Last season marked a history-making campaign for the North Arlington football team as it qualified for the state tournament for just the second time in 25 years.
Now comes a new challenge – turning the unexpected into the norm.
“We went 2 out of 25, why can’t we go 2-for-2?” said Vikings head coach Joe Borkowski. “They’ve had a little taste of it, but they’re still hungry. We’re happy, we’re satisfied, but we’re not done yet and that’s what we’ve been preaching/”
With 10 starters back on defense, Borkowski and the Vikings firmly believe they will be able to make it 2-for-2 this fall.
“I feel the culture change on the defensive side more so than anywhere else because even in the 7-on-7s it was not ‘let’s hope to get a stop here,’ it was’ we’re going to get a stop here.’” Borkowski said. “We have the same goal and everyone seems together. We’re communicating, we’re playing very fast. We’re not installing a whole lot, we’re taking what we have and we’re tweaking it, refining it and we’re getting better.”
That change starts on the defensive line where North Arlington has a trio of seniors entering their third or fourth season as a starter. Jason Gilbert (5-11, 225) is a four-year starter at one end spot with Ariel Williams (6-0, 210) at the other. Defensive tackle Jose Rodriguez (5-11, 275) enters his third season as a starter and juniors Ryan Demnati (6-4, 275) and Ivan Alvarez (6-3, 270) are also a part of a rotation on the interior giving the Vikings one of the biggest fronts in the NJIC.
“Our D-Line is big and fast and we’re looking at them to cause havoc up front,” Borkowski said. “We gotta stop the run and force them to throw the ball so they can create the pressure to make the quarterback uncomfortable in the pocket.”
The linebacker position has been bolstered with Isaiah Alvarado (6-0, 205) moving from defensive end to inside linebacker, alongside returning starter Bryan Louzada (5-10, 185). Sean McGeehan (6-0, 205), who is perhaps the most versatile player on the defense is set to start on the weak side and junior Felipe Carvalho (6-2, 200), a converted soccer player, has been one of the big surprises of the season and is likely to start on the strong side. Kevin Barone (5-9, 210) is set to see plenty of snaps at linebacker as well and Andre Rincon (6-1, 170) provides some additional depth at the position.
Headlining the secondary is a pair of three-year starters at safety in Ian Crudele (6-1, 170) and Robert Carselda (5-11, 170).
“They love to hit, they come down hard in the box. They can tackle, they can stop the run and they can cover a lot of ground in the back. We’ll use that to our advantage,” said Borkowski. “We play a lot of teams that want to run the ball so we’re preaching that we want to stop the run first.”
Junior Julian Moya (5-10, 165) is back at cornerback after earning All-Division honors last season. Senior Nate Smith is the likely starter at the other corner spot, but fellow seniors Chris Rodriguez (5-9, 160) and Evan Edwards are vying for the position.
While the Vikings have many of the same pieces on defense, there is one big change on the offensive side as McGeehan moves from running back/slot receiver to quarterback following the graduation of All-County QB Devin Rivas.
McGeehan brings a different dimension to the position with his ability to scramble, while also displaying an impressive grasp of the offense.
“Our philosophy has changed a little bit, we’re probably not going to throw the ball 60-percent of the time like we did the last two years, but Sean has done a great job,” Borkowski said. “His football IQ is extremely high. It’s like having another football coach on the field. We do give him the freedom to audible and make checks. We have full confidence that he’ll be able to come in and do the job.”
Williams, a former offensive lineman, takes over as the primary running back with Carvalho also set to receive plenty of carries.
At wide receiver, with Kyle Villani now at Southern Connecticut State, Crudele is the unquestioned top target after catching 36 passes for 583 yards and six touchdowns.
“I fully expect Ian to be the best player on the field in almost all of our games,” said Borkowski. “He’s our guy.”
Carselda (17-223-2) is also back at receiver with Moya, Smith and Rodriguez all set to see time as well. Alvarado, a three-year starter on the offensive line, shifts to tight end, a spot he’ll share with Nick Woehlemann (6-0, 215).
Rodriguez enters his third season as the starting center. Gilbert, a four-year starter, moves from left guard to right with Alvarez shifting from right guard to right tackle. Barone starts at left guard, promising sophomore Jacob Soler (6-3, 265) is the left tackle and Luca Ziakos (6-3, 275) will also see time on the line.
North Arlington starts the season on Thursday, Aug. 31 at Hawthorne before having its home opener on Sept. 8 vs. Pompton Lakes.
One year removed from the playoffs, the Vikings have a new goal, having a home state playoff game in nearly four decades.
“They got a little taste of it last year when we were very happy to make it to the states. But at the same time, we want to move this program forward,” Borkowski said. “We want a home state playoff game, we want to win a state playoff game. We haven’t had a home state game in 39 years and we haven’t won a playoff game in 29 years. Those are the two numbers I throw out at them.”
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)