By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The Belleville High School football team suffered through a tough 1-9 campaign a year ago.
“It’s completely forgotten about,” said the Buccaneers’ third-year head coach John Dubuque. “That 1-9 is done. It’s ancient history. We’re moving in the right direction.”
Dubuque said that the Buccaneers were plagued last year by a variety of issues.
“We lost a lot of our focus and a lot of discipline last year,” Dubuque said. “The No. 1 job of this team was getting that focus back. It’s my third year and I finally have my kids on this team. I’m coaching my kids. It’s easy to field a team, but it takes time and patience to build a program.”
Dubuque said that he’s counting a lot on his current senior class to lead the Bucs past the troubled times and into the future.
“We have an excellent senior class who has been willing to instill the goals that I’ve been teaching,” Dubuque said. “These seniors are leading by example. They had a great offseason in the weight room, with their speed and agility. We constantly had people coming into our weight room, kids putting the time necessary in the weight room.”
There are more kids involved in football in Belleville in recent years as well.
“We have 60 kids in the program and another 24 freshmen coming in,” Dubuque said. “There’s no question we’re moving in the right direction. These kids want to leave their mark, leave a legacy. It’s a brand new start. A lot of the other kids are gone.”
There’s currently a battle for the starting quarterback slot. Senior Justin Simmons (6-2, 185) is being pushed by sophomore Joe Rivera (5-8, 165). “
One is more of a runner (Rivera),” Dubuque said. “Justin is more of a pocket passer. We have stuff in our offense for both of them.”
Senior Carlos Ruales (5-8, 185) returns at tailback, where he gained more than 600 yards last year.
“He’s quick and elusive,” Dubuque said. “He also has power when he needs it. We’ll go as far as Carlos will take us this year.”
The Buccaneers have a host of players at wide receiver, most notably seniors Oscar Rosado (6-0, 180) and Danny Espinal (5-9, 175), both of whom started last season.
Senior Bryan Roman (5-8, 185), juniors Michael Ramirez (6-0, 175) and Dylan Moran (5-7, 155) and freshman Brian Rivera (5-8, 165) are all in the mix to receive playing time in the Bucs’ spread offense. Dubuque likes the makeup of his offensive line, which returns in unison.
“I’m very excited about the offensive line,” Dubuque said. “They’re all back from last year. It makes my job a lot easier. They came in and knew their responsibilities right away.”
Senior Joshua Marte (6-3, 260) and junior Chris Figueroa (5-7, 200) are the tackles, with junior Nick Nardachone (6-0, 220) and sophomore Johnny Ramirez (5-9, 220) at guard and senior Jose Gonzalez (5-9, 250) at center.
Many of the same personnel turn around to play defensively.
Nardachone and Jeremy Feliciano (6-0, 215) are the starting defensive ends, with Marte and Gonzalez at defensive tackle.
Espinal returns at outside linebacker, where he is joined by Ruales, who was a safety last year and has been moved up in order to make more plays defensively.
Ramirez is an inside linebacker, along with junior Manny Lascaro (5-9, 185). The Bucs look solid at linebacker.
Senior Hassan Gibbs (5-7, 155) is at one cornerback, with Rosado at the other corner and Bryan Roman at safety.
The Buccaneers waste no time getting their feet wet in 2013, facing neighboring rival Nutley to kick off the season Friday, Sept. 13. The days of the Thanksgiving Day rivalry are over, so local football fans will have to suffice with the two rivals locking horns to start the season much like they did last year.
The Belleville-Nutley showdown will take place at the Nutley Oval.
“We have to turn the page on last year,” Dubuque said. “We have a new group of kids. We have new discipline. We have a new sense of pride. Hopefully, this team will pick up a few of my values and turn things around. We lost that focus last year. We need to get it back.”