Scoops on Football: First look at Big Five by Darren Cooper of The Record
Even though I tweeted it out Saturday night (and about an hour too early, sorry about that), high school football season in North Jersey really has begun.
And also, don’t forget the Bergen County All-Star Game is Friday night at Lyndhurst at 7 p.m. Those kids deserve some love.
Checking Twitter this morning, a lot of teams have workouts scheduled today – yes, even in this heat. Although, the NJSIAA has recently changed the rules on summer football practice, the duration of time, and amount of contact that they allow.
They also have no possible way of enforcing the rule that they passed, unless they send drones up over every school to watch practice (don’t laugh, that day might come).
We already had some football news this weekend, with Dorian Hardy committing to Penn State. And North Jersey’s original “Pipeline” (man, I’m sick of that word) is flowing again as multiple kids continue to commit to Boston College. It’s the whole Bergen County to Boston College (BC to BC) thing. I think it’s safe to say that Michigan’s influence has definitely ebbed. But we shall see if the maize and blue strikes again.
North Jersey’s No. 1 football recruit this season is Tyler Friday from Don Bosco Prep. I had a chance to sit down and talk with him a while back. He’s still uncommitted.
Speaking of Don Bosco, the first game in North Jersey this season is Friday, Sept 1. Don Bosco Prep will be in South Carolina to face Byrnes.
So, as the preseason starts, what are the biggest questions leading up to Sept. 1?
Where will Greg Toal wind up?
Well, this is an easy one, right? Ever since his departure from Don Bosco, people have wondered if/when Toal will coach again. The betting money is still on Bergen Catholic – if I had to pick. I think he would join Nunzio’s staff, although, I know it has to be enticing to go up to Pope John. We can talk about the Lions in a bit.
I kind of saw today as really the deadline for a Toal decision. Because if he wants to coach again, well, practice starts today, right?
So, then you might be asking, what’s taking so long?
I guess, it comes down to bargaining power. Who wants what? What does Toal want from Don Bosco Prep? What does Don Bosco Prep owe him? Anything? Everything? Are we talking cash money? If we were, would anyone ever say how much? What if the two sides have settled, but agreed to never talk about it? That’s possible too.
COOPER: My Greg Toal experience
I think that there is the desire by people at Don Bosco to come to some sort of amicable agreement. We will have to see what transpires. I am surprised it has taken so long. But now the season has started, for real?
So, who’s No. 1?
Right, isn’t that the fun question this time every year. It’s also so funny, because in June, you still never know who might transfer in. By the way, memo to the kids….don’t announce that you’re transferring schools on Twitter. Like. Ever. All you’re doing is setting yourself up for an investigation, because, technically, you’re still supposed to sit 30 days or a year. If you announce on Twitter that you’re leaving one school for another, basically because you like their football program better, that’s called “Athletic Advantage” and you’ve just given a paper trail. Student-athletes in New Jersey who transfer for athletic advantage sit out a year.
OK, so who is No. 1.
That leads us to more questions. Let’s look back at how we left things last year (just talking non-publics now). At this stage, I look for a few things. The biggest thing always is, do you have an experienced quarterback?
St. Joe’s ended 2016 as No. 1. They did everything they could do last season – except beat Don Bosco Prep. They beat Paramus Catholic. It took a while but they did find their offensive identity and they had a smashing defense.
This year, they have a lot going for them. They will have a three-year starter at quarterback in Nick Patti (going to Pitt). He will have a top TE target in Matthew Alaimo (by the way, this might be the year of the tight end in North Jersey). Yasir Berry will be a senior at WR. There will be running backs….The defense will still have Evan Stewart.
However, the Green Knights do have to rebuild on both lines. I have come to the conclusion about high school football (and maybe all football) – you let the skilled players play early and learn on the field, and linemen need time to develop and mesh together. If Joe’s can develop an O-line (Augie’s specialty), then they will be good right out of the gate.
No. 2 was Paramus Catholic. The Paladins won their third Non-Public Group 4 state title in five years. It was quite the debut for Dan Sabella, who came over from Paramus.
Like always, the Paladins have a lot going on. There has been some changes on the coaching staff, obviously, with Greg Russo and company going to Queen of Peace (and sadly seeing that opportunity dry up and the school closing). PC has welcomed in two high-profile transfers in quarterback Shelton Applewhite and DE/TE Dorian Hardy. You want to have the transfer conversation? We can. But listen, these are the rules and these are what kids and people want to do.
But listen, what’s been the most interesting to me the past five to six years is that with talented transfers, it just doesn’t always work, especially in positions of leadership. I have seen teams divided by transfers in the past, because the talent just doesn’t mesh with what is already on hand. To me, that’s the biggest job for Sabella, at least early, is to put all these pieces, new and old, together and get them all pointed in the right direction.
Every one of the North Jersey superpowers has its own identity and culture. So it can be different when a player jumps to another. In no way am I saying this won’t work at Paramus Catholic — in fact, it likely will. Sabella is so good with quarterbacks. We all saw what he did last year with Andrew Brito and has done in the past. Now he has one of North Jersey’s most gifted athletes to work with. It boggles the mind what could happen.
Then we get to Don Bosco. It’s the Mike Teel Show now, and he’s been preparing for this for his entire life. The Ironmen will be breaking in a new starting quarterback, but they might have the next Big Thing in North Jersey athletics in Jalen Berger. They also have Tyler Friday and Marcellus Earlington….and Kevin Brennan. They will have some weapons. I also am really eager to see what style of offense Bosco goes to now that Teel is in command. Are we talking full-on spread? Will it be run-first out of spread sets? I know every coach likes to tailor the offense to what he has on hand, but it may take Teel some time to figure out exactly what will work.
SCOOPS Q&A: Spring Football with Mike Teel
And what about Bergen Catholic? Well, it seems like the Crusaders are all-in this year. And why shouldn’t they be? Johnny Langan (Boston College) has shown flashes of greatness at the quarterback spot. Josh McKenzie….well, same — flashes of greatness. Both have been plagued by injuries in their high school careers thus far. Antonio Alfano is a stud on the defensive line for the Crusaders. Rahmir Johnson can fly. You look at the Crusaders and man, there is a lot to like. I know for a long time when people asked, I told them, I thought Bergen would start off as preseason No. 1. I think have changed my mind since then.
DePaul is going to be just fine again — remember, they gave Joe’s a real battle for three quarters in the state final before wilting. I’m over here listing all these big-time players and, well, Vinny DePalma doesn’t take a back seat to any of the players I just mentioned. He has pledged to Boston College too. Ta’Quan Roberson impressed me a lot last season at quarterback, and the Spartans probably have the best WR in North Jersey in Ronnie Hickman. Yes, I’ll say that.
But on June 12, the first kinda/sorta first day of summer practice, if I had to rank the 5, I think I would go Joe’s, Bergen, PC, Bosco and DePaul.
I almost feel like we forget about Joe’s every year. They have been the most consistent program of the Big 5 since the start of the decade. Bergen might be more talented than Joe’s, but they have just been snakebit. And if/when Toal comes over there, what does that do to that team/staff? I remember writing last year that I wasn’t sure if Paramus Catholic would be the best team, but they’d be the most interesting. Well, they are the most interesting again, for sure. I think Bosco will have some growing pains but get better as the year goes on. DePaul will always be in the mix, but depth comes back to get them.
But there are even more questions out there…
First that comes to mind is, what is going to happen with the entire N.J. high school football system for 2018? We have a vote coming up with (as of now) two football plans that will alter the landscape. Which one will pass? Or will the two groups come together and create one plan? (I hope so).
There’s lots of rumblings about Pope John and the athletes and team they are building. Remember last year, I think Nunzio took a little heat when he said after they played Pope John that the Lions were the most talented team they had played … well, it looks like they are still pretty talented.
One last thing, gee, this time last year, the big talk was about Delbarton and whether they were in the North Jersey Super Football Conference — and whether they would play St. Joe’s (they did) or the schedule of their own creation. It looks like for now, the Green Wave are in. Delbarton just celebrated a state title in baseball and boys lacrosse.
I wonder though, if we will see some more changes in the leagues for 2018. From a big, BIG picture standpoint, none of the North Jersey Big 5 really have a marquee out-of-state game this year (maybe Byrnes). Bergen is going out to California – that’s always a great trip. But we are starting to see now how the luster of out-of-state games has faded. And it costs money.
Will the new early-signing date for football — I think its Dec. 20 — change recruiting? It might.
Will the transfers from Queen of Peace make an impact? The last time a small school in North Jersey closed, it was Paterson Catholic in 2011. A couple of those players ended up at Don Bosco Prep, namely Elijah Shumate and Al-Quadin Muhammad (go Saints). All Bosco did was win the national title that year. (They also had a kid named Peppers too).
SCOOPS ON FOOTBALL: Russo tries on green, Queen of Peace
That’s still the last non-public team in North Jersey to go undefeated. The next team that does it will definitely be in the conversation for a national title too.
Last question, is Augie growing the beard again?