John Conroy begins his third season as the head football coach at Ferris High School with modest means.
“We just want to keep taking steps in the right direction,” Conroy said.
That’s exactly what the Bulldogs have done in each of Conroy’s first two seasons. They went from 1-8 in 2010 to 2-8 in Conroy’s first year to 4-6 last season.
“But now, we want to do the little things to move further,” Conroy said. “We just want to keep taking little steps ahead. Last year, we lost in the first round of the states [the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group V bracket to Irvington]. It was not the way we wanted to end our season. So we absolutely want to keep moving.”
Conroy was asked if the state playoff appearance served as a motivational tool for the Bulldogs.
“I’d have to say yes and no,” Conroy said. “Some of the guys have stepped in and done better. Others have a lot to learn. They’re all competing.”
Conroy has been pleased with what he’s seen of his offense in the preseason.
“We’re moving the ball up and down the field,” Conroy said. “Defensively, we have our work cut out for us.”
The Bulldogs have two players battling for the starting position at quarterback, namely juniors Malik McNeill (6-1, 190) and Chris Pritting (5-9, 165).
“They throw the ball equally,” Conroy said. “Malik might be a little more athletic, but Chris makes better decisions. Both of them are film junkies. They stay to about 7 or 8 o’clock every night watching film. I love their dedication. They’re encouraging me to put more things in. The more we put it, the more diverse we become.”
Senior Demsie Dawes (5-9, 205) is the Bulldogs’ featured running back. Dawes had about 300 yards in reserve duty last season.
“He’s built like a bowling ball and he runs hard,” Conroy said. “He’s a very smart kid and uses that on the field.”
Senior Leo Rodriguez (5-9, 185) is another running back. Rodriguez was limited in his work in the preseason with an injury.
“But he’s a tough kid who plays hard,” Conroy said.
Another running back is sophomore Aquil DeCosta (5-10, 185).
“He’s come a long way,” Conroy said. “He’s grown up a lot. He’s starting to see the holes now and he has good hands coming out of the backfield.”
Sophomore Tyleeke Smith (6-3, 185) is a player to watch at wide receiver.
“He has a lot of potential,” Conroy said. “In our summer drills, he was dominating. He’s also a phenomenal blocker. I haven’t had a receiver block like this well in my coaching career.”
Senior Jaleel James (6-3, 200) is a returning starter at wide receiver.
“He has good size, good speed and he’s also a good blocker,” Conroy said.
Freshman Marcus Moultrie (5-10, 170) is another receiver with speed to burn.
“He has the goods,” Conroy said.
The tight end is junior Jose Pena (5-11, 210).
The offensive line has some good size and a little bit of experience.
Senior Schqueil Snell (5-10, 230) is a returning starter at tackle. He’s joined by promising freshman Leo Wilson (6-3, 300).
The guards are seniors who came out for football for the very first time. Seniors Fernando Melendez (6-3, 245) and Rahmise Jackson (5-10, 225) never played organized football before this season and they’ve both earned starting positions.
Senior Justice Torres (6-3, 290) is the starting center.
Because of some discipline issues, Conroy had to do some shuffling late in the preseason with the personnel up front. It can’t be helpful to make changes right before the opener, but Conroy is confident that the kids he relied upon will come through.
Defensively, the Bulldogs use James and Jackson at defensive end, with Snell and freshman Stephen Meyers (6-2, 250) at defensive tackle.
Senior Camilo Lenis (5-9, 190) returns to his starting position at linebacker. Conroy likes Lenis’ fortitude so much that Lenis was named a captain.
Sophomore Brandon Gomez (5-9, 200) has shown a lot of promise at the other linebacker slot, alongside Pena.
DaCosta and senior Rafael Florentino (5-10, 165) are the cornerbacks, with McNeill and Leo Rodriguez at safety.
The Bulldogs open the 2013 season at Caven Point against Cedar Grove.
Conroy likes the makeup of his team.
“It definitely has potential,” Conroy said. “When we get it right, we have a chance to do some good things. The young kids just have to grow up quickly.” – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.