The buildup for the Buena Regional High School football team’s opener against Vineland on Friday started long before the grueling summer practices and scrimmages.
The Chiefs, knowing they had a young team with little experience on the field last year, started making the preparations to take a step forward for this season. Younger players saw more snaps and the leashes on the starters had plenty of slack.
“We’ve been preparing for this day for the last few years,” coach Jonathan Caputo said. “And there were senior’s on the team last year that are a part of this.
“There’s a lot invested in this 2012 season.”
Linebacker Neal Nelson saw time at linebacker as a freshman, as did George DiBiase, another linebacker. Junior quarterback Eric Rainear started the last six games of the year as the exclusive signal caller.
The result is a roster full of players with game experience. More than that, it’s full of returning starters. In all, there are seven returning starters on offense and defense. Those starters include running back Love Scott, running back and safety Robert Bunton and two-way lineman Darryl Guilford.
“We’ve got Love back, Bunton back, big Darryl back, basically our whole line in intact besides Stephen (May),” Rainear said. “We’re ready to come at any team.”
The first team the Chiefs will come at is Vineland, a group V school that’s rebuilding itself. Last year the Fighting Clan struggled against a Middle Township team the Chiefs beat, 14-8. In short, the opener is a hard game to try to predict.
This preseason has been a little different than previous ones, as almost every starting spot had been determined before camp even began. The team isn’t devoid of youth though, in fact, the Chiefs are still a young team with a large junior class, a handful of sophomores in the lineup and a freshman — Quadir Albright — penciled in as one of the three starting running backs.
This week was easy on the players — they don’t start school until Monday. The Chiefs hopes they’ll still be celebrating a victory when they crack open the books for the first time this year.
— Patrick Buganski
Vineland Fighting Clan
While the school bell officially chimed in the new scholastic year on Wednesday, the Fighting Clan are poised to answer the real bell on Friday night against Buena at Gittone Stadium.
“I can’t wait to play, it’s almost here,” sophomore safety/wide receiver Jeremiah Atoki said. “We’re ready to play. We want to get the season started on a strong note.”
“We’re ready to go,” sophomore running back Isaiah Spencer added.
Many of the players interviewed said they wouldn’t have trouble going to sleep tonight, but each admitted that the butterflies would probably be stirring around once game time hits.
“I know I was nervous last year,” said Spencer, who made his varsity debut as a freshman against Ocena City . “Once the game starts though and you get into the flow of the game, I’m fine.”
Vineland coach Josh Hedgeman remembers his first varsity football game when he suited up for Schalick against Gloucester in 1985.
“It was a big deal,” he said. “You’re excited, you’re pumped up, you want to get in there and make a play right away. What I remember about that first game is that everything went so fast that day.”
Hedgeman said he expects his players to get some pregame jitters. Heck, even the coach gets some too.
“You’re going to get nervous (before the game) and you should,” Hedgeman said. “What quells that nervousness though is preparation. If you’re prepared, if you practice the right way during the week, Friday night is the fun part.”
■ The Fighting Clan closed out a recent practice with a conditioning drill known as “Tag.”
The game, which has a chosen player trying to track down and tag another one in his group, is a great, and at times a comical way, of hiding the fact that the athletes are getting in 100-yard gassers.
The highlight of the drill came when assistant coaches Phil Silva and Kevin Pulley showed they still have plenty left in their athletic tanks, blazing down the field.
■ Thanks to the new Cape-Atlantic League alignment, Vineland will renew acquaintances with Buena for the first time since 1999.
Buena holds a 7-3 lead in the all-time series, including a 41-13 rout in the last meeting. The Fighting Clan’s last win came in 1998 with a 19-18 decision.
Vineland is 2-0 in season openers under Hedgeman, outscoring opponents 56-27 in those two games.
Former Vineland assistant coach Taman Bryant is now an assistant coach at Buena.
— Tom McGurk
The Millville High School football team is not unique in that the Thunderbolts have plenty of holes to fill entering this season.
Defense has become a point of pride for Millville, especially after the team suffocated opponents last year, allowing just 12.9 points per game.
The Bolts did lose some key components from that unit to graduation — namely safety Shaq Lee, linebacker Zubir Boyer and defensive end Nick Tyndal.
Junior Roberto Rivera, the team’s starting strong safety, is one player helping fill some of those shoes. Rivera had a laundry list of items the defense needs to focus on as it prepares for Friday’s opener at Atlantic City and for the rest of the season.
“Just getting after the ball, being physical, knowing our assignments, being smart and just staying sound,” Rivera said. “The communication, at least in the secondary, has been fine. It’s just a matter of getting after it and focusing because defense wins championships.”
As for seeing a typically high-powered Atlantic City offense right from the start, Rivera said it’s a welcomed challenge.
“First game, that’s a way to make a statement for both teams,” Rivera said. “We respect our opponent a lot, but we aren’t going to back down from anyone. This can just show everybody that we’re here to play.”
Defensive coordinator Nick Belmonte knows challenges await his defense.
The question now is how quickly the unit can respond to coaching.
“We have more speed on the field, up front we’re a lot quicker, but with that being said, I don’t know that we’re the tackling team we were a year ago,” Belmonte said. “We’re quicker, faster, but I think we lost a little something in the experience and the tackling area.”
Millville hopes the intensity of that first game with Atlantic City will take over and help the team to victory.
The Bolts are 2-1 in their last three meetings with the Vikings dating back to 2010.
“It’s going to be physical, it’s always a physical game,” senior cornerback Alskee Downing said. “There’s always a lot of competition. It’s going to be tough, but we’re going to be ready for it.”
— Anthony Coppola