Mendham football is back. In the locker room, on the field, across parking lots– everyone’s talking about it. Soft goods sales are up; anything with a Mendham logo is hot. Tailgates are being planned. Fall is officially booked.
Like a lot of small towns, this team is a galvanizing force; a reason to come together and escape the grind from the week. In the stands, watching the team, people can feel good about something simple like a few yards gained or a ball well-caught; a block, a tackle, a cheerleader in the air; the band thundering down the hill and onto the turf.
For me, watching football is like reading dialogue in a book: each play is a response, with punctuation from the crowd. It’s dialogue between a player and his team, a player and his coach, a player and his own aggression. This year, in Mendham, at least one conversation has shifted: hating to lose has replaced fearing defeat. That’s what a few win’s will do to a team and a town.
A few wins, and we are believers in the strategy: work hard, you will get bigger; get bigger, you will be more powerful; and becoming more powerful means having more confidence. Mendham has done this. And they know it.
Even with hard work, there are no guarantees in this tough conference, with Roxbury, Randolph, Central and all the other powerhouses waiting their turn to play. In this tough conference, there is only endless, hard-fought ground to win. But with a 2013 6-5-1 record that ended in a run for the state title, the Minutemen know about inches making yards, and working hard. They know about dialogue that fuels the fire to win, rather than negativity that breaks them down.
This year, with 28 returning seniors—one of the biggest returning classes in the conference—expect those chains to keep moving.
If Mendham is successful this year, it’ll be because of the line, anchored by Richard Masiello, the 5’8, 225 rhinoceros at right guard that can run, block, push, tackle, and hit. He won’t be alone.
Masiello will be joined by the mountainous Connor Brady, the relentless Sam Bloomers, James “The Wall” Govan, and Henrik Trapness, backed up by Brian Fernandez and junior Jeff Sica. And, on defense, keep your eye on Jack Powers: he has speed, height, and is ready to attack off the ball. He’s going to make quarterbacks miserable.
Masiello describes this line as having more depth than last year, with key juniors and seniors ready to step in when necessary. And, although this group is working together for the first time, they’ve known each other for so long it’s been a quick transition. “We’re friends,” Masiello explains. “We’re going to work hard for each other because that’s what you do for your friend.”
At quarterback, Mike Rikkola is leading the show. Rikkola debuted his rocket arm at last week’s scrimmage and now we understand why the Minutemen look so confident: their QB can throw, hand-off, run the ball and make decisions. And—on a stacked team—he’s also playing defense. Rikkola is backed up by the talented junior Dan McHugh.
Tight ends Jack Powers and Nick Ferreira are two big, strong receivers with the power to get through the traffic. Next in, are six-two Kurt Schmeal and six-two Mike Ferrone, two guys that know the system and are ready to go when their number is called.
Wide receiver superstars Spencer Clouse, David Berkinsky, Alex Tafro, Jack Sudnikovich, and Stephen Weiss have ready backups in Robert Pellichio, Galo Coba, and CJ Doherty. There are so many talented receivers on this team they hardly need to run the ball.
But when they do, they have Tim Byrne at fullback, backed up by Juan Mendoza and junior Drew Robshaw. And at halfback, the Chris Jones express will be blasting through the line, along with the always-tough Jimmy McHugh. Alan Morales and junior Jack Dugan should get in as well.
Look for inside linebackers Tim Byrne and Jim McHugh, backed up by Alan Morales, Juan Mendoza, Duke Chiotelis, and Brandon Taylor as well as junior Drew Robshaw.
Outside linebackers Nick Ferreira and Stephen Weiss will be backed up by junior Jack Dugan.
Chris Jones will be the guy meeting the ball and making the big plays in the secondary. He’s got the speed, the angles, and the aggression to make receivers nervous. At cornerback, Alex Tafro, Mike Rikkola, and Jack Sudnikovich are three players with good instincts, fast feet, and a hunger for keeping points off the board.
A Look Back at 2013
Mendham made an improbable run to the state finals, where they were blown out by a tough Phillipsburg team. In order to make noise in the postseason this year, the 2014 Minutemen will need to fill positions from a never-say-die graduating class, including superstar captains Jack Horan, Anthony Marconi, Joe Beneducci, and Ross Coapman, along with linemen Joe Abramski, Mike Frigo, Nick Dobson, and Joe Esposito.
I asked Coach Carpluk what was his must-see game, the one that kept him up at night. “In this league, they all do,” he said with a sigh.
In this stacked conference, it’s hard to pick one match-up, but I’m going with the West Morris Central game, at Mendham, 7PM, Oct. 24.
In Coach Carpluk’s Words
“We had a productive off-season, the kids are more familiar with our system and expectations…and, now, we’re ready to work hard and have a lot of fun.”
Every Mendham game starts with each player touching the rock memorial to Pete Cavallero, a former player whose love for the game and his team represented the spirit of the Minutemen, and whose early passing stopped the heart of an entire town.
09-19 @ Roxbury
09-27 @ Randolph
10-03 Morris Knolls
10-24 West Morris
10-31 @ Mount Olive