The 2019 high school football season was expected to be a total wash for the Bees of Bayonne High School.
After all, the Bees lost a ton of talent from their hive, including four players who went on to play college football. Two of whom, namely C.J. Bazile (University of Buffalo) and Nazir McNair (Fordham), went on to play NCAA Division FBS (formerly Division I-AA).
That’s a lot for any team to lose in one rendition of Pomp and Circumstance.
“We knew what we lost,” said Bayonne’s fourth-year head coach Jason Acerra. “But we told the kids that we had the ‘next guy up’ mentality. We would come together and fight for each other.”
Another key player the Bees lost was do-everything running back Azhaun Dingle, who is playing at Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas. Bazile, McNair and Dingle all were selected to The Hudson Reporter All-Area team last fall.
“When you lose talent like that, you have to come to the realization of ‘How do you replace them?’” Acerra said. “We had a corps of kids that were upperclassmen who had to step it up. We had a bunch of sophomores who were ready to play right away.”
What also helped was the addition of two talented assistant coaches who were once head coaches in Hudson County – both from the same family.
Bruce Naszimento, a Hudson County Hall of Famer, was a standout player at the now-defunct Emerson High School in Union City and was later an NCAA Division III All-American at Jersey City State College (now New Jersey City University), and his son, Zach, a former Hudson Reporter All-Area player at Secaucus High School, became an NCAA Division I player at the University of Cincinnati, both joined Acerra’s staff.
The elder Naszimento was once the head coach at his alma mater of Emerson and the younger Naszimento was the head coach at Weehawken. That’s a lot of experience to add to one’s staff in one simple phone call. Secure one Naszimento, then you get the other.
“It’s been a huge help getting Bruce and Zach,” Acerra said. “We also added Danny Casanova and Chris Hernandez [a Weehawken High standout and current head girls’ basketball coach there]. Picking up those guys added a nice mix to our coaching staff. They’re all football guys who prepare hard and work hard.”
Acerra realized that the Bees had some talented players even with the departure of the aforementioned stars.
“We had our quarterback back,” Acerra said. “We had some talent at wide receiver and running back. We felt good about the kids we had. I thought that maybe we could do well.”
The Bees missed the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group V playoffs last year despite their 7-3 record. So the Bees set a goal of qualifying for the postseason this season.
“We decided we could play anybody,” Acerra said. “We looked at the point index and system and looked for available teams that best fit our needs. So we said, ‘Let’s do it and let’s play there.’ We felt our schedule was competitive.”
After receiving a forfeit against Memorial to start the season, the Bees defeated Livingston in double overtime in Week Two.
“We pulled that out,” Acerra said. “The kids got a little confidence with that win. It was a springboard kind of win for us. We knew we could compete with anybody.”
Up next was defending North Jersey Section 1, Group V champion Montclair, regarded as being the top public high school program in the state.
It didn’t look good for the Bees, who trailed, 24-12, in the third quarter against Montclair. They were even down, 24-18, with just five minutes left and the Mounties controlling the ball.
“But we forced them into a three-and-out,” Acerra said. “We got the ball back and drove the length of the field.”
The Bees scored a touchdown to make the score, 25-24, with just 1:41 remaining in the game, then watched as a last-second field goal failed to seal the upset win to go to 3-0 on the season.
“It was awesome to see it go wide right,” Acerra said. “Breaks like that didn’t usually go our way. But this is a team. They’re never apart. They’re always together. They also have a sense of toughness.”
And when the potentially game-winning field goal sailed wide right, Jason immediately thought of a guardian angel.
In March, Acerra’s father, Robert, passed away. Robert Acerra was a fixture at Bayonne games since his son took over as head coach.
“Of course, I thought of him,” Acerra said of his Dad. “He was there all the time and now he’s not there. I figured he was helping me out again, like he was here again, helping that ball sail. He was definitely there.”
From there, the Bees had another potentially tough opponent in Bloomfield and they captured another win to go to 4-0.
“Incredibly, we graduated all that talent and we could possibly be better than last year,” Acerra said. “We’re not where we want to be yet, but we were 4-0.”
And the Bees were 4-0 for the first time since 2011.
“We have some good athletes,” Acerra said. “We put ourselves in good position.”
Unfortunately, the Bees have since dropped two games to Hudson County foes Union City and Hudson Catholic to fall to 4-2 overall. But they are still in solid position to qualify for the North Jersey Section 2, Group V playoffs later this month. The Bees have games against Columbia of South Orange/Maplewood, Passaic and North Bergen remaining on their schedule.
Leading the way is senior quarterback Danny McAuliffe (6-0, 200). McAuliffe is also an excellent student in the classroom, possessing a 3.76 grade point average.
“He’s like another coach on the field,” Acerra said. “He’s not only smart in the classroom, but he’s also football smart. He controls the huddle and leads us in everything we do.”
The top running back is junior Cedric Bazile (5-10, 180), the younger brother of former Bee standout C.J.
The younger Bazile is approaching 700 yards rushing on the season.
“He is very fast,” Acerra said. “He has a good burst. He can run hard, but he has the ability to explode. The kid is well put together.”
Senior Jesse Cancel (5-11, 205) is another solid running back.
“He’s a bruiser,” Acerra said. “He’s our captain. He picks up blocks in the backfield, but he can also catch the ball in the flat. He’s basically the heart and soul of our team.”
Senior Amin Mimouni (6-3, 210) is the top receiver.
“He has good hands,” Acerra said. “He has a good body. He’s been getting better as the season has gone on.”
Sophomore Christian Ashe (5-10, 170) has been a find at receiver.
“He’s going to be a special player,” Acerra said of Ashe.
Fellow sophomore Jerome Edwards (5-8, 160) is part of the talented receiving corps.
The offensive line features senior Adam Fakih (6-3, 240) and junior Keith Simon (6-2, 220) at the tackle positions. Fakih is Mimouni’s cousin.
The guards are seniors Maki Floyd (5-11, 235) and Otto Michelen (6-3, 300). Yes, it’s safe to say that Otto is the Bees’ Michelen Man.
The center is senior D. J. O’Brien (5-10, 200).
Defensively, the Bees utilize a traditional 4-3 set with most of the offensive personnel turning around to also play defense.
Simon and Fakih are the defensive ends, with the Michelen Man and Floyd at defensive tackles.
Minouni and Cancel are the outside linebackers, flanking junior Tim Worrell (6-2, 205) in the middle.
The cornerbacks are seniors Darren Ford (5-9, 180) and Demetrius Mair (6-1, 170), with Bazile and Ashe at safety.
Needless to say, this was not expected to happen this year, especially after the graduation took away a lot of last year’s personnel.
“A lot of our kids didn’t play last year, so this is all new to them,” Acerra said.
And it’s new to Bayonne as well.