SCOREBOARD 09-04-2011 Bruins look to build on their return to state playoffsNorth Bergen aims for another trip to Group IV glory

The 2010 high school football season represented a return to glory for the Bruins of North Bergen.
The Bruins suffered through a less-than-memorable 2008 campaign in which they posted a totally uncharacteristic 3-7 record and failed to qualify for the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV state playoffs for the first time since 1987.
They then squeaked into the playoffs in 2009 with a 5-5 mark and virtue of a team’s disqualification.
But last year, it was business as usual in North Bergen, as the Bruins enjoyed major success last year, posting an 8-3 record, defeating Passaic Tech in the first round of the state playoffs before falling to eventual state champion Randolph in double overtime in the second round.
So can the Bruins duplicate their feat of a year ago?
“We’re certainly going to try like the devil and go even further if we can,” said legendary North Bergen head coach Vince Ascolese, who will begin his 51st season as a head coach, the last 39 of which have been with the Bruins. “We have a number of people back on defense, so that helps. We had a very big loss in Peter Ramanand (the three-year starting quarterback), but we have some nice running backs, four of them, all of whom can run the ball well.”
If the Bruins do have a bit of a problem, it’s along the offensive line.
“We’re in the process of rebuilding the line, but we’re coming along there,” said Ascolese, who now ranks as the state’s active leader in coaching victories, with the retirements of New Providence coach Frank Bottone, Pope John coach Vic Paternostro and the state’s all-time leader in coaching wins, Lakewood/Brick’s Warren Wolf.
Ascolese begins the 2011 season with a total of 351 coaching victories, the final one being the win over Passaic Tech, which enabled North Bergen to capture its first state playoff victory in 13 years.
“I think there’s a little bit of a positive carryover from last year,” Ascolese said. “I think the feeling is better in preseason than it has been the last couple of years.”
It won’t be easy to replace a two-time Hudson Reporter All-Area quarterback in Ramanand, but junior Danny Melian (6-3, 190) has the tools to do so.
“He throws the ball real well,” said Ascolese, who is going back to more of a pro-set offense, scrapping the shotgun option the Bruins used to feature Ramanand’s talents. “He has a lot of work to do, but we’re working to incorporate him into our offense.”
The backfield is loaded with talent, adding Eric McMullen (6-0, 205) into the mix after he transferred from Paulsboro. McMullen is a senior and should make a gigantic impact right away.
McMullen is joined in the backfield by senior Vin Ascolese (6-3, 220), the coach’s grandson, and senior Anthony Calabrese (5-10, 185). Senior speedster Denzel Leitch (5-7, 160), clocked at 4.38 in the 40-yard dash, is a jack-of-all-trades hybrid of slot back/wide receiver. Leitch may be the fastest player in all of Hudson County.
The split end is senior Elias Castillo (6-0, 190). The tight end position is being shared by junior Alex Rodriguez (6-0, 205) and senior Sergio Rodriguez (5-11, 185). The two Rodriguez tight ends are not related.
The offensive line is still a work in progress, but Ascolese believes there is promise there. Senior Adolfo Gonzalez (6-0, 235) returns to his tackle position. Gonzalez will be joined by sophomore Kris Nunez (6-3, 240) and junior James Wallace (6-1, 260), both battling for playing time.
The guards are senior Nick Garcia (6-1, 215) and sophomore Steve Gomez (5-10, 195) and the center is junior Chris Ponce de Leon (6-0, 200).
Defensively, the Bruins will feature Alex Rodriguez and junior Brian Heredia (5-11, 185) at defensive end, with Garcia and Gonzalez at defensive tackle. Garcia started at defensive tackle last season.
The Bruins may have the best linebackers around in Calabrese and Sergio Rodriguez as inside linebackers and Ascolese and McMullen on the outside. The younger Ascolese has already received a handful of big-time NCAA Division I offers and will decide his collegiate fate after the season.
Leitch is a player to watch in the secondary.
The Bruins will face Sparta to kick off the season and will have a major test Sept. 24, when they travel to Jersey City to take on St. Peter’s Prep.
“I think it’s important for us to get off to a good start,” the elder Ascolese said. “I really think we have a chance to be a very good football team.”
And as for getting a chance to watch his grandson develop into a top-flight college prospect?
“It’s always good to see a kid in your family do well,” Ascolese said. “You always want to see a kid get better and advance. I think he’s got a very good chance. He has tremendous potential.”
So do the Bruins. No one will sleep on them this year. It’s a team that could be playing come December.
“I think we have a shot,” Ascolese said. “We just have to stay healthy and keep improving, especially up front.”

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