There’s no question that Damien Corredor and Dante Cieri meant the world to the Weehawken High School football program. The talented tandem helped to put Weehawken back on the map, scoring more than 100 touchdowns combined over their careers and leading the Indians back to the NJSIAA state playoffs for the first time in a decade.
The Indians’ 7-3 record was the school’s best since 1974, with Corredor eventually going on to be selected as the Hudson Reporter Male Athlete of the Year.
But the two have moved on to college football – Corredor to Kean and Cieri to Rowan – leaving the Indians with some huge gaps in their offensive attack.
“It’s definitely difficult to lose those two,” said Zach Naszimento, who begins his third season as the head football coach and athletic director. “And that’s to be expected. It’s all part of the cycle of high school football. We look at what happened last year as being over. We’re focusing on this team, this group of kids. We’ll take the good of what we had the past two years and move on.”
Added Naszimento, “The best thing is that those kids led this group in the right direction. They learned a lot from them. This team has to create its own identity. They’ve been waiting their turn. There might be some names that people never heard of, but I still expect positive results.”
Naszimento is not expecting a fall off from the last two years, when the Indians were 12-8.
“Our expectations are to be competitive once again,” Naszimento said. “We have more than enough talent. We have some size on the front line where we look like a real football team. It’s just that these kids aren’t battle tested yet. They have to step up.”
Leading the way will be junior quarterback Oliver Molano (6-1, 205), who Naszimento calls “my best player.”
“He’s already being recruited,” Naszimento said of Molano. “He is a tremendous leader and the kids all look up to him. He can run and throw well. I’m expecting a lot from him. His attitude is excellent. Oliver is following in the others’ footsteps as a leader.”
The fullback is sophomore Joan Andujar (5-10, 195), who will get most of the carries that went to Corredor a year ago.
“Joan [pronounced JO-AHN] is a different kind of runner than Damien, but he’s going to get the ball a lot,” Naszimento said. “He’s a strong, physical kid. I forget he’s just a sophomore. I think he’s going to get the job done.”
Junior Javier Lopez (5-8, 185) is one of the Indians’ halfbacks. Lopez is the lone returning starter in the Indians’ backfield.
“He was a good player for us last year and he will be again this year,” Naszimento said. “He’s our most reliable player. The kid is consistent. He’s always there and has a tremendous attitude. He’s my favorite player.”
Senior John Paul Restrepo (5-10, 190) is the other starter in the backfield. Restrepo was a wide receiver last year that has been moved into the backfield this season.
“He’s too athletic to be out there,” Naszimento said. “He has to be more involved in the offense.”
Sophomore Michael Stepkovich (6-0, 175) is the wide receiver.
“He has good hands and a great attitude,” Naszimento said.
Senior Michael Abad (6-0, 220) returns to his starting tight end position.
“He broke his ankle and missed the first five games last year,” Naszimento said. “I think now that he’s healthy, he’s going to have a nice year for us.”
Junior Patrick Higgins (6-0, 260) returns to his starting slot at offensive tackle, joined by fellow junior Charles Eid (6-3, 260). Junior Joe Sainato (6-4, 220) and sophomore Keith Hablitz (6-2, 250) are the guards, while junior Mohamed Elmahdy (5-10, 260) is the center.
“We have some good size, but they’re all young,” Naszimento said.
Defensively, the Indians return senior Evan Martin (6-1, 190) to his starting slot at defensive end, along with senior Justin Diaz (6-2, 230).
The defensive tackles are a pair of Higginses, namely returning starter Patrick and his younger brother, sophomore Steven Higgins (5-10, 220).
Senior Damien D’Amore (5-9, 200) is the middle linebacker, flanked by sophomore Sebastian Sanchez (6-1, 185) and junior Kenny Terrero (5-9, 200). Naszimento likes the potential of Sanchez.
“He’s going to be very good,” Naszimento said.
The secondary features returning starter Nour Warrad (5-10, 170) at cornerback, along with sophomore Max Flores (5-10, 170). Molano and Lopez are the safeties.
The Indians open their season Sept. 12 at Ridgefield.
“I think this team is going to keep it going in the right direction,” Naszimento said. “There’s some talent here. We just have to make sure we move some guys into the right spots and put them in the right position to be successful.”
After many years in the doldrums, the Indians definitely seem to have turned the corner toward respectability and another state playoff berth is not out of the question. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.