He’s the granddaddy of all Hudson County high school football coaches these days, having been around the block at Grand and Warren in downtown Jersey City for an astounding 32 years.
So it’s safe to say that Rich Hansen is fully aware of the rigors of overseeing one of the premier programs in the state of New Jersey, commandeering the Marauders of St. Peter’s Prep.
Hansen lost a lot of key people from the team that went 7-4 a year ago in the state’s toughest league, the Super Football Conference-United Red Division, having lost to St. Joseph of Montvale twice in the span of three weeks, including the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 4 semifinals.
“It’s high school football,” Hansen said. “You lose kids every year. You try to have people in waiting that can play when the seniors graduate.”
Hansen lost some big-time talents, including two-time Hudson Reporter Offensive Player of the Year Maasai Maynor (now at the United States Naval Academy) and Hudson Reporter Male Athlete of the Year Ayir Asante (now at the College of the Holy Cross).
But Hansen is confident with the players on the Marauders’ 2019 roster, as the team prepares to face Millville in the season opener Saturday night Aug. 31 at 8 p.m. at Rutgers University. The game will also be televised on the CBS Sports Network.
“I feel good about our team,” Hansen said. “I’m grateful to the kids who graduated, but we move on. I’m optimistic about this team. We have some real good character kids on this team, selfless kids who have bought into what we’re doing. These 65 guys are not about themselves. They care about each other. I’m proud of their commitment to what we’re doing.”
Hansen is also confident about the current team’s talent level.
“We have a lot of talent and the ability to compete,” Hansen said.
One of the most interesting aspects to the 2019 St. Peter’s Prep football team may come in their practice preparation. The Marauders’ scout team is wearing a pouch around their waist, like a fanny pack, that contains a cell phone that features the opponents’ game plan and tendencies.
The operation is called Go-Route and was found by Hansen’s son, Rich, Jr., the team’s defensive coordinator.
“My son came to me with the idea and thought that it was something we ought to look at,” Hansen said. “He researched it and thought it might be something we could use. So we purchased them. We’re getting about 20-to-30 more reps [repetitions] in practice, because we don’t have to stop and look at [index] cards. The scout team just looks at their phones and knows what’s coming next. In today’s tech savvy world, it makes practice go faster. It also makes the scout team more accountable and given them a ton more responsibility. Every kid has his own computer around his waist and the directions where to go. It has already been worth the investment.”
It is certainly interesting to watch.
The main team has a sure-fire stud to lead the way. Junior Tahjmell Bullock (6-4, 215) is the new Prep quarterback, replacing Maynor. Bullock is already getting major college offers and has all the tools to be a great one.
“I’m so excited for his potential,” Hansen said of his new signal caller. “He just rolls up his sleeves and goes after it. He has tremendous potential. He can run and throw. He’s really special.”
Hansen even went as far as to compare Bullock with some of his former superstar quarterbacks.
“He has a Brandon [Wimbush] type of an arm,” said Hansen, comparing Bullock to the former Notre Dame quarterback who will play at the University of Central Florida this year. “And he has Will Hill-type athleticism [comparing Bullock to the former Marauder who played at the University of Florida and in the NFL with the New York Giants and Cleveland Browns]. We expect really big things from him.”
The main running back is also a special talent.
Sophomore Paul Lefkowitz (5-9, 215) is really something to watch. Lefkowitz got a taste of varsity in the Marauders’ win over St. Joseph of Metuchen in the first round of the state playoffs, a game where Lefkowitz rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns – in the second half alone.
“He’s really done a great job absorbing the offense,” Hansen said of Lefkowitz. “He’s really smart and finds the holes. He just loves to run the ball. He has a good knack of finding yards. He’s also our strongest player. You should see him in the weight room. The kid’s just unbelievable. He’s legit. He’s smart, has a great work ethic and runs hard. He’s a coach’s dream.”
The talent doesn’t stop there.
Senior Tyion Smith (5-9, 170) is an explosive back.
“He’s a change-up back with great speed and special feet,” Hansen said. “He knows the offense.”
Junior Ethan Rodriguez (6-1, 220), a transfer from St. Joseph of Montvale, is another player who will get his share of carries.
“He’s learning the offense,” Hansen said of Rodriguez. “He runs real hard and is developing into a nice running back. We have three different runners, three different styles in the backfield. It’s hard to do with just one guy.”
Sometimes, in the last two years, the Marauders really didn’t have anyone back there. So it seems like it’s a throwback to some glory days, like the 1994 Parochial A North state championship team that had a three-headed backfield of Paul Que, Pedro Cirino and Mike Medrano. That incredible team is celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. This year’s backfield of Lefkowitz, Smith and Rodriguez could be as good as that team.
The wide receiving corps is solid. Hansen said that as a whole, this group may be the best he’s ever had.
Senior Byron Shipman leads the group. Shipman (6-3, 200), who has his share of NCAA Division I scholarship offers, caught 38 of Maynor’s passes last year and scored eight touchdowns. Shipman suffered a sprained ankle during training camp.
“We’re not rushing him back,” Hansen said. “Receiver is probably our deepest position.”
Senior Jelani Mason (5-9, 180) is a solid slot receiver.
“He’s been phenomenal,” Hansen said of Mason. “He’s mastered some things and worked hard at it.”
Junior Zyeiar Miller (5-7, 175) isn’t the biggest guy around, but just try catching him.
“He has good speed, good hands and uses his amazing ability to get open,” Hansen said.
Junior Jaylon Sanchez (6-0, 180) is another receiver to watch.
“He has tremendous potential,” Hansen said. “He can really become an elite receiver.”
And there’s Sha’Zir Sullivan (6-0, 180), who has perhaps the most memorable name in Hudson County football. Sullivan is a junior.
“He’s been the surprise of camp,” Hansen said. “He’s made a ton of plays as a receiver and he’s also our backup quarterback.”
That’s some group.
The tight end/H-back position will be shared by senior returning starter Ben Silver (6-0, 230) and junior Dorian Clark (5-10, 230).
The tackles are college-sized studs. Senior Isaiah Wright (6-4, 280) and sophomore Keith “K.J.” Miles (6-4, 260) are the tackles. Wright has already committed to Rutgers and the offers may be flooding in for Miles any day now.
“He’s the best sophomore two-way lineman in the state of New Jersey,” Hansen boldly exclaimed. “He has unlimited potential.”
The guards are juniors Evan Scribner (6-2, 255) and Mison Cobb (6-2, 250). The center is junior Aidan Montero (6-1, 220), who started at guard last year, but has been moved to center.
The placekicker is Silver, one of the best around.
Defensively, the Marauders will feature Silver and the talented George Rooks (6-4, 250), who started at defensive tackle last year, but has been moved to defensive end with Silver this year. Rooks, a Hudson Reporter All-Area selection last year and will get his share of offers, is only a junior. Miles and junior Juan Miranda (6-0, 240) are the defensive tackles.
The outside linebackers are also very talented. Seniors Colin Elliott (6-1, 200), already committed to Bryant, and senior Cody Simon (6-2, 215), a Hudson Reporter All-Area selection last year already committed to Ohio State, are the outside backers. Senior co-captain Drew Robinson (5-9, 215) is the middle linebacker.
The cornerbacks are senior David Benoit (5-9, 170) and junior Jason Campbell (5-7, 170). The safeties are seniors Quintin Lemon (6-0, 190) and T.J. Mazella (6-2, 200) as well as sophomore Christian LeBrun (6-1, 190). Silver also serves as the punter.
After the game at Rutgers against Millville, the Marauders return home to Caven Point Cochrane Stadium to face Erasmus Hall of Brooklyn, the No. 1-ranked team in the state of New York, on Saturday night, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m.
The Marauders should certainly know a lot about themselves by then.
“I think the kids have grown into their roles,” Hansen said. “We have some good athletes. I’m excited for us. High school football is all about the quarterback and we think we have a pretty good one at quarterback. We go as Taj goes. He’s going to get better. We’re keyed up and ready to go.”
Tee it up. It should be a fun ride.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read his blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com (this week, Jim focuses on FASST, an incredible athletic training, strength and conditioning facility in Lyndhurst) and follow Jim on Twitter @ogsmar.