By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Joe Fischer knows exactly what the new head football coach at Belleville High School has to do – because he’s done it.
In 2004, Fischer inherited a Belleville football program that was in the midst of the state’s longest losing streak. At first, it didn’t get better for the Buccaneers, as they lost all 10 games during Fischer’s first season.
But in 2005, the 33-game losing streak ended with a dramatic win over Paterson Eastside. Two years later, the Buccaneers did the unthinkable and qualified for the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV state playoffs for the first time since 1984.
Fischer then stepped aside to take care of his young family.
The Buccaneers were 1-9 last season and struggled to make it to the end of the year, so Fischer can relate to what the new coach has to tackle as he takes over.
The new coach? None other than Joe Fischer.
The former coach of the Buccaneers is now the current head coach of the Buccaneers, returning after a seven-year respite.
And Fischer inherits a lot of the same headaches he incurred when he came to Belleville from Immaculate Conception of Montclair a decade ago.
“I knew it was going to be a challenge,” Fischer said after a spirited practice last week. “But when I came the first time, we didn’t even have a field.”
The Buccaneers were forced to play all their games on the road that season due to troubles at Doc Ellis Field, which has since been totally restored and renovated to make it a beautiful facility.
“We have 64 kids now in the program, including 22 freshmen,” Fischer said. “We have kids who want to play football. Things are definitely looking up. We’re definitely moving up.”
Fischer said that the first obstacle was instilling a sense of decorum and pride.
“The attitude was the first challenge,” said Fischer, who posted a 10-30 record during his first tenure as head coach. “We’re working on changing the attitude every day. It starts with the kids having to show up every day, ready to work. They have to be accountable. I think at least 95% of the kids bought into that idea and the others are no longer here.”
Fischer has faith in restoring the Belleville program and giving it a sense of pride.
“I can see the potential,” Fischer said. “We’ve put in a system on offense and a system on defense. We’re not asking kids to do things that they cannot do. So we can improve right away. We will do what we do well and keep on moving forward.”
Fischer said that he wants to get all of his players involved.
“Our goal is to go two-platoon (meaning different players on offense and defense, like what’s done in college and the NFL),” Fischer said. “Right now, we maybe have three kids who go both ways and that’s out of necessity. We want to have our players play.”
Fischer will run a multiple set on offense, with its basis being the Delaware Wing-T.
Leading the returnees is junior quarterback Joey Rivera (5-10, 170).
“He’s very athletic,” Fischer said of Rivera. “He’s very fast and runs the offense well. He’s probably going to be our leading rusher this year. He’s our best runner and has a great first step.”
Sophomore Brian Rivera (5- 11, 150 and no relation to Joey) is the team’s starting running back.
“He started last year as a freshman,” Fischer said. “He’s a good athlete.”
The fullback is another sophomore in Terrence Best (5-10, 180).
“He’s blocking well,” Fischer said. “He’s an intelligent kid who knows the offense and knows how to block.”
Senior Manny Lascarro (5- 9, 170) is the team’s resident wingback/wide receiver.
“He’s the fastest kid on the team,” Fischer said. “He’s very athletic.”
Lascarro is also a champion in tae kwon do, so Fischer likes his hands.
Senior Michael Ramirez (6- 0, 190) is a four-year varsity player at wide receiver.
“He goes up and gets the ball,” Fischer said. “He has good hands.”
Junior Jared Collazo (5-11, 170) is another wide receiver. Collazo has just joined the program for the first time.
The tackles are senior Victor Samaniego (6-0, 270) and junior Jeremy Jones (6-3, 280), so the Bucs have good size at the bookends.
Senior Nick Nardachone (6-2, 230) is at guard. He’s another four-year player and a returning starter from last year. Nardachone, who is also a standout wrestler, is a player to watch on both sides of the ball.
Senior Michael Baylock (5- 10, 250) is another returning player at guard.
Sophomore Craig Jackowski (6-0, 180) is the starting center.
Nardachone has been moved outside to defensive end to key the Buccaneers’ 4-4 defensive formation. Senior Ibn Whitfield (6-0, 200) is the other defensive end.
Sophomore Andre Vasquez (5-10, 175) will get time also at defensive end. “He’s lightning quick,” Fischer said of Vasquez.
Samaniego and Baylock are the defensive tackles.
Lascarro and Ramirez are players to watch at linebacker.
Senior Anthony Jett (5-11, 150) is a fixture at cornerback, along with Brian Rivera. Joey Rivera is the team’s free safety.
The Buccaneers open their season early, facing Snyder on Friday, Sept. 5 at Doc Ellis Field. They then face Nutley Sept. 12, also at home.
In fact, Belleville will play seven of their nine scheduled games this season at home, so that gives the Buccaneers an advantage over their opponents.
“Seven home games, seven Friday night games,” Fischer said.
Fischer likes the makeup of his team.
“I like the attitude,” Fischer said. “We weeded out the kids who were negative.”
Fischer also likes his coaching staff.
“They all played college football, so they know what it takes,” Fischer said. “That’s important to me. They’re all positive people. We put together a nice coaching staff.”
Fischer also thinks that the Buccaneers will be better this year.
“We should improve,” Fischer said. “We should be competitive.”
It’s definitely a new era for Belleville football.
“That’s right,” Fischer said.
He should know.