Memorial High School’s football team suffered through a 2-8 season in 2012. The Tigers suffered their fair share of lopsided losses, including a 77-7 drubbing at the hands of St. Peter’s Prep.
Needless to say, it was not a fun year for head coach Oscar Guerrero and the Tigers.
“We had a very young team,” said Guerrero, who begins his fourth year as head coach at his alma mater. “So we had to learn our lessons. A lot of our young guys have matured. We found things we could take from the season and we’re trying to build on it.”
Guerrero is extremely optimistic about the season, which opens for the Tigers against Hoboken this weekend.
“We’re absolutely better,” Guerrero said. “The leadership from our players is better. We’re a lot further ahead of things this season. We have a lot of three-year varsity players, so that experience is huge. I think the experienced kids are doing a better job of believing in themselves. It leads to better practices and intense workouts.”
Guerrero said that his team has put the blowout losses in the rearview mirror.
“They only count as one game, one loss,” Guerrero said. “We’re going to compete as hard as we can. We’re focusing on getting better.”
A year ago, Guerrero had no idea what his starting offensive line was going to look like. He had a front ravaged by injuries.
“We’re much better up front,” Guerrero said. “They were freshmen and sophomores last year. Now, they’ve learned a lot and they’re coming along. We’re much healthier than we were last year.”
Leading the returnees is senior quarterback Bobby Bailey (5-9, 180), who has now been in charge of the Tigers’ offense for three seasons.
“He was thrown into the fire as a sophomore and he’s learned so much from it,” Guerrero said. “He’s a great leader and he’s great in the weight room. Having someone like him makes our job as coaches easier.”
One of the Tigers’ top returnees is sophomore running back Ricardo Azucar (5-11, 170), who earned Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week honors last year after his performance in a win over Montclair Immaculate.
“He’s dealing with an injury right now in his forearm,” Guerrero said. “It’s a tough loss for us and we’re hoping he gets better.”
Another running back is senior James Hernandez (5-8, 185). Junior Artie Fernandez (5-10, 175) and sophomore Chris Fernandez (5-8, 185) round out the backfield. The two Fernandez backs are not related.
The Tigers are extremely talent-packed at wide receiver, with seniors Jimmy Rodriguez (6-4, 210) and Jorge Ortez (5-8, 175) returning.
Rodriguez is a multi-talented athlete, as he is one of the best baseball players in the county.
“No question, baseball is his biggest sport, but he’s a great athlete,” Guerrero said. “He’s a good football player. He’s a big target. I expect big things from him this year.”
Ortez is also a standout pass catcher.
“He had his better games against the better teams,” Guerrero said of Ortez. “He’s just a solid player.”
Senior Marcus Vegas (6-0, 185) and sophomore Justin Bailey (5-7, 165), Bobby’s younger brother, are also in the mix at wide receiver. It gives Bobby Bailey a bit of a dilemma. He can either go to his brother or go to Vegas. And whatever happens with Vegas, stays with Vegas. Those are bad jokes indeed.
The tight end is senior Ruben Rivera (6-1, 220), who is also a standout baseball player.
The Tigers’ offensive line has great size and they are healthy to start the season.
The tackles are senior John Paul Bueno (6-3, 275), a returning starter, and junior Anthony Romero (6-3, 330).
A pair of sophomores occupies the guard slots. Jonathan Romero (6-2, 260), Anthony’s younger brother, and Jared Arias (6-0, 265) are the guards, with returning starter and senior Harold Berrio (6-0, 215) at center.
The Tigers utilize a 4-3 defense, with Jonathan Romero and Berrio at defensive end and Arias and Anthony Romero at defensive tackle. Berrio started there last year.
Sophomore Aaron Restrepo (6-2, 200) is a fixture at nose guard.
The linebackers are Hernandez, Chris Fernandez and Rivera. When healthy, Azucar will see time at linebacker.
Justin Bailey is at safety, with Rodriguez and Ortez manning the corners.
The Tigers open up their season against Hoboken.
“I feel much better about our chances this year,” Guerrero said. “Our goal is to be able to compete with the schedule we have, against North Bergen, Union City and Bayonne. We’re looking to make our kids better, to compete and win games. I don’t know if we can do that for sure, but we’re continuing to get better, so I expect to have some success this year.” – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.