Qualifying for the NJSIAA state playoffs had become a ritual of autumn for the Secaucus High School football team. Like the falling leaves, Halloween and the World Series, the Patriots were always simply part of the postseason party, earning a spot in the playoffs for 11 of the last 13 years, the last nine of which were consecutively.
“We were used to going to the state playoffs,” said veteran head coach Charlie Voorhees, who begins his 14th year as head man for the Patriots and his second as the school’s athletic director. “We didn’t think about it much. It’s what we did.”
Last year, the Patriots appeared headed toward their 10th straight trip to the North Jersey Section 2, Group I playoffs. They won their first five games, including an impressive lopsided win over neighboring rival Lyndhurst. Destiny was in their hands.
Unfortunately, destiny slipped through the Patriots’ hands like grains of sand on the beach. Secaucus lost its last five games in uncharacteristic fashion and failed to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2002.
“I’d call it an empty feeling,” Voorhees said. “That’s the best way to sum it up. It was empty. We played a consolation game [a loss to Belvidere], but it wasn’t any consolation at all. It was a difficult challenge to play that game. It’s hard when you’re used to going to the playoffs and then you don’t go. We carried around that burden for a full year.”
As the Patriots begin to kick off the 2012 season, there’s a goal in mind.
“I’ll tell you what,” Voorhees said. “We never want to play in that consolation game ever again. That’s a sign telling you that things didn’t go right. One of the ultimate goals we have every year is to make the state playoffs and we didn’t get it. You shake your head and can’t believe it when you’re not in.”
Voorhees begins his 14th campaign stuck on 99 career victories. He needed one more to reach the impressive 100-win milestone last year and didn’t get it, suffering loss after loss. Only nine Hudson County football coaches have ever reached 100 career wins, so it would be a nice milestone for Voorhees to reach.
Leading the way this season for the Patriots is senior quarterback Jason Mitchell (5-10, 175). Mitchell was first a running back, then a wide receiver who has been converted into a quarterback.
“He’s a confident football player, a good leader,” Voorhees said of Mitchell. “He has a good handle on what we’re trying to do offensively.”
Senior Tim Charles (5-10, 175) is the top returnee in a very deep Patriot backfield. Junior Sean Roesing (6-0, 175), the last of a very talented Roesing family that have dominated Secaucus athletics for the past decade, is another running back, along with junior Jan Luis Castellanos (5-10, 180) and sophomores Justin Krause (5-9, 160) and Jenaro Montanez (5-9, 150).
“We like what we have at running back,” Voorhees said. “We’re going to use those kids all over the place.”
The wide receivers are senior Rob Critelli (5-10, 160) and junior Pat Collins (6-1, 180). Senior Bob Jernstadt (6-1, 190) and junior Bobby Wolf (6-0, 180) are the two who will see playing time at tight end.
The Patriots’ offensive line is a complete work-in-progress, with four players battling for playing time at tackle.
Senior Kyle Nelson (6-2, 230), who was the team’s starter last year at center, has been moved to tackle. Nelson is an offensive line mainstay.
But the rest of the time will be divided among senior Eric Bluemke (6-0, 230) and juniors Tom Hering (6-0, 190) and John Sakatos (5-10, 190).
Junior Brandon Medina (5-9, 185) returns at guard, where he’s joined by junior Justin Estruch (6-0, 200). Sophomore Thomas Eckert (6-0, 195) is the center.
The Patriots use a 3-4 defensive alignment, with Medina and Nelson at defensive tackle and two players sharing the time at nose guard, namely senior Sean Belenski (6-2, 280) and junior Mike Schoendorf (6-0, 280).
The outside linebackers are Jernstadt, Wolf and senior Huaron Higgs (6-1, 190). Roesing, Charles and Krause are all inside linebackers.
Critelli is joined at cornerback by a pair of seniors in Kevin Smith (6-1, 170) and Jarrett Jinorio (6-0, 180), with Collins and Mitchell at safety.
The Patriots open the 2012 season against Park Ridge at Kane Stadium Friday night, Sept. 7.
“I think we’re fortunate to have a bunch of interchangeable parts,” Voorhees said. “That’s like we’ve had in the past. I think we got caught last year having kids only play one position and that hurt us. Still, with all the technology we have now, it still comes down to protecting the ball. We didn’t do a good job of that last year and we ended up losing five in a row. We have to keep it simple, which is what we do best. Hold onto the ball, play good defense and execute. That’s what we have to do.”
If the Patriots do all three, then they should make a return trip to the state playoffs this year. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.