By Andy Loigu
A quick and athletic group of seniors hopes to restore the roar for the Hackettstown Tigers’ football team this fall.
For Hackettstown to improve on last year’s 4-5 overall record and reach the upper echelon of the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference Freedom Division standings, they need to contend with defending champion Madison and the teams that tied for second, Dover and Lenape Valley.
Defending each team presents a different set of challenges. The Madison Dodgers spread out the offense to pass, the Dover Tigers run the spread to create open space for their dynamic running back Dwayne Brown to make big gains on the ground, and the Lenape Valley Patriots play ball control with long drives from the “old school” Wing-T.
“As we study scouting reports we’ll be aware of certain players we need to contain and things we’ll need to pay attention to and take away, but we don’t want to be reinventing our defense every week. We need to take advantage of our strengths and play a flexible defensive system, working week to week with no overthinking,” said the Tigers’ second-year head coach Carl Robinson. “The key is to play smart and play fast.”
He said that with the wide-open modern offenses so many teams on the Tigers’ schedule employ, it would not surprise him to see somebody go no-huddle against him, especially when Hackettstown is protecting a lead. Also, he said the team needs to be prepared for the flea-flicker, hitch, and bubble screen plays which many teams spring these days, and discourage teams from running long-developing plays by applying pressure and forcing turnovers.
With the starting secondary all returning, and with linebackers and linemen who got enough game action to be considered experienced, Robinson spent the first two weeks of summer practice molding a 3-5 defensive alignment, giving his outside linebackers pathways to either come up to stop the run or drop back on pass coverage as each game situation dictates.
“Playing the 3-5 may look easy on the chalkboard, but to make it work you need a group of players who are quick and athletic,” Robinson explained.
“The players have to know their assignments, coordinate their responsibilities and be mobile enough to get into the right places without hesitation,” he said. “Today’s spread offenses play at a fast tempo.”
Seniors Joe Renne and JJ Carrara, plus sophomore Joe Andes make up the starting secondary. Backing them up are juniors Zach Nesheiwat, Matt O’Brien, and Ryan Gallagher, who may often come in on third and long passing downs for extra coverage.
The linebackers’ corps is made up of seniors Colin Lynch, Nick Renne,, Mike Castellano, and Brendan Finn, plus junior Anthony Gonzales.
On the line of scrimmage, seniors Christian Rodriguez, and Ryan Snyder, plus junior Kyle Connelly, will be a handful for opposing centers, guards, and fullbacks.
How this group plays will go a long way toward the Tigers moving up in the division standings and getting into post-season play.