Last year, the Tigers were 1-9 in head coach Brian Meeney's second season at Memorial, after going just 2-8 in his first season at the helm in 2006.
But Meeney begins the 2008 season with a sense of optimism. Don't ask him why, but Meeney just feels it.
"We did well in our scrimmages and we're making progress on a daily basis," Meeney said. "We've made leaps and bounds since I got here. When I came here, I spent a lot of time with the freshmen and now, those freshmen are juniors. They've improved with age, so I'm expecting us to be better. The last two years have definitely been learning experiences. We took our lumps, but now, the kids are bigger, stronger and faster. It makes a difference."
The Tigers welcome back their leading rusher of a year ago, namely junior speedster Denssy Portorreal (5-foot-8, 170 pounds), who had some moments of brilliance last season.
"He's very quick and deceptive," Meeney said of Portorreal.
The starting quarterback is newcomer Andrew Kaplan (6-0, 180), a senior who came out for football for the first time this season.
"His performance has been like a shocker for all of us," Meeney said. "He's been solid throughout the spring and the workouts in the summer."
Junior Roly Perez (5-10, 205) and sophomore Jermaine Reyes (6-0, 185), a transfer from Hudson Catholic, have been sharing the fullback duties.
The wide receivers are senior Juan Riascos (5-11, 170) and junior Sammy Molina (5-10, 180).
The Tigers' offensive line features some decent size, including impressive junior tackle Martin Ojeda (6-5, 315), who is already getting noticed by some college recruiters. Ojeda is joined at tackle by fellow junior Henry Lopez (6-1, 215). Seniors Danny Brito (5-9, 225) and Danny Torres (6-0, 210) are the guards, with Torres moving from fullback to the offensive line. Senior Ivan Santos (6-0, 265) is the center.
The tight end position is being shared by senior Hussein Al-Maksoud (6-5, 205) and junior Jose Gil (6-2, 215).
The Tigers' 4-4 defensive formation will feature returning starter Willie Medina (6-1, 210) at defensive end, along with junior Jonathan Munoz (6-0, 200) and promising sophomore Mike Acosta (6-4, 200).
Ojeda is a force at defensive tackle, along with Santos and junior Dave Betancourt (5-10, 185).
Junior Javier Garces (6-1, 180) returns to his starting slot at outside linebacker, where Perez will join Garces. The inside linebackers are Torres and junior Ulysses Lozano (5-11, 170).
Riascos and junior Ariel Soriano (6-0, 170), who was a key member of the Tigers' HCIAA Coviello baseball champions last spring, are the cornerbacks, with senior Ariel Sanchez (6-0, 165) and Molina at safety. The Tigers open the 2008 season with a special home game against neighbor St. Joseph of the Palisades on Friday, Sept. 12.
It's a special game for two reasons. One reason is because the Tigers are facing the Blue Jays for the first time in 15 years. Secondly, that night, the new West New York athletic facility will be named as Joseph Coviello Memorial Field, in honor of the legendary Memorial coach and administrator.
"Joe Coviello was a coaching legend and one of the best coaches in the history of New Jersey high school football," Meeney said. "By bringing his name back into the forefront, we're bringing back a little of the Memorial football tradition. Some of the kids might not have known him and what he did as a coach, so a little reminder like this is a good thing. It's good for football to bring some of the old-timers back and pay homage to the great coach. I just hope we can put a good product on the field."
One thing's for sure. It can't be worse than what it had been over the first two years of Meeney's tenure as coach. They can only go up from here. - Jim Hague