One of the reasons high school football in New Jersey is so special is because in August you can sweat it out in some back road field way up in the farms of the western part of the state. Then, in December–if you play your cards right–you can walk through the tunnels of MetLife Stadium to a crowd of 5,000 people from your community screaming their heads off, with goose bumps and all.
Then there are some added storylines that pour on the drama like a coach finally getting his first championship ring after decades of coaching, or a player playing for his disabled sibling, or– as in Wallkill Valley’s case–coming off an 0-10 season to beat the odds and bring their hometown their second championship in school history.
“Even though we didn’t win a game last season we never stopped practicing hard and we didn’t get down. We just kept trying to get better,” senior runningback Justin Bond shares with me about why he is optimistic about this season. “We don’t care what our record was last year. We are playing to get to states and win a championship.”
You wouldn’t think this team was coming off a 0-10 season if you visited practice. There is an positive vibe that runs through the players all the way up to second-year head coach Adam Vazquez. He explains, “We are an upbeat team that takes itself very serious. Even last season, if you came to a practice when we were 0-7 you would have thought we had a winning record by how hard these players practiced. I credit the players because that hard work comes from them.”
When you get to know the makeup of this team, you don’t have to look far to find all the ingredients of a team that can do something spectacular. Take how they welcomed senior quarterback transfer (from Vernon) Marko Bakovic for example.
Wallkill already had a quarterback in the extremely talented and athletic Rich Stecher. But Stecher realized if he moved to receiver, with Bakovic at the helm, the team could upgrade its offense. “When Bakovic transferred I let Rich decide what he wanted to do. It was his choice to have Marko move to QB.” Vazquez says.
Bakovic adds a different element to the team because he has the ability to make all the throws. With Stecker at wideout, along with some other speedy players, Vazquez changed his offense from a Pro-set style to a Spread Offense. “We are a fast team so we are going to throw the ball and do a lot of no-huddle stuff. We are going to use our quickness to our advantage.” Vazquez explains.
Alex Thompson, Jaret Muller and Justin Decker will add fire power to the receiving corps with Bond and sophomore back Dylan Harlos, who is taking the load in the run-game. Chris Peterson and Eric Ganz bring veteran leadership and size to the line.
These players will also contribute to the other side of the ball where they feel they are just as strong. Bond, Muller and Thompson will be the heart of the D at linebacker.
As for my outlook, this is what should scare teams: Last season the Rangers were not competitive in a single game. Yet, they practiced and played with a ton of heart till the last whistle. Now these same players are bigger, faster and they have new key players stepping up – and they have that same heart as last season. Is this a state championship team? Well, first you have to get to the postseason and looking at the schedule, there is no reason why they shouldn’t have a shot at playing at MetLife Stadium come December.
Wallkill Valley Rangers
2014 Record: (0-10-0)
Head Coach: Adam Vazquez
Assistant Coaches: Steve Vazquez – Defensive Coordinator, Eric Muller – Offensive Coordinator, Jim Hamill – Special Teams Coordinator, Bob Jones – Quarterbacks Coach, Wayne Schiele – Varsity/Freshman Coach and Mike Stolzenberg – Varsity/Freshman Coach.
League: Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference
Section: North 1, Group 2
High Point: Bringing it week in and week out despite a dismal record.
Low Point: Getting shutout by Morris Catholic in Week 6.
Season Breakdown & Prediction
Games to Watch: Week 1 against Pequannock. If they beat the Golden Panthers on their turf, the Rangers will come home with a ton of momentum.
Position to Watch: Look out for quarterback Marco Bakovic. Last season, while with Vernon, his team faced the likes of Pope John, Sparta and Par Hills (the latter of which both won state championships). The experience he got while facing larger schools will pay dividends this year.
Young Guns to Watch: Sophomore Dylan Harlos. He’s built like a college freshman, and got a lot of varsity experience as a 9th grader. He’s poised for a very nice season.
In a Nutshell: Wallkill has three teams on their schedule that are slated as preseason state championship contenders in Butler, Mountain Lakes and Hopatcong. However, they are scheduled for Week 7, 8 and 9 respectively. In fact, the Hopatcong game won’t even count towards the postseason vetting process because they’ll face them after the Week 8 cutoff. So, the Rangers would be in good shape if they win at least 4 of the first 6 games. That way, their games against Butler and Mountain Lakes won’t have playoff implications.
Dream Season: Making it to the dance with a shot of playing at MetLife Stadium.
Nightmare Season: Going 0-10 again. Don’t worry, that won’t happen.
Playoff Appearances: 3
Finals Appearances: 2
State Titles: 1
Playoff Record: 3-2 (.600)
|10-Oct||@Whippany Park||01:00 pm|
|24-Oct||Mountain Lakes||02:00 pm|
|07-Nov||@Morris Catholic||02:45 pm|
|Last Name||First Name||Positions||Height||Weight||Graduation Year|