In his first year as head coach at Harrison, Ray Lucas succeeded in achieving his first goal, which was saving a program that was on the brink of folding due to a lack of numbers on the roster and the absence of a head coach.
Beyond that, however, the Harrison legend and former NFL quarterback will admit not much else went right for the Blue Tide last season as it went 1-6. Just in case that record wasn’t proof of that, the journal Lucas kept during the year and reviewed over the offseason made him come to the realization that a lot of changes needed to be made.
“Every day after games, I wrote in it, but the only rule was that I would never go back until after the season. I would write it and then turn the page,” said Lucas, who was hired last August, just six days before the start of the preseason. “When I went back and looked at the journal, I realized I made a lot of mistakes. I’m trying to correct those mistakes I made as a rookie head coach.”
Among the changes that were made include Lucas taking over as the offensive coordinator and looking to return to more of a smash-mouth style of football. Thanks to a big addition, the shift in philosophy couldn’t come at a more opportune time.
That’s because massive senior offensive lineman Jayden Vega has returned to Harrison, transferring back home after spending three years at DePaul Catholic. The 6-foot-1, 300-pound Vega will slide right in at right tackle and should be a game-changer, especially in the NJIC Union Division, which Harrison plays in.
“He’s a Division I talent. He’s the real deal,” Lucas said. “The offensive line is probably going to be our strength and if you got a strong offensive line, you got a shot against any team.”
Lining up next to Vega will be senior Ethan Oeckel, a returning starter at guard, who plays much bigger than his list size of 5-11 and 215 pounds. Angel Pina is a three-year starter at center. On the left side of the line, 300-pound Jomar Ali moves from guard to tackle and junior Santiago Rojas takes over at guard. Depth on the line will be further bolstered with sophomore David Jimenez, senior Angelo Herrera as well as senior brothers Jared and Joseph Jones, who return to football after not playing the last two years. While raw, both Jared and Joseph have the kind of size that has rarely been seen at Harrison in recent memory.
Adding to the size and strength up front is Vega’s younger brother Brandon, a 6-foot-2, 235 pound tight end. Senior Benjamin Marrero will also see time at tight end.
This group will be looking to open up holes for junior William Polizzotto, a returning starter at running back. Polizzotto (5-9, 170) plays with serious aggression and might be the toughest player pound for pound on the team.
“He is a former wrestler and is probably one of the toughest kids on my whole squad,” said Lucas, who believes Polizzotto has to play in college. “He’s not the biggest, but the toughest.”
Junior Ziare Colson and David Dias will see carries in the backfield. Senior David Morejon, who also is the backup quarterback, could also see time as well.
While the spread offense of a year ago is likely a thing of the past, there is depth at the wide receiver spot with seniors Juan Paulino and Brian Castillo as well as juniors Dylan Sanchez and Ethan Johnson.
Justin Langley (5-11, 145), a starting receiver last year, takes over as the starting quarterback.
Langley will once again be a two-way starter as he shifts from corner to safety where he’ll start alongside the versatile Morejon, who, according to Lucas, has put on more than 20 pounds of muscle this offseason.
Sanchez and Dias are the starters at cornerback with Paulino also seeing some time.
Polizzotto returns to start at middle linebacker, with Colson and Brian Castillo on the outside and both Jimenez and Johnson in the rotation as well.
There is experience on the defensive line where Pina is a returning starter at tackle and both Brandon Vega and Oeckel are returning starters at the ends. Ali is set to start at the other tackle spot.
Harrison begins its season Thursday, Sept. 15, when it travels to play Palisades Park/Leonia. The late start is fine with Lucas as he admits his team needed the extra time to continue to build the bonds on continuity that have been missing with Harrison for a long time. In fact, Lucas’ return ends a dubious streak of the Blue Tide having a new head coach each of the previous four years.
“To have an offseason and to have the kids together, we’re gelling as a family faster than I thought possible,” Lucas said. “And to me, when you get a bunch of guys that feel like they’re a part of something, it makes a huge difference.
“You can’t have a good football program with turnover like that. It wasn’t fair to the kids. Period. You can’t have a winning team when every time someone comes in, everything changes.”
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.