For a while there, things were fairly easy for Charlie Voorhees as the Secaucus High School head football coach.
Voorhees inherited a winning program from then-head coach Bill Fitzgerald. The Patriots won year after year, capturing a host of Bergen County Scholastic League divisional championships and earned berths in the NJSIAA Group I state playoffs practically every November. For seven seasons from 2004 through 2010, the Patriots were an astounding 62-12. Winning became almost commonplace for Voorhees and the Patriots.
But like most Group I programs in New Jersey, the cyclical effect took place and the Patriots took a bit of a nose dive. Over the last five seasons, it has been a complete free fall. The Pats won just 10 games and lost 34 times. It was almost unheard of in Voorhees’ long tenure at his alma mater.
And how bad were things? Well, there was talk that Secaucus might have to consider going into a cooperative program with a neighboring school suffering similar participation difficulties.
“There were some tough moments,” said Voorhees, who also doubles as the school’s athletic director. “I thought the bottom was going to drop out. I was sitting in my office, worrying about whether we had to go co-op. We really went through some tough times.”
But the competitor in Voorhees wouldn’t allow it to happen. He just knew that things were going to turn around in the Patriots’ favor. Voorhees wasn’t going to call for any co-op. He was born to bleed red, white and blue and was not going to allow his program fall by the wayside. Voorhees was determined to wait out the troubled times and see what transpired.
“We were absolutely competitive,” Voorhees said. “Through it all, we were competitive. I know we were 3-5 last year, but we were right there in every game. We hung tough.”
Voorhees said that a major component to the Patriots’ success was the implementation of a new weight training program under the guidance of D.J. Catalano, the former strength and conditioning coach at Rutgers University.
“He’s done a phenomenal job with the weight training program,” Voorhees said. “Hopefully, the weight program will keep our players on the field.”
One of the main reasons why the Patriots fell on some tough times in recent years was the rash of injuries suffered by key personnel. Voorhees is hopeful that the Patriots will remain healthy in 2019 and in turn, the winning ways may just return.
“I think so,” said Voorhees, who begins his 21st season as the head coach of the Patriots. Only Rich Hansen at St. Peter’s Prep has been a head coach longer. Incredibly, Voorhees was once an assistant under Hansen with the Marauders, before returning to Secaucus and eventually becoming the head coach and later the AD.
“I think we can contend for a division title if we stay healthy,” Voorhees said.
And the Patriots have numbers.
“We have 50 players on our varsity roster,” Voorhees said. “For the first time in five years, we will field a JV [junior varsity] team. We have some guys who can really play.”
Leading the way is gutsy senior quarterback Kosei Hayashida (5-9, 175). Hayashida has been a mainstay in the Patriots’ lineup since he was a freshman.
“He does everything for us,” Voorhees said. “Plays offense, plays defense, is a punt returner and kick returner. He holds for placekicks and has played wide receiver.”
The Patriots go four deep at quarterback. That’s how much depth the team has. Junior Veton Tolaj (5-11, 185) is another veteran versatile player. Michael Garcia is a 5-11, 180-pound senior who is in the mix for the starting quarterback slot. Baseball and basketball standout Patrick Pantoliano (6-3, 200), a junior, is trying his hand at football for the first time. Pantoliano is learning the sport and the position, but has nice size and tools.
The backfield is also deep and talented. The Schaffer twins, Tommy and Bobby (a Hudson Reporter All-Area honoree on the defensive side) are both fine running backs. They are both 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds.
Senior Billy Portalatin (5-7, 165), senior John Mieles (5-9, 180), sophomore John Young (6-0, 180) and sophomore Evan Lalama (5-7, 180) are all in the mix for carries out of the incredibly deep Patriots’ backfield.
“There will be competition for the starting slots week after week,” Voorhees said about his backfield. “All of them can contribute.”
The receiving corps is also deep. Seniors Agon Ferati (6-3, 170), Brandon Tabasco (5-7, 160), Christian Mercado (6-0, 170) and Isaac Poueriet (6-2, 180) are all in the mix.
The offensive line has some experienced players. Seniors Alex Tejada (6-1, 200) Justyn Fearon (5-8, 200) and Nick Nardone (5-8, 200) have all been three-year starters along the line. Junior Zachary Pascarello (6-1, 240) started every game as a sophomore. Junior Daniel Ross (6-2, 200) junior, sophomore Nick Bartletta (6-0, 220), sophomore Mike Nardone (5-8, 180), sophomore Dylan Formisano (5-8, 220) and sophomore Kyle Woltmann (6-0, 250) will all compete for starting jobs.
The tight ends are junior Aiden Velez (6-1, 180) and sophomore Zac Martorano (5-9, 170).
The defensive line features many of the same personnel. Tejada, Fearon and Nardone are returning starters for their third year. Poueriet played every game last season. Velez, Formisano and Woltmann are battling for starting jobs with junior Peter Weber (6-0, 180).
The Schaffer twins, Portalatin, Mieles, Young, Lalama and sophomore Dan Corales (5-9. 170) are all in the mix at linebacker. The Schaffer twins are both hard-nosed, rugged football players.
Hayashida and Tolaj are the safeties. Mercado, Ferati, Tabasco, Garcia, junior Hector Reveron (5-9, 170), senior Rich Wolf (6-0, 160), senior Brian Devany (6-0, 160) will all compete for playing time at cornerback. As you can see, Voorhees has a deep and talented roster this year.
The Patriots open the 2019 season Sept. 6 against Elmwood Park at home. They face rival Lyndhurst next week in Lyndhurst.
“If we stay healthy, I think we can contend for a division title and a state playoff berth,” Voorhees said.
Some things do indeed change – and for the better.