In 2011, the St. Anthony High School football team was believed to be a contender for both the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League-American Division and the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 1 titles.
The Friars had a ton of talent, packed with some major college prospects. They had experienced and proven players who were destined to have a season to remember.
It turned out to be a year to forget. The Friars stumbled to a 4-6 campaign, failing to make the state playoffs after two straight appearances.
If you’re looking for blame, one person believes that the finger should be pointed directly at him – and that’s head coach Sean Fallon.
“It was an ego thing,” Fallon said. “I’m not a loser. I don’t lose. I figured that we were going to win. But when I needed to give them a hug, I tried to kick their tails. I was going berserk during games and created a negative feeling. That was my fault. I made the mess. It was a good learning experience for me. You can chalk up at least half the losses to me.”
Fallon also believed that the Friars made crucial mistakes in key situations.
“We had fumbles and penalties all year,” Fallon said. “Those were things we never did before. We lost to Memorial by a point because of fumbles. We had two touchdown drives against Hoboken stalled because of penalties. So we’ve taken a hard stance on fundamentals this year. We went back and looked at what we did wrong and have worked on that. We needed to place an emphasis on fundamentals.”
Fallon is confident that his current group of seniors will be able to overcome the mistakes that plagued the team last year.
“This year’s group of seniors might be the most focused group we’ve ever had,” Fallon said. “They might not be as talented as others, but they’re more driven. We’ve seen some different stuff. They play defense with an attitude. They’ve given me glimpses of what they could be. Things feel really crisp. They break the huddle with authority. We had only one penalty in our three scrimmages, so that makes me feel positive.”
Leading the way is senior quarterback Derek Sims (6-0, 190), who returns as the Friars’ signal caller.
“Last year, our team had no senior leadership at all, but this year, we have a good group and Derek is among that group,” Fallon said. “I don’t even have to yell at all, because the seniors take care of everything. They’re the best internal policing I can have. The leadership is unbelievable. The seniors know that this is their year and Derek is leading the way. I love the way he handles the entire team. I know I’m always going to get something positive out of Derek.”
The fullback is senior James Bates (5-9, 175), who comes from the same long-line of members of the Bates family that carried the ball for Hoboken. James is the cousin of Red Wing greats Desmond and All-State great Damien, who led the state in scoring in 2006.
“I said in an interview that James was not a 90-yard touchdown guy and since that time, he’s broken three long runs,” Fallon said. “He’s recently found another gear. He’s a hard-nosed, tough runner who understands the offense.”
Another halfback is senior Darrel Hicks (5-7, 160). The last halfback slot is being shared by senior Nyle Trent (5-9, 160), junior Herb Johnson (5-8, 170) and sophomore Taris Crawford (5-7, 165).
“We have kids that all can run,” Fallon said.
The wide receiver slot is owned by senior Damon Small (6-3, 190), who is impressing both Fallon and college coaches.
“He’s scored three touchdowns on passes in our scrimmages,” Fallon said. “He reminds me a lot of [former Hoboken and Notre Dame great] Duval [Kamara]. He’s tall, has good hands and makes good catches.”
The tight end is Rashad Brandon (6-3, 280), who is a converted lineman.
The Friars have some size on the offensive line. Sophomore tackle Eric Carter (6-4, 310) has opened some eyes and drew an invitation to the Rutgers camp over the summer.
“He has a lot of promise,” Fallon said. “He’s had a very good summer. I think he’s well on his way.”
Senior Trayvone Walker (6-1, 260) is the team’s other tackle.
Senior Darius Roper (6-2, 245) is a four-year starter at guard who struggled much like the Friars did last year.
“He had an ankle problem, then a toe,” Fallon said. “His production was down. He had a rough year and it cost him. But this year, he’s been great.”
Senior Nyle Hardy (6-0, 210) is the other guard with gigantic junior Courtel Jenkins (6-4, 320) at center.
Defensively, the Friars play a 4-3 alignment, with Hardy and Roper at defensive end, along with senior Kevin Taylor (6-4, 200). Jenkins and Carter are at defensive tackle, joined by promising freshman Isiah Brandon (6-1, 270), the younger brother of Rashad. Roper and Jenkins started on the defensive line last year.
Sophomore Devin Terry (6-1, 240) is the middle linebacker, flanked by senior Caesar Outlaw (6-1, 210), a starter last year, and junior Wan-Ye Shirden (5-10, 190).
Hicks and Herb Johnson are the cornerbacks, along with sophomore Alex Vidal (5-10, 170). Sims and Trent play safety as does sophomore Davonte McLarin (6-0, 180).
The Friars open their season against Glen Ridge and play Group IV school Belleville in Week 2. The Friars are also blessed to have all of their games at Caven Point Cochrane Field in the Ed “Faa” Ford Memorial Sports Complex after they face Glen Ridge.
“We love playing at Caven Point,” Fallon said. “Everyone supports us well there. It’s good to have it as a home field. We’re playing Glen Ridge and Belleville, because we feel it’s important to play outside the county. They’re both good programs.”
Fallon knows that a repeat performance of 2011 is not acceptable.
“If we end up 4-6 again, we’ll be absolutely disappointed,” Fallon said. “It won’t happen again.”
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.