Back in the summer, Cranford resumed in-person workouts under the NJSIAA’s strict COVID-19 guidelines. With no more than 10 participants allowed in a group and six feet of space required between all participants, the proceedings looked nothing like a typical football practice.
Every person on the roster — about 75 players in total — had to get involved so that each group could conduct drills or walk through plays properly.
But as the Cougars’ coaching staff soon discovered, the Phase 1 activities were even more insightful than a normal 11-on-11 practice.
An unprecedented level of offensive depth, developed during those socially distanced summer workouts, led Cranford (6-2) to its 11th straight winning season and a second-place finish in Big Central Division 5A.
“Because of [the summer practices], everybody was able to learn plays,” head coach Erik Rosenmeier said. “We took a look at guys slightly differently than we may have if we just were focused on the guys that we had back or we thought were going to be good.”
Cranford featured two starting quarterbacks — senior Dennis DeMarino and junior Shane VanDam — who often alternated drives leading the offense. During the four-game stretch from Week 2 to Week 5, DeMarino and VanDam even alternated 100-yard passing games, with VanDam’s 111-yard performance against Colonia coming the week after DeMarino threw for 111 yards against Woodbridge. They each finished the season with five passing touchdowns and two interceptions.
Surrounding the twin signal-callers was a constantly rotating cast of skill-position players. In the Cougars’ abbreviated eight-game season, nine players recorded at least 100 rushing or receiving yards. Senior RB Marcus Johnson, who helped lead the school’s baseball team to the Last Dance World Series championship last summer, paced the group with 408 rushing yards and six total touchdowns.
“As we got closer to the season, [the coaching staff] said, ‘Hey, these guys can all play. Let’s find a way to get them on the field. Let’s use it to our advantage. Let’s play up tempo, run guys in and out and try to wear other teams out,’” Rosenmeier said. “I think it was a mental edge for us.”
Cranford’s quick-pace offense averaged 30 points-per-game and posted three 40-point performances.
In the Big Central’s first week of postseason play, that depth led the Cougars to their biggest win of the season, a 43-19 victory over previously unbeaten North Brunswick. DeMarino threw for 74 yards and two scores. Of course, two different receivers — Johnson and junior Will Gallagher — caught the touchdown throws. Junior RB Lucca Limeira ran for a game-high 112 yards and two touchdowns. VanDam and Johnson each added a rushing touchdown, too.
The win was the capstone on another winning season at Cranford, a streak that is now the longest active in the Big Central.
“It felt really good coming together as a team because, when everyone gets the ball, [opponents] couldn’t focus on one player,” Johnson said. “Everybody stepped up and did what they had to do this year.”
Johnson and Rosenmeier spoke to Central Jersey Sports Radio about the season. Click below to hear their comments:
RB Marcus Johnson
Head Coach Erik Rosenmeier