnout. “For all levels, we have 125 kids starting out. For varsity, we have 65 to 70 kids, and I like that number, considering we play a tough schedule with a lot of big schools,” the coach said. “But, what we really need is 11 good ones who are committed to winning.”
A good sign was seeing several outstanding catches made during the opening drills, by both offensive and defensive players. It looks like the Blue Streaks have several good-hands people on board, which bodes well for an entertaining season.
Dubiel was an assistant coach at Warren Hills 15 years ago when the Blue Streaks went 11-1 and captured a state playoff championship in North Jersey Section 2 Group 3 under then head coach Bob Lockhart.
The Blue Streaks, in a five-year period, had five different senior quarterbacks throw for 1,000-yards in successive seasons, indicating Lockhart employed a good system which featured the passing game and lots of waggles, hitches, and bubble screens.
Dubiel is familiar with the “West Coast-based” system Lockhart taught. Dubiel coached superior passing teams of his own with Belvidere in 2007, when the County Seaters reached a sectional final, and with Warren Hills in 2012, when quarterback Zach Martin passed the Blue Streaks into a sectional final.
“We’ll try to put the pieces in place to have a team that can both run it and pass it, and to have a defense that can give us the ball in good field position. We ran well behind a line that did a lot of outstanding run blocking last year,” Dubiel said. “To be successful it takes athletes who learn and execute what they need to do on the field. It is a new year, and we are excited to get started.”