Category: Football

Who’s the “strongest” team in the Big Central? Here are the league’s SI ratings heading into 2021

Now that the NJSIAA has released its official starting Strength Index numbers for the 2021 high school football season, who’s the strongest team in the Big Central?

Well, to be honest, not much changed since the end of the 2021 season.

At least at the top, Phillipsburg has the highest 2021 preseason Strength Index in the league, followed by Somerville.

Continue reading “Who’s the “strongest” team in the Big Central? Here are the league’s SI ratings heading into 2021″

Coming soon: CJSR’s Top Moments of Year One

There were big hits, touchdowns, and shots. There were championships and outstanding performances. There were great stories, too.

In a year dominated by a polarizing election and a worldwide pandemic, high school sports gave all of us – student-athletes, coaches, parents, fans, and the media – a much needed distraction from it all.

And despite shortened seasons – some with playoffs, some without – there was a sense of normalcy, and there were so many great stories.

As we approach the first anniversary of Central Jersey Sports Radio going live with our first post on August 14, 2020, we’ll take a look back at some of the top stories and games we covered during the school year gone by. We’ll go day-by-day, up to the top of the list, with some audio highlights sprinkled in as well.

So keep an eye out for it on cjsportsradio.com over the next few weeks.

And of course, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and our site in the coming days, weeks and months for all the latest preseason football news and analysis.

In historic vote, NJSIAA members decide to play to Group Champs in football, starting in ’22

Even without all the votes counted, the NJSIAA knows which way it’s going. A winner has been declared, and it’s high school football in New Jersey.

“The vast majority of ballots are in and have been counted,” announced the NJSIAA in a Tweet Friday afternoon following its Annual Meeting, saying “98.6 percent of voting members support the Football Championship Proposal. After a 90-year hiatus, New Jersey will crown group champions in football in 2022.”

The process kicked into high gear in January, when at its Executive Committee meeting, the NJSIAA announced that a measure to eliminate language from its own Constitution saying “no state championships, however, shall be declared in football” passed by a wide margin: 318-12, with six abstentions.

Ultimately 94.6 percent of the 336 schools that voted said “yes.”

A week prior to the vote, an informal survey of a majority of Big Central Conference schools showed 37 schools that responded either had voted or planned to vote in favor of the measure to remove the language, while only two voted against the proposal.

“Our members have spoken and I applaud their decision,” NJSIAA Executive Director Colleen Maguire said in a statement at the time.

For years, New Jersey and New York have been the only states in the country that don’t play the postseason all the way down to group championships. Soon, the Empire State will stand alone.

The NJSIAA’s Football Leagues and Conferences Committee had a plan ready to go once the initial vote passed, outlined in a memo from Maguire, which can be found here.

The Big Central Conference’s representatives on the committee are Big Central President and Brearley Athletic Director/Head Football Coach Soctt Miller, as well as Colonia Athletic Director Ben LaSala.

The plan would add an extra week of games to the postseason, allowing for five weeks of playoffs (the typical three sectional weeks, plus group semifinals and finals). But it would “backtime” the season so that the group championships would always be scheduled the week after Thanksgiving. The start of the season would be determined by counting back from Thanksgiving.

The plan addresses several key issues:

  • It allows for group champions to be crowned in public schools. Some consider the lack of true “state champions” a detriment to New Jersey football, which otherwise is some of the best in the nation.
  • It does not add extra weeks on the back end of the season, avoiding additional conflicts for football players who participate in Winter sports. Many feared an additional week of playoffs would further disrupt football players who also participate in sports like basketball or wrestling. And, the NJSIAA recently made moves to have less overlap with other seasons and sports, as well.
  • It allows schools that play on Thanksgiving to continue with those games, without affecting the playoff schedule. Many schools with big rivalry games – like Phillipsburg has with Easton – did not want to be forced to choose between the playoffs or their Turkey Day games.

St. Joseph-Metuchen’s Tommy Romond wins inaugural “Fundraising University Unsung Hero Scholarship Award”

Sure, Tommy Romond was an important part of the St. Joseph-Metuchen high school football team for several years.

But that doesn’t mean he didn’t do things no one else would notice.

In a difficult year for high school athletes at every level, the Falcons’ rising senior got his teammates together in small groups, when they couldn’t officially meet because of COVID-19 restrictions.

He rounded them up so they could work out, practice, keep fresh, and prepare for fall 2020 on their own, just so they would be prepared for a football season that sometimes looked like it was right around the corner, and other times seemed like it would never happen.

OG/DT Tommy Romond of St. Joseph’s.

For his efforts, Tommy Romond was named the winner of the “Fundraising University Unsung Hero Scholarship Award,” presented by Central Jersey Sports Radio.

Romond – a guard on the offensive line and a defensive tackle for St. Joe’s – is headed to Johns Hopkins University, where he will play football and join the Biomedical Engineering Program, one of the top such programs in the country. He also led by example in the classroom, with a 4.65 GPA and an SAT score of 1490.

Fundraising University is the leader in helping scholastic athletic teams raise the most amount of money for their programs in the least amount of time.

“It really was just a perfect match for what we do,” says John Tuohy, talking about Fundraising University’s support for the scholarship, noting the company does the same thing “unsung heroes” do… work behind the scenes to ensure the success of their teams.

The award is for $500, and given to “the football student-athlete in the Big Central Conference who was most valuable to his or her team off the field and behind the scenes in the 2020 season.”

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko present the “Fundraising University Unsung Hero Scholarship Award” to Tommy Romond, joined by Fundraising University’s John Tuohy, and Romond’s head coach Rich Hilliard:

AUDIO: Bound Brook’s Melesurgo says shorter season takes opportunity away from hoops players

The 2021 basketball season was an unusually short season, but it was an anomaly as New Jersey worked its way out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2023, things could look very different again, but intentionally so, and Bound Brook boys’ basketball head coach Anthony Melesurgo isn’t a fan.

He’s been among the more vocal coaches on social media opposed to an NJSIAA proposal that’s halfway to the finish line, one that aims to have consistency among seasons, equity for all sports and student-athletes, and allow schools greater scheduling flexibility.

And while football wouldn’t be affected – since that’s getting its own overhaul – it would slash the basketball season from 26 to 22 games – not counting the state tournament and TOC – and shorten the length of the season overall to make it uniform with the fall and spring seasons.

That would leave gaps between seasons, ostensibly for multi-sport athletes to recover and take some time off. But Melesurgo says that gives some kids nothing to do, and that they would be better off around their sports.

The NJSIAA says the changes would increase the opportunities for multi-sport athletes who don’t need to worry about missing the first few weeks of practice for their next sport while finishing up another.

For a complete look at the original proposal, click here to download a PDF document.

The proposal – which the NJSIAA’s Executive Committee passed Wednesday on a first reading with only one vote in opposition – will come up for a final vote next month. If approved, it would go into effect for three years, starting with the 2022-23 school year.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko’s interview with Bound Brook boys’ basketball coach Anthony Melesurgo:

New Carteret head coach will bring back old-style Carteret football

Run the ball, and stop the run.

It was a recipe for success for many years for successful Carteret coaches like Jeff Weiner, Bob Molarz and Matt Yascko.

So, while new Rambler head coach Kevin Freeman looks to the future, he’s also looking to the past, as part of an effort to keep things simple for a 2021 squad that will be his first as a head coach, and the first varsity season for virtually the entire team.

Click below to hear new Carteret head coach Kevin Freeman talk about how he got the job, and his plans for the Ramblers in 2021 and beyond:

Freeman’s hire was approved last week by the Board of Education.

No stranger to the Carteret program, Freeman was an all-state linebacker for Weiner in the 1990s, then played defensive end at West Virginia for Don Nehlen. He’s shown here in his playing days for the Mountaineers.

He was hired in 2019 by then-Carteret head coach Matt Yascko to coach the offensive line and linebackers.

Freeman will have a unique challenge, in that Carteret shut down all fall sports last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, any senior on the team would have only played in the Rambler program as a sophomore.

For now, Freeman’s emphasis is on the weight room, which he believes will be the great equalizer for Carteret in 2021. He’ll keep the game plan simple: run it, and stop the run on defense.

Freeman returns only two players with varsity experience.

Click below to hear Freeman talk about those two players: OL/DE Jehu Andrews and LB/FB Mark Gonzalez:

Return specialist Shawn Martin hopes to write next chapter at Southern Connecticut, but not before taking the diamond one last time

Shawn Martin returned four kickoffs for touchdowns last football season for Scotch Plains-Fanwood, amassing 414 yards on just six returns.

Sure, he only returned six, but that’s because no coach in his right mind would dare tell his players to kick the ball to the young man who would be the Central Jersey Sports Radio Special Teams Player of the Year.

But ask him now what his favorite return is? It’ll have nothing to do with football.

The 2019 football season was normal, of course, and 2020 was affected by COVID – but at least it happened.

Martin missed the entire baseball season last year when it got wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic, only getting in a handful of games in the Last Dance Baseball Tournament.

So, right now, his favorite return is the one he just made this week back to the baseball field with his Scotch Plains teammates. (They just played their first game this week after a COVID-related pause.)

Martin is headed to Southern Connecticut State University, to play wherever he can get on the field for the owls, after a tumultuous recruiting season that tended to be the norm for high school athletes around the country, unless you’re a four- or five-star kid.

Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko caught up with Martin this week before his Raiders’ baseball team left for an afternoon game at A.L. Johnson.

Click below to listen:

Scotch Plains-Fanwood kick return specialist Shawn Martin

It was a big year for Barth, and he’s looking for an encore – and then some

Not many people came close to what Somerville’s Cookie Desiderio – the Central Jersey Sports Radio Offensive Player of the Year – did on the football field in 2020.

Of the few who did, Charlie Barth was one of them. And as CJSR’s Two-Way Player of the Year, the New Providence standout showed he could excel on both sides of the football.

READ MORE: When does he rest? Charlie Barth of New Providence is Two-Way Player of the Year

Plenty of football players come onto the field for offense and defense, but usually excel at one side more than the other. Not so with Barth, who led the Big Central, and was 4th in the state in rushing with 1,702 yards in a shortened seven-game regular season that included two weeks of “postseason.” He notched a touchdown every 7.4 carries, second in the league to Desiderio, and reached the goal line 25 times. On defense, he led the Big Central with 115 tackles, the tenth best total in the Garden State.

We caught up with Barth as we presented him a commemorative football for his efforts, while his former lacrosse teammates practiced behind him. Barth played lacrosse as a freshman, and didn’t have a season last year due to the COVID-19 shutdown, but is sitting out this year to spend more time in the weight room getting ready for what hen hopes will be a big senior season on the gridiron.

New Providence standout Charlie Barth and his head coach Chet Parlavecchio talk about Barth’s excellent 2020 season, and look ahead to 2021.

Somerville’s dynamic duo – Cookie and AJ – taking divergent paths after H.S., with big hopes for the future

One is taking a prep year more than 200 miles from the field where he wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks.

Not to be outdone, the other will travel about a thousand miles from the Gus Vanderbeek Athletic Complex to train with some of the best future college stars in the nation.

But both are looking toward big college futures beyond that.

The coronavirus pandemic left a lot of uncertainty in college football recruiting circles, unless you were being recruited by a big FCS school that played in the fall. Sure, schools like Rutgers had their share of question marks with the transfer portal, but an extra year of NCAA eligibility left a lot of FBS schools that played this spring with more questions than answers, and that trickled down all the way to high school, affecting guys like Somerville’s star running back Cookie Desiderio, and disruptive defensive end A.J. Pena.

Desiderio was named Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2020, averaging a touchdown every 5.8 carries, the best such ratio in the state. He’s going to the IMG Academy in Florida.

LOOK BACK: Cookie Monster! Somerville’s Desiderio named Big Central Offensive Player of the Year

Pena was named CJSR’s Defensive Player of the Year, with 44 tackles and 12 sacks in just seven games. He’ll be prepping at the Milford Academy in upstate New York.

LOOK BACK: A disruptive force, Somerville’s Pena named Defensive Player of the Year

We caught up with the pair recently, as we presented them with commemorative footballs marking their honors, as well as head coach Dallas Whitaker, who accepted the CJSR Team of the Year ball. The Pioneers finished 7-0, the only undefeated team in the Big Central Conference.

STELLAR SEASON: Somerville is Central Jersey Sports Radio’s first “Team of the Year”

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talking with Somerville’s Cookie Desiderio, A.J. Pena, and head coach Dallas Whitaker:

40 teams from across New Jersey set to compete, raise awareness at Autism Challenge this weekend

When it started in 2008, there were just eight Greater Middlesex Conference teams taking part.

Thirteen years later – after a pause in 2020 due to COVID-19 – this weekend’s Autism Awareness Challenge at North Brunswick’s Community Park will feature 40 high school baseball teams from all over the Garden State – including 16 from the GMC and another five from Somerset County.

The theme is “More than just a game,” says Mike Garlatti, who heads up Baseball Warehouse in Highland Park, is a Colorado Rockies scout, and is a former Rutgers assistant under the late Fred Hill on the team that was a win away from the College World Series in 1990).

Garlatti started the Teamwork Unlimited Foundation a couple of years after the 2008 event, which didn’t even have a fundraising component; it was simply dedicated to raising awareness about autism, after his son was diagnosed and found to be on the spectrum.

The Foundation now distributes money raised to autism support services and related groups. Scholarships are also handed out.

Garlatti spoke with Central Jersey Sports Radio about this weekend’s event. Click below to listen, and scroll down for a YouTube video about the event, as well as this weekend’s full schedule:

Mike Garlatti of Teamwork Unlimited Foundation talks with CJSR’s Mike Pavlichko about the 2021 Autism Awareness Challenge.

2021 Autism Awareness Challenge

Friday, April 23

4 pm: Piscataway Tech vs Carteret, St. Thomas Aquinas vs. Spotswood
7 pm: South Plainfield vs. Millburn, Somerville vs. St. Joseph-Metuchen

Saturday, April 24

10 am: JP Stevens vs. Governor Livingston, Metuchen vs. Bernards
1 pm: Cranford vs. South Brunswick, Voorhees vs. West Morris
4 pm: Red Bank Catholic vs. Delbarton, Ridge vs. Mendham
7 pm: Randolph vs. Jackson, Middletown South vs. Ramapo

Sunday, April 25

10 am: Rahway vs. South Amboy, East Brunswick Tech vs. South River
1 pm: Gill St. Bernard’s vs. Livingston, Edison vs. Barnegat
4 pm: Holy Spirit vs. Pope John, Don Bosco Prep vs. Old Bridge
7 pm: Passaic* vs. Elizabeth, North Brunswick vs. Hillsborough

*Passaic was a late replacement for Sayreville.
Dates, times and matchups subject to change.

All games will be streamed on GameKast Live.

Follow Team Work Unlimited Foundation on Twitter at @teamworkunlimit for schedule updates and more, including how to make a donation.