By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Harrison High School head football coach Dave Nankivell knows that the 2011 season was a disaster. The Blue Tide suffered through injury and illness. Several underclassmen were thrown into the fire and asked to perform right away. The result was a 0-9 nightmare that everyone in Harrison wants to simply forget.
“We’ve definitely passed through it,” said Nankivell, who begins his fifth season as the head coach of the Blue Tide. “The numbers we have in practice show it. We didn’t scare anyone away because of last year’s record. Sure, it’s a constant reminder. But we want to look past it. That’s the best way to do it. We needed to make changes and they were approached the first day at practice. We’re starting anew. We’re really young, so we’re starting anew.”
Nankivell said that the Blue Tide started seven freshmen in the final game of the season last year against Palisades Park.
“We had to do that because we had no other choice,” Nankivell said. “I remember looking around that day and saying to the coaches, ‘Wow, we have seven freshmen out there.’ It was a good learning experience for them. We did the best we could with what we had.”
Nankivell is confident that the bad times are behind his team.
“We’ve worked very hard to change things around,” Nankivell said. “We know where we are and we can only go up from here. We’re not dwelling on what happened. We just have to get ready for our first game, play well against teams we can play with. That will make everything a lot easier.”
Another reason why Nankivell is so optimistic is the play of his sophomore quarterback Jason Sheppard (6-0, 165), who started every game last year as a freshman.
“We went with a freshman every day, because we felt it was a good chance for us to grow,” Nankivell said. “He did well for us. I’m just working with him to try to avoid the sophomore slump. We’re keeping him on his toes. We have to be on him all the time. He throws the ball very well and runs well, which is important in our offense. He’s a good athlete and has the right tools. It’s just a matter of him putting in the work that will make him successful.”
Nankivell has a host of backs he can count on. Junior Adam Huseinovic (5-9, 185) is one.
“He’s a hard-nosed kid and a tough kid,” Nankivell said. “He’s going to try to power the ball.”
A trio of juniors, namely Raul Acosta (6-2, 210), Mark Isaac (6-2, 200) and Alfredo Mendoza (5-8, 150), will also get their number called out of the backfield.
The tight end is junior Bryan Carr (6-2, 210). The wide receivers are senior Tijani Rezki (5-11, 170) and solid target Federico Olivera (6-4, 185). Mitchell needs to be able to get the ball to the receivers pretty often in order to open up the Blue Tide’s rushing attack.
The Blue Tide has some decent size in the offensive line, led by imposing and impressive junior tackle Rafael Diaz (6-4, 260), who has the potential to be a good one. Other tackles include junior Rickey DaSilveria (5-10, 200) and sophomore Brian Granados (6-0, 225).
Right now, fullback Isaac is doing double duty, seeing time on the offensive line as well at guard, showing his versatility. A freshman, John DaCosta (6-1, 170), is the other guard. Sophomore Rodolfo Dos Santos (6-2, 260) is the team’s center.
“I think by being 0-9, you can only say you’re young for so long,” Nankivell said. “There’s a lot of room for growth and that only can be a positive. It’s a fortunate situation for us that we have all these kids.”
Defensively, the Blue Tide will use a 4-3 defense. Carr and Acosta are solid bookend defensive ends, with Diaz and Dos Santos at defensive tackle.
Huseinovic is solid at linebacker, joined by Isaac and DaSilveria.
Junior Justin Thomas (5-8, 150 is one cornerback, joined by Rezki. The safeties are Sheppard and Olivera.
The Blue Tide opens the 2012 season with a home game Friday night against Wallington.
“We’re never going to look past anyone,” Nankivell said. “We can’t afford to. We need to play well right away. We have to get the win to get off the skein. We have to come out and be very aggressive.”