The Dickinson High School football team won four games in 2017.
At first glance, it doesn’t seem that earth shattering. It doesn’t seem like much at all.
But looking closer, the Rams posting a 4-5 record a year ago was momentous, because the four wins represented the school’s highest total since 1999. Prince might have partied like it was that year, but when it came to Dickinson football, it was a year that remained in prominence until last season.
Dickinson introduced a new head coach last season in David Cruz, who was an assistant with the program prior to his ascent into the top role.
So Cruz wasn’t at all shocked by the Rams’ improvement.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Cruz said. “The kids were there and put in a lot of work already. As the season went on, they just had to adjust to the culture change. We would have been more successful if we didn’t have injuries. I was familiar with the kids and knew what was going to happen.”
But the Rams lost eight of those players to graduation and another two who were expected to play major roles this season were lost when their parents moved to Tennessee and Trenton respectively.
“We’re really young this year and we have guys learning the system,” Cruz said. “We have to be impatient with being patient. Every day is a grind. It’s a teaching thing. We can’t take our sweet time to get comfortable because we have tough games coming up. The beginning of our schedule is going to be tough. As long as we keep showing up and playing hard, we should be fine. I just have to ask for a little more.”
Cruz said that he has been encouraged by his team’s dedication.
“Every day, they’re in school at 7:30 a.m. to lift weights,” Cruz said. “It’s little things like that which make me feel better. We just need to have to better in making plays.”
The starting quarterback is freshman Edward Kelleher (5-11, 185).
Three weeks before the season started, Cruz lost his starting quarterback Hashim Khan (5-11, 170), a junior, because of family responsibilities. So Kelleher inherited the starting slot.
“Eddie’s talented,” Cruz said. “He’s shown leadership and moxie as a freshman. The other kids don’t look at him as a freshman. He has the chance to take hold of the position.”
Senior Dion Jackson (5-9, 195) is the team’s top running back. Jackson is a three-year starter and a good football player.
Sophomore Isaiah Koomson (5-8, 175) is another quality back that Cruz can call upon.
“He provides a little downhill running ability,” Cruz said of workhorse Koomson.
Senior Ahmed El-Khalifa (5-10, 175) is the team’s top pass catcher. Junior Justin Koroma (6-2, 185) is the team’s tight end.
The team’s tackles are sophomore Rafael Pepin (6-4, 275) and junior Joseph Fulgencio (6-2, 250), with juniors Tyrone McManus (6-2, 215) and Kevin Peguero (6-4, 290) at guard and freshman Samuel Urbina (6-1, 260) at center.
The Rams play a 3-4 defensive formation, with Peguero playing nose guard.
“When he’s well conditioned and mentally focused, he can be a player,” Cruz said of Peguero. “He needs to be mentally stronger. He could be a dominant force.”
Pepin and Fulgencio are the defensive ends.
Koroma and senior Walter Medina (5-10, 215) are the outside linebackers, with Koomson and McManus at inside linebacker.
El-Khalifa and sophomore Jayden Medina (5-10, 170 and no relation to Walter) are the cornerbacks with the talented Jackson at safety.
“He’s the best football player we have,” Cruz said of Jackson, who has been a two-way starter for the last three years.
The Rams will face Bayonne and North Bergen in the weeks to come, so it doesn’t come any easier for them.
“We’re working hard,” Cruz said. “That’s how we’re looking at it. We’re not looking to make miracles happen. We want to earn what we get.”
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.