A year ago, when Oscar Guerrero took over the head football coaching position at his high school alma mater, namely Memorial High School, he knew it would take some time to turn the program around.
The first year of the Guerrero regime didn’t exactly excite anyone, with the Tigers struggling to the tune of a 2-7 record.
However, Guerrero knew that he was operating with a young squad last year, a group that needed to mature a little and gain some experience.
“I knew this year we had a ton of seniors who played last year and who worked hard in the offseason,” Guerrero said. “Fundamentally, we knew we had some solid kids coming back. I thought we would be able to run the ball, especially with an experienced line. If you don’t have the strength upfront, it’s going to be a long season. Having kids on the line that I can rely upon makes my job a lot easier.”
The Tigers return four of their five starting offensive linemen from last year, namely senior tackles Bryan Lima (6-0, 265) and Felix Borbon (6-0, 215), senior guard Darius Saffold (6-2, 235) and senior center Martin Rodriguez (5-9, 205). Only senior guard Justin Cortez (6-1, 255) was not a starter last season.
The experience of the offensive line has already paid dividends in the new season, as the Tigers rushed for nearly 300 yards in a stunning 27-20 win over Hoboken in the season opener.
The Tigers had two running backs eclipse the 100-yard mark in the win over the Red Wings. Senior running back Christian Gomez (5-8, 200), the team’s leading rusher last year, carried the ball 20 times for 144 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game with severe cramps.
“Gomez is our go-to back,” Guerrero said. “He’s our featured runner. We knew that we needed someone else to step up when he went down.”
So up stepped fellow senior Gustavo Familia (5-9, 170), who collected 125 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.
If the Tigers continue to count on the formerly unknown running back, then the Tigers could really become Hudson County’s version of “La Familia.”
“We all gained a lot of confidence in Gus,” Guerrero said. “We didn’t know we had that. Now, we know we have two good backs. It was so important for him step in and perform like that.”
The team’s quarterback is senior Kenny Furlong (6-1, 190), who has been the starter at the position for the last two years and a three-year varsity performer.
“Kenny did a lot of work in seven-on-sevens in the summer,” Guerrero said. “He’s done a lot of nice work to get ready for this year. He has matured a lot and understands defenses better now.”
The team’s fullback is senior Elicio Olivares (5-9, 180), who fills the role perfectly.
“They all paid their dues last year,” Guerrero said. “They’re hungry right now. They have a different mentality.”
The wide receivers are senior Luis Feliciano (5-11, 165) and sophomore Jorge Ortiz (5-8, 150). The tight end is fellow sophomore Ruben Rivera (6-0, 220). All three are capable pass catchers and provide Furlong with good targets.
Defensively, the Tigers use either a 4-4 front or a 4-3 set, depending on the opposition.
Borbon and senior Stanley Fernandez (6-0, 195) are the defensive ends, with Saffold and Cortez at defensive tackle. Both Borbon and Saffold started on the defensive line a year ago.
The inside linebackers are Martin Rodriguez and Olivares, both of whom also started last year.
The outside backers are Familia and promising sophomore Jimmy Rodriguez (6-4, 195), who made a splash as a freshman during the baseball season last spring. Rodriguez is a sensational baseball talent, but Guerrero feels he has a future in football as well.
The cornerbacks are senior Martis Ramirez (5-8, 170) and junior Derek Joselen (5-7, 165), with the multi-talented Gomez at safety. Gomez has recovered from his health problems and is expected to be at full strength when the Tigers face St. Anthony this weekend.
Needless to say, things are looking up in West New York. The Tigers already have matched half of their entire win total of a year ago. They knocked off a perennial Hudson County power in the process. No one thought it was possible, but the Tigers are currently 1-0 and have a major quality win under their belts.
“I think this win shows our kids that the hard work they put in during the offseason paid off,” Guerrero said. “Their work didn’t go to waste. They now believe in themselves. They believe they can win. They now expect to win. We just have to be able to keep the momentum going.”
Having the senior leadership certainly has its benefits. The win over Hoboken proves that. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.