Despite losing plenty to graduation, transfers help Marauders’ cause
Any high school football team that loses 11 starters, including the best quarterback in the school’s history, and 25 seniors from the previous 10-1 campaign should be in dire straits.
However, don’t dare trying singing that tune to the Marauders of St. Peter’s Prep.
There’s no question that veteran head coach Rich Hansen, who began his 16th season against North Bergen last weekend, will miss the class that graduated with four consecutive HCIAA championships, a class that included All-State quarterback Joe Dailey, now at the University of Nebraska, and Hansen’s son, Richie, who is currently an assistant freshman coach while attending St. Peter’s College.
"That class of seniors was very successful," Hansen said. "They won four county championships. They were very stable and very consistent players. Of course, they’re going to be missed, for a lot of reasons."
However, before anyone begins singing hymns of sympathy for Hansen and his plight, consider these items.
- Potentially, the Marauders have their best and most talented offensive line since their undefeated state championship run of 1994. There are three major Division I prospects along the line.
- When Bishop Francis Essex Catholic closed its doors last June, St. Peter’s benefited more than any other New Jersey school, getting six top-flight transfers to come to the school.
The combination of those two factors have catapulted the Marauders once again among the elite teams in New Jersey and began the 2003 season ranked among the top five teams in the state.
Hansen said that there was a cascading effect in the former Essex Catholic players coming to St. Peter’s.
"A friend of mine who works in Essex County knew the family of one of the players and he called me to say that the kid was interested in coming here," Hansen said. "The parents of the kid wanted to know more about us and what we do. He came to the school to visit. When two or three came in, the rest jumped on. I think they were all attracted to the discipline of the school. It was sort of a chain reaction. I never went out there looking for kids. I didn’t haunt them with phone calls. I just wanted them to see the program for what it was."
The Essex Catholic kids have been so much a part of the program that Hansen doesn’t even consider them to be from another school anymore.
"They’ve been on board with us for so long," Hansen said. "I knew our kids would accept them and acclimate them. It’s a fine line to walk, with kids’ emotions being at stake. But the transition was pretty smooth. To be honest, no one looks at them as Bishop Francis transfers anymore. They’re part of our program."
If there is one player who has to feel a little pressure entering the season, it’s the new quarterback, junior Ryan Boysen (5-10, 175), who has the daunting task of following Dailey. However, the talented Boysen is used to it.
"Ryan followed Dailey in Pop Warner [in Freehold] and he’s doing it here," Hansen said. "He and I have not spoken at all about the differences between him and Joe. He has a good arm and he’s smart. He’s going to be able to do some nice things."
The Marauders have three talented performers to handle the load at their featured running back position, namely junior Mike Brown (5-10, 175), junior Rashawn Jackson (6-2, 250) and newcomer Kee-Ayre Griffin (5-10-175), a sophomore who played varsity at Essex Catholic last year.
Brown, an All-Area performer a year ago, rushed for 1,480 yards and scored 17 touchdowns last season. Jackson was a fine compliment, collecting 787 yards and eight touchdowns last year. Griffin, who has blazing speed, had 900 yards for Essex Catholic.
"That’s a pretty three-headed monster," Hansen said. "Mike can do a lot of things. Kee-Ayre is quick, scatting-type runner and I don’t know if anyone wants to tackle Jackson. All three bring different things and all three are dangerous. They’re great weapons to have."
Senior Chris Traba (5-10, 210) and junior Chris Maiorino (5-10, 180) will split time at fullback.
The receiving corps is also talented and deep, led by newcomers Leo Ferrine (6-1, 180) and James Tindall (6-1, 215), both of whom started for Essex Catholic last year. Ferrine, who is considered among the best receiving prospects in the state, has received offers from Georgia Tech, Maryland, Rutgers and Penn State. The pair is also joined by senior Robin Sanchez (6-0, 180), who was a starter for the Marauders last year.
The Marauders are so deep that they have three tight ends – junior Jerome Becton (6-2, 220), who played last year, senior transfer Tajwar Beaufort (6-1, 220) and sophomore Joe Liggins (6-0, 190).
The offensive line is more than solid. Senior tackle Jeff Becton (6-3, 310) has received offers from Cincinnati, Louisville and Rutgers. Senior guard Luke Schade (6-3, 260) is considered one of the best linemen in New Jersey and has a ton of offers to choose from. Senior Anthony Gaskins (6-2, 265), another of the former Essex Catholic players, is rated the No. 2 center in the state. Add to the mix senior tackle Tom Rodger (6-3, 260) and junior guard Dan Neuenschwander (5-11, 250) and you have the makings of a solid front line. Junior Joe Hannon (6-1, 215) will also see time along the line.
That is potentially the Marauders’ best line since the 1994 state championship team that featured All-State performer Billy O’Donnell and current assistant coach Anthony Verdi.
"The key is potential," Hansen said. "I think we have a pretty good line. Potentially, they have the whole package. They have experience and size and block for a pretty good backfield."
Defensively, the Marauders feature many of the same performers. Newcomer Walter McCloud (6-2, 225), another Essex Catholic transfer, has been impressive at outside linebacker. McCloud, a senior, is joined on the outside by Jerome Becton, Tindall and Beaufort.
Jackson, who is a defensive demon, mans the inside linebacker position, along with Traba, who started last year. Maiorino and Neuenschwander will also see time there.
Junior Mike Smith (6-1, 270) will man a defensive tackle slot, with Jeff Becton, Schade, Gaskins and Rodger all seeing time there.
Brown, who has been a two-time All-Area performer at cornerback, returns there, along with Griffin and junior Brandon Shipman (5-9, 165). The safeties are Ferrine, Sanchez and a combination of juniors Steve Capetola (5-10, 175) and Dave Bellotti (5-10, 170) and sophomore Andrew Booth (5-11, 180).
So it has the makings of another special season for the Marauders.
"We’re right where we want to be," Hansen said. "We’re excited that the season is beginning. We have a lot of potential, but this team still has to do it on the field. The team has a swagger to it, but they haven’t earned that yet. Last week, we had a scrimmage with Don Bosco Prep (the defending Parochial Group 4 state champion and the No. 1-ranked team in the state to start the season) and (DBP coach) Greg Toal shook my hand and said, ‘See you in December (meaning the state finals).’ We have to see about that, because we still have to do it on the field."
Count on the Marauders to get the job done once again and to be a contender for a state title by the first week of December.