Once a staple of the NJSIAA Group I playoffs, the Patriots suffered severely, winning only five times over the last three seasons.
But as veteran head coach Charlie Voorhees looks at it, the Patriots had to falter in order to get better.
“When you really think about it, we were saving Secaucus football,” said Voorhees, the school’s athletic director who begins his 19th season as the head football coach. “The current senior class only has six kids. Last year’s senior class had five. We got hit hard with the numbers problem. We knew it was coming. I have to give every single kid credit for sticking with us. It was at the point where Saturday morning would come and I would say to my staff, ‘How do we get through this?’ The kids played as hard as they could, but the record wasn’t even as hard as it was to get through it all.”
Voorhees is amazed that the program survived.
“We were rotating guys in and out like hockey lines,” Voorhees said. “Most of the kids had inexperience, but they had to play. We had to rebuild from within and it wasn’t easy.”
However, it appears as if Voorhees’ patience is about to pay off. The Patriots fielded 45 kids at a recent practice.
“We had nowhere to look for help,” Voorhees said. “We just had to wait. We got a lot of satisfaction out of being competitive most nights. The fun of that was watching the kids develop. They were also willing to do whatever it took for each other and were willing to help each other.”
Leading this year’s team is promising sophomore quarterback Matt Toman (6-4, 185).
“He really has the arm to be a good quarterback,” Voorhees said of Toman, who started at free safety last season as a freshman. “He picked up everything that we asked him to do. He has a good presence about him and we need that.”
The Patriots have a plethora of running backs to call upon.
Leading the way is junior Raequan Andrews (6-0, 185), who Voorhees says “has very good speed.”
The Schaffer twins, sophomores Tommy and Bobby, both 5-8 and 165 pounds, provide a host of problems for opposing defenses.
Junior Chucky Snyder (5-10, 185) was the Patriots’ leading rusher last year.
“Now we have backfield depth that’s only going to help him,” Voorhees said of Snyder.
Junior Derek Fernandez (6-0, 170) is another member of the deep Patriot backfield, along with a pair of seniors in Rahil Patel (6-0, 190) and Sakuntha Welagedara (5-10, 170).
“They will all see time and all get the chance to carry the ball,” Voorhees said.
The Patriots will utilize a lot of two tight end formations, giving playing time to junior Julian Rocco (6-0, 180) and junior Mike O’Donnell (5-10, 180). Rocco also serves as the backup to Toman at quarterback.
The receiving corps is very young. Sophomores Kosei Hayashida (5-10, 165) and Billy Portalatin (5-8, 160), as well as freshman Veton Tolaj (5-10, 165) will get the majority of the snaps.
Junior A.J. Kirvin (5-8, 160) can play either wide receiver, slot receiver or running back.
“He’s our talented utility man,” Voorhees said.
The offensive line is anchored by junior Hunter Pein (5-10, 205) at center. Pein is in his third season as a starter along the line. Pein was selected as the team’s captain last year as a sophomore.
The guards are three sophomores in Alex Tejada (6-1, 220), Justyn Fearon (5-8, 180) and Nick Nardone (5-10, 210).
The offensive tackles are junior and returning starter Alejandro Barcena (6-2, 240) and sophomore Taylor Ambrosio (6-3, 280).
Defensively, the Patriots’ 3-4 formation features senior Cesar Quinones (6-0, 185), whom Voorhees is very high on.
“He’s a very good football player,” Voorhees said of Quinones. “He’s our best defender and he allows us to do different things.”
Senior Carlos Mejia (6-0, 220) and junior A.J. Perez (6-0, 220) are also quality defensive linemen.
The linebackers feature Pein, along with Tejada and Andrews. Pein started at linebacker last season.
The secondary is also young, completely comprised of sophomores.
Anthony Costantino (5-6, 150) and Brandon Tabasco (5-9, 150) are the cornerbacks, with Agon Ferati (6-1, 160) and Christian Mercado (6-0, 150) at safety.
The Patriots were slated to open the 2017 season Friday, Sept. 8 against North Arlington.
Another key addition to the Patriots’ success this season is the return of assistant coach Bruce Naszimento, who spent the last few seasons assisting his son Zach at Weehawken.
“We never really left each other,” Voorhees said of the elder Naszimento, a Hudson County Sports Hall of Famer who was just recently voted the best athlete in Union City history in an online poll. “When he was at Weehawken, I just referred to it as Secaucus East. Everyone is happy to have Bruce back. We struggled without him.”
The Patriots’ struggles appear to be over.
“I’m excited to be a part of this,” Voorhees said. “We’re back to where we were. We have a strong bond together and we’re going to carry it to the next level. We’re hoping to be back in the playoffs again.” – Jim Hague.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.