The Memorial High School football program is trying its best to stay afloat after having to take a forfeit loss to Bayonne in the season opener because of an insufficient number of healthy players.
The Tigers did manage to play their second game of the season, falling to Columbia of South Orange/Maplewood, 41-0.
Needless to say, it doesn’t make things any easier for fifth-year head coach Bear Calderana.
“Numbers are killing a lot of football programs,” Calderana said. “We have a lot of kids who went back to their native countries for the summer. We have others who have to work to help their families. The kids we have are responding as well as they could. They’re doing what’s asked of them. They’re here every day, working hard. I’m taking this as a challenge that we can turn things around.”
Calderana said that the kids on his roster are the true football players.
“They obviously love the game of football,” Calderana said. “We’re trying to make things better. I give the kids we have a ton of credit. It’s a testament to their makeup that they all want to move forward.”
Calderana said that the Tigers have about 40 kids in their program, but almost half of those are freshmen.
However, there is good news to report about the newcomers. The Memorial freshman team defeated Columbia, 6-0, last Monday. So that’s a start.
“This is my hometown,” Calderana said. “This is where I’m from. I only know how to do things one way. I’m going to keep working as hard as I can to make things better for this program.”
Another thing that will help next year is the move to the Ivy League, like Ferris and Dickinson. The Ivy League concept will only help the struggling programs, so there are better days ahead for the Tigers.
In the meantime, Calderana will field this team this season with no more forfeits on the horizon and no silly talk of ending the program.
Junior Juan Donoso (6-1, 180) is the Tigers’ quarterback. Donoso started half of the Tigers’ games last season.
“He’s a physical kid, a tough kid,” Calderana said. “The other kids look to him for his leadership. He played well last week [in the loss to Columbia]. I’m proud of the effort he gave.”
Junior William Rodriguez (5-10, 160) is the team’s main running back. Rodriguez played a lot last year on the defensive side of the ball at linebacker.
“He’s our most intense kid,” Calderana said of Rodriguez. “He’s the heart and soul of the team. He doesn’t miss a practice and works hard in practice. He’s a good, physical runner.”
Junior Amaury Salters (5-11, 185) is the team’s fullback.
“He’s another physical runner,” Calderana said. “He’s one of the best athletes on the team. I think we’re just tapping into his potential.”
The wide receivers are senior Zachary Fernandez (5-11, 165) and sophomore Danny Castillo (5-9, 160).
The offensive line features three returning starters in senior guard Kevin Romano (5-10, 185), senior guard Eddie Hernandez (6-2, 260) and senior center Jeffrey Martinez (5-9, 180).
Fernandez and Martinez represented Memorial at the recent Super Football Conference media day at Wayne Valley High School and answered questions about the Tigers’ program very professionally and honestly. They should be rewarded for their mature demeanor and concise candor that they displayed that day. They are both credits to the school and to the program.
Senior Uriel Martinez (6-1, 260) is at one tackle slot. Martinez joined the football program for the first time this season. Junior Brian Ramirez (6-1, 210) is the other tackle.
“There’s a little bit of experience in the line,” Calderana said. “Kevin [Romano] is the smartest of the kids on the line. He helps the others out when they have a question.”
Defensively, the Tigers are in a 3-3-5 formation, with Jeffrey Martinez and Eddie Hernandez rotating at the nose guard and Uriel Martinez and Brian Ramirez at the defensive tackles.
The middle linebacker is Rodriguez, who returns to his slot.
“He did pretty well at linebacker last year,” Calderana said. “He’s our signal caller there and gets people in the right position.”
Castillo and senior Justin Correa (5-8, 170) are floating safeties. Correa is a returning starter.
Salters and Romano are the Tigers’ outside linebackers flanking Rodriguez.
Junior Valeriano Larios (5-8, 160) is at one cornerback with Donoso at the other. Zachary Fernandez is the free safety.
One thing to know about Calderana: He’s not quitting.
“We’re going to work,” Calderana said. “It’s the only way I know how to do things. We have kids who have bought into that and they’re working. The attendance in practice has helped. We’re always going to try to turn things around.”
This concludes The Hudson Reporter’s journey around the Hudson County football camps. Athlete of the Week will commence next week, as will features on the local soccer, volleyball and cross country scenes.—Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com