It’s hard to imagine this simple thought. Things have changed so much in Weehawken and the school’s football program that there is actual and tangible optimism that the Indians can actually qualify for the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I playoffs this season.
It’s not a pipe dream or a far-fetched rallying cry. No, the Indians are a true and legitimate contender this season, after making gigantic strides towards respectability and formidability by winning five games last year. They will be shooting for their first playoff bid since 2000.
And the Indians’ 5-5 record could have easily been a seven or eight win season with a little luck.
Zach Naszimento begins his second season as the head coach of the Indians and also doubles as the school’s athletic director.
Naszimento, the former Secaucus High standout who went on to play at the University of Cincinnati, now realizes how much of a quantum leap it was for the Indians to win five games last season.
It was the highest win total for the Indians since they went 6-4 in 2003. In the seven years after that last successful campaign, the Indians have posted a dreadful 11-59 record. They lost nine games in five of those seven years.
Here’s the most telling number: Weehawken won a total of six games over the five years prior to Naszimento’s arrival.
The way Naszimento turned the Indians around and made them important and solvent again, they should have renamed a street in Weehawken in his honor or thrown a parade for him. To say the least, it was a momentous season for the Indians with their new coach.
“I really didn’t know how big it was,” Naszimento said. “I just want to say that I’m a competitor and I expected to do well. I was just more concerned with getting the kids lined up and hoping they would play hard. I was very lucky to have good players who bought into what we were doing and coaching. I just worried about each week.
Added Naszimento, “Looking back after the season, I realized that there were so many positives to come out of it. I think it was important that we won the last game against Glen Ridge [35-20]. We sent the seniors out with a good feeling. It was huge for our returning players, because they knew that they had something to look forward to. They had focus through the offseason, in the weight room, in conditioning, in everything.”
Naszimento was impressed with the way the Indians were excited about the coming season.
“I have to say that the kids were really jacked up all throughout the offseason,” Naszimento said. “They’re ready and prepared. They’ve been doing their conditioning since May, participating in seven-on-sevens all summer. They’re battle tested and prepared.”
They are also fortunate to have perhaps the greatest football player in Weehawken history returning for his senior year.
Damien Corredor, who was among the leading rushers in the entire state last season, is back for his final go-round with the Indians. The 5-10, 180-pound Corredor rushed for 1,800 yards and scored 24 touchdowns on the ground. He also added other yardage and touchdowns as a pass receiver and as a threatening kick returner, compiling more than 2,600 yards in total offense.
It’s hard to imagine Corredor doing more than he did a year ago.
“We’ve emphasized to the kids that this will not be the Damien Corredor show this year,” Naszimento said. “We cannot rely on him to do everything like he did last year. Others have to step up.”
Naszimento can’t sing Corredor’s praises more than he already has.
“He’s a really special kid,” Naszimento said. “He’s the most unselfish kid we have. It’s great when you’re best athlete is your best kid, because then the others look at him and try to follow him. He just wants to win. He controls his own destiny now.”
Corredor is being looked at by schools like Monmouth, Delaware and Maine.
Corredor is not the only talented player in the Indians’ backfield. Senior Dante Cieri (5-10, 195) also returns. Cieri has enjoyed a brilliant preseason.
“There have been times during the scrimmages that Dante has been the best player on the field,” Naszimento said. “He’s amazing. He’s so explosive when he gets the ball. He’s very comfortable with what he can do now. I expect a lot from him this year.”
There’s a new quarterback this year for Weehawken. Sophomore Oliver Molano (6-1, 180) takes over for the graduated Jason “J.J.” Pineda, who was the Hudson Reporter Male Athlete of the Year last year.
“Oliver has some huge shoes to fill, but the best part about him is ability to control the huddle already,” Naszimento said. “He has the respect of his teammates and I never have to worry about him. He’s in control. He’s a leader at a young age.”
The wingback is another sophomore in Javier Lopez (5-9, 160).
“He’s done a tremendous job and he’s a tough kid,” Naszimento said. “He’s been a great surprise.”
Senior Devereaux Blanco (6-1, 205) is another gritty football player who will see time at all three running back positions, as well as some action at tight end.
“He plays everything,” Naszimento said of Blanco.
The wide receiver is junior John Paul Restrepo (6-1, 180).
The offensive line features three returning starters from a year ago. Senior guards Steven Rodriguez (6-2, 195) and Luis Nunez (5-11, 245) are back, along with senior center
Defensively, the Indians use a 4-3 set. A freshman, Johan Andujar (6-0, 185) is a starter at defensive end.
“He’s going to be a very good player,” Naszimento said. “You’re going to hear a lot about him.”
Junior Evan Martin (6-2, 185) joins Andujar at defensive end, with seniors J.C. Melendez (6-1, 300) and James Immerfall (5-10, 260) at defensive tackle.
The linebackers are Cuello and Rodriguez, with senior Alberto Penafiel (5-9, 175).
Restrepo is at a cornerback slot, joined by junior Nour Warrad (6-0, 160). Corredor and Molano are the safeties. Corredor has earned Hudson Reporter All-Area honors as a defensive back for the last two seasons.
So it appears to be a solid season for the Indians.
“We feel like we have a good chance to make the state playoffs,” Naszimento said. “That’s our goal. I think it’s important to do well from the start. But the state playoffs are the goal. We talk about it all the time and we think it’s a realistic goal. The kids are very motivated and focused on that goal. We know it’s been a while.”
The Indians opened their 2012 season last Friday night against Ridgefield at home. They now have road games against Park Ridge and Palisades Park the next two weeks. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.