It’s September, so it means one thing.
St. Peter’s Prep has the premier football team in Hudson County.
It’s been that way every year since 1997. The Marauders own a gaudy and almost unfathomable 102-game winning streak within the confines of the county, having not lost a game to a Hudson County school since 2000.
And for now, no one seems close to knocking the Marauders from their lofty perch.
The Marauders seem to be ready to make a run at the elusive NJSIAA Non-Public Group 4 state title, an accomplishment that they have not achieved since 2005.
“I don’t know how much higher our goals can be,” said veteran head coach Rich Hansen, the school’s all-time leader in coaching victories, who begins his 27th season as the Marauders’ mentor.
“It’s always the goal,” Hansen said. “It’s not always about talent. There are other things involved. There’s team chemistry. There’s the ability to trust one another. I think we have the potential to win it all, for sure. I think we are a better team than last year. We have a lot of kids back and those kids are bigger, stronger, and faster. We have kids who now have experience who just weren’t ready last year.”
The Marauders were 8-2-1 last year in perhaps the most tumultuous season in school history. In September, the Marauders received a forfeit win over Kearny, when Kearny didn’t want to face the Marauders in fear that their players could get hurt.
In late October, Hurricane Sandy destroyed the team’s practice facility, leaving the Marauders without a place to practice for more than a week. In fact, the superstorm closed the school for an entire week, the longest such stretch ever at Grand and Warren.
The storm led to the cancellation of a scheduled game against Dover of Delaware, thus the tie recorded on their record.
The Marauders won their opener in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group IV playoffs over Seton Hall Prep, before eventually losing in the sectional semifinals to Paramus Catholic.
But it’s a new year and a new set of challenges.
“I think we have a nice balanced group,” Hansen said. “We have several sophomores who are ready to contribute right now. We have a senior group that is experienced. It’s now all about making sure that the chemistry works.”
Leading the way for the Marauders is talented junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush (6-3, 200). Wimbush paid his dues last season, sharing time with the now-graduated Mike Rabasca. But there’s no one else to take away snaps from Wimbush, who has several NCAA Division I offers on his plate.
“It’s his team,” Hansen said. “He now has 24 games to prove that he’s the best quarterback we’ve ever had. He definitely has the opportunity to be in that class. No question, he has the package. He has the physical tools, the mental skills, the football IQ. He also now has confidence and an overall understanding of the offense. He’s comfortable in his own skin.”
The Marauders’ top running back is senior Jonathan Hilliman (6-1, 210), who just recently declared his intentions to head to Rutgers next fall to play for the Scarlet Knights.
Hilliman averaged almost 11 yards every time he carried the football last season, collecting more than 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“He has a great combination of speed and power,” Hansen said. “He just needs to challenge himself mentally and buy into what we’re doing.”
Another running back is junior Minkah Fitzpatrick (6-0, 190), who is the third of the Marauders’ top Division I recruits.
“Minkah is a unique athlete with tremendous ability,” Hansen said. “He has a great attitude and can do anything on the field. We have to get him other opportunities to touch the ball.”
It means that Fitzpatrick will line up at running back, wide receiver, slot receiver _ you name it.
Another talented running back is another junior Corey Caddle (5-7, 160). Caddle, who is also a baseball standout, will also line up in different positions.
“Corey has tremendous ability,” Hansen said. “The kid has more courage and passion than anyone in the program.”
Others getting time in the backfield include junior mighty mite Tyler Martino (5-4, 170) and sophomore Sa’id Boykin (5-9, 175).
“Boykin is a talented kid who will find a nice niche with this team,” Hansen said.
The fullbacks are seniors Justin Walker (6-1, 235) and Almamy Conde (5-9, 230).
The wide receiving corps is basically filled with newcomers, led by senior Tucker Freeman (6-0, 175).
Juniors Dennis James (6-3, 160) and Dwon Walker (5-10, 170) and sophomore Kolton Huber (6-0, 170) – the younger brother of last year’s Hudson Reporter Defensive Player of the Year Shane (currently at UMass) – round out that group.
The tight ends are senior Armond Cox (6-0, 220) and junior Matt Oliveira (6-2, 210).
The offensive line features three returning starters in senior tackle Robbie Walsh (6-2, 260) and senior guards Jimmy Palmieri (6-1, 290) and Nick Angeli (6-1, 250). The other top linemen include junior tackle Jose Palomino (6-2, 280), who had a great wrestling season last winter, junior tackle Dave Tolentino (6-3, 280) and junior center Steven Trujillo (6-0, 260).
Defensively, the Marauders have a ton of talented players returning, including three members of the Hudson Reporter All-Area team from 2012.
Cox, who was an All-Area defensive end last season, returns to that slot this season, along with senior Delano Smalls (6-0, 245). Tolentino, who was also an All-Area standout at defensive tackle, returns to his nose guard slot.
Senior Jordan Fox (6-3, 210), who has also received a handful of Division I offers, returns to his outside linebacker slot where he earned All-Area honors last year. He is joined at outside linebacker by junior Cheyenne Robertson (6-2, 210).
Conde and Justin Walker return to their inside linebacker positions and will also be joined there by senior Zaire Cuttino (6-1, 230).
The cornerbacks are Fitzpatrick and Caddle, with junior Ahmad Thomas (5-9, 165) in the mix.
Senior Shamir Bearfield (6-1, 180), who has already given a verbal commitment to Temple, is one of the safeties, along with junior Dean Perez (6-2, 190) and sophomore K.J. Gray (6-2, 180).
Junior Ryan Hernandez is the placekicker.
No question, this is a team that is poised for a successful December run. The skilled players may be the best collection of talent that the Marauders have ever had. The defense has the potential to be stifling. It’s a fine mix and the pieces are there.
Now, all that’s left is a few victories come playoff time.
“We certainly hope so,” said Hansen, who now has 203 career victories headed into the season, fourth all-time in Hudson County history.
He’ll get a few more this year, maybe even 12. It’s not out of the realm of possibility this time for the Marauders to bring home the state title from MetLife Stadium in December.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.