Bill Campi doesn’t want to jinx anything at all.
But the second-year head football coach at Weehawken knows one thing. It has been a long time since the program has enjoyed life in the penthouse as opposed to the outhouse.
In fact, the Indians have enjoyed victories in their first two games of 2020, posting a 2-0 record for the first time since 2012. That team went 7-3 and there was a gigantic sense of pride then being associated with Weehawken football. Not so much since.
Since that 2012 season, a year that ended with an NJSIAA Group I playoff berth, the Indians have gone a collective 19-42 with a collection of four head coaches. Three years running, the Indians posted exactly the same record, namely 2-6.
Last year, the Indians hit rock bottom, losing all eight games they played on the field and then were forced to forfeit the NJSIAA “consolation” game with Montclair Kimberley because a rash of injuries dropped the roster size to dangerously low levels.
All totaled, it wasn’t the kind of first season that Campi envisioned.
When the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference took a page from the New Jersey Super Football Conference and instituted an “Ivy League” schedule for programs that had been struggling to pair such troubled programs against each other as a way to compete in possibly winnable games and entice kids to want to play football and started a Union Division, Campi was all for it.
“After last year, we had to do something,” Campi said. “We were kind of up for anything. We want our kids to be in competitive games. We are a small school that doesn’t have a lot of numbers.”
Last year, the Indians’ roster number at season’s end was staggering.
“We lost 25 kids to injury,” Campi said. “That’s a lot of injuries.”
So when the Union Division was devised to resemble the NJSFC’s Ivy League, Campi was all for it.
“Winning cures a lot of things,” Campi said. “I think it’s an opportunity for us to win. If you have some success, then maybe we can move back up. Right now, it’s a year-to-year thing. If we can keep the numbers at a decent level, stay strong enough to compete, then we will see. We have had kids come back to us this year. Our senior class stepped up in a big way and encouraged others to play.”
And as for the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic that has caused turmoil in the area, Campi is remaining positive.
“I almost think like it’s been a blessing in disguise,” Campi said. “With everything that’s going on, I think it gave us the chance to take stock in what’s important. These kids had a chance to be part of something special.”
So throughout the pandemic, Campi tried to keep his players interested with Zoom meetings and virtual workout sessions.
“We had Zoom meetings three days a week,” Campi said. “The kids were locked inside their homes with the playbook. Sure, it’s very frustrating, but football is a very physical game. And it’s a mental game more than anything. I think with the time away, we were able to focus on the mental side. It was tough being able to engage with the kids over the computer, but I think they wanted to get back into shape.”
Campi admitted that last year’s disaster was also tough.
“The football gods were not kind to us,” Campi said. “We hit rock bottom. There was no place to go but up.”
With that, Campi devised a motto for the Indians.
“Our motto is: Be different.” Campi said. “We wanted to establish toughness. We just wanted to establish a different story than we’ve had in the past and we’re already seeing a better outcome. The coaching staff has been leading the charge. They’re all into it. I have the best assistant coaches.”
The starting quarterback is senior captain Sean Guerriero (5-foot-11, 175 pounds).
“He started for us last year,” Campi said. “He’s a different player this year. He’s the guy. I think the experience he had last year for us was huge. He took it as a personal mission for us to get better. Sean has been the leader in that huddle.”
Guerriero has also done well on the field, completing nine-of-14 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns passing the first week, while also securing an interception on defense in the 36-10 win over Ridgefield and then rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns and threw a TD pass in the 36-22 win over Palisades Park.
“He’s been a God-send for us,” Campi said. “He’s shown a lot of guts.”
The top running back is senior Favin Wells (5-11, 185).
Wells has also been a solid performer, collecting 84 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns in the win over Ridgefield and then rushing for 183 yards on 21 carries – the highest single game rushing total for a Weehawken running back in over 25 years – in the win over Palisades Park.
“He’s running like a mad man,” Campi said of Wells. “After that first step, he gets a full head of steam and he’s going. We tend to lean a lot on the running game.”
Sophomore Juan de la Hoz (5-8, 160) is the back-up at both positions.
The wide receiver corps is led by senior Andrew Ortiz (6-4, 195).
“He’s a three-year starter and a captain,” Campi said of Ortiz. “He is big for us on both sides of the ball. He’s invaluable with his knowledge of the game. He’s a big body going up against shorter people, so we have to take advantage of that.”
The other receivers are sophomores Bryce Honig (5-11, 165) and Emilio Acosta (5-10, 160).
The offensive line features one of the most athletic linemen to come out of Weehawken in a long time in freshman Vincen Casas (6-4, 240), who could be called “Big House,” but moves so incredibly well for someone Vincen’s size. Casas is something to behold and is a legitimate college prospect down the road. He has three more years to terrorize opponents in the Union Division.
“He fits in very well with our other linemen,” Campi said.
“Big House” Casas is at one of the Indians’ tackle slots, along with returning senior Tristen Fitzgerald (5-10, 170).
The guards are senior J.J. Santos (6-0, 220) and sophomore Joseph Orecchio (6-2, 250).
Sophomore Bryan Fana (5-11, 200) is the center.
Defensively, the Indians utilize the new-fangled 4-2-5 alignment
The defensive ends are Ortiz and junior Mace Malave (6-4, 190). The tackles are Orrechio and Santos.
“He’s our guy on defense,” Campi said of Santos. “We go as he goes.”
The linebackers are Fitzgerald and junior Joey Rovito (5-11, 185).
The cornerbacks are Honig, Acosta, Guerriero and junior Kenyon Jones (6-0, 165). The safeties are Honig and juniors Jaelen Haylette (5-8, 160) and Jayden DeLeon (5-10, 170).
So it’s late October already and the Weehawken Indians are undefeated and playing games that matter. They face Emerson Borough Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. and have Elmwood Park on Friday, Oct. 23. Both games are at Weehawken Stadium.
Go check the Indians out. After years of being a dormant doormat, they seem to be back.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com, follow Jim on Twitter @ogsmar and listen to the Hudson County Sports Podcast, brought to you weekly by Stan’s Sports Center, 528 Washington Street in Hoboken, on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, with this week’s guest being former Bayonne and Fordham University basketball star and NBA player Danny O’Sullivan.