Brick Memorial’s Jake Lombardo believes that when things go bad on the field, good teams come together off the field.
Last year, after the Mustangs started the season 5-0, Lombardo said the wheels fell off the train because of a lack of team chemistry and unity. They ended up skidding to a 5-5 campaign.
“After the last five games of last season, some of us were pretty unsure how things would start this season,” said Lombardo, a senior linebacker. “But there’s a better team chemistry so far. We’ve bonded in a much stronger sense, and we’re using last season as a motivator to be better this year.”
Head coach Walt Currie has seen the difference during the preseason.
“You definitely can see it,” Currie said. “The overall team dynamic is as positive as I’ve ever seen it. These kids like to be around each other and enjoy playing for one another.”
And that’s a good thing, because the Mustangs will be looking to bounce back and make a run at an NJSIAA sectional championship this fall.
“It’s a compliment that everybody’s looking at us, saying, ‘What’s wrong with Brick Memorial? Are they going to get back to winning championships?’ because that means we’ve established our program as a winning program,” Currie said. “But there’s no doubt we’re not satisfied with last season, and so we have something to prove this year. We want to get back to that highest level again.”
To do so, the Mustangs will rely on their offensive weapons, starting with senior running back/receiver Mike Basile and senior quarterback Joe Hans, who last season was a wide receiver, to put points on the scoreboard.
“Obviously, a lot of teams are going to focus on me and that’s fine, because we have a lot of weapons on our offense,” Basile said. “We have a lot more balance on our team this season. So if teams key on me, that’s going to open up a lot of other guys who are just as good at moving the football.”
Defensively, the Mustangs have changed things a bit, hoping those alterations can be a catalyst for a more stingy defense, rather than the team that gave up 278 points last season. Basile and Hans return as defensive backs, while seniors Dwayne Gudge and Mike Nubile return to the line and Lombardo leads the linebacking crew. Senior Rob Triano will add to the defensive backfield, and junior Matt Cathey and Connor Owen will help solidify linebacker corp.
“We’re going with a four-man front to start,” Currie said. “We’re thinking that it will be a little easier for our guys to execute and make us a more effective defensive team. But we can’t assume anything. We still have to get to the ball and tackle well. It’s all about sticking with the basics.”
And sticking to a more humble, hard-working approach, Lombardo said.
“After winning those first five games last year, I think we almost got too confident,” he said. “We were believing the hype too much. This season, we have to bring back an element of working hard for every win and keep things in the right perspective.”