The complexity of the J.P. Stevens High School football team’s drastic downfall during the last decade isn’t nearly as dramatic as the changes first-year head coach Jim Collins has put in place.
Once a perennial state title contender with a storied history, Stevens hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since 2003. Since going undefeated en route to a state championship in 2001, the Hawks have compiled a record of 38-72.
When Collins, a longtime assistant at Colonia and Union took over the program in late July, he threw away everything but the kitchen sink left over from the previous coaching regime and has gone in a completely different direction.
After running a Wing-T offense the past three seasons, the Hawks have moved to the other side of the spectrum and will operate out of the pistol gun and go no-huddle.
Collins thinks the offense is well-suited for standout running back Chiebuka Chukwuneke, the Greater Middlesex Conference’s second-leading scorer (136 points) and third leading rusher (1,207 yards) a year ago. He finished with nearly 1,900 all-purpose yards including 324 yards receiving and 355 return yards.
“We’ve completely revamped the offense to really showcase his speed,” Collins said of Chukwuneke, who will be used anywhere the ball can be placed in his hands. “He’s a guy that will flourish in this offense, and it will take him took college and suit him well in college.”
In addition to dumbing down the terminology, Collins took a progressive approach to installing the offense in only a week.
“We spent most of July in the classroom every day,” said Collins. “The kids made their own playbooks. I drew the play on the chalkboard and they copied it down into their notebooks. When they don’t know their route or assignment, they’ll go look at their playbook.”
Even the offensive line’s job has been simplified.
“It’s a zone blocking scheme — step left, step right and take care of the line of scrimmage,” is how Collins described it. “We’re not going to chase linebackers and we’re not pulling. Just square up with somebody for a few seconds, let the running back cut off of you and he will make you look good.”
Collins is really challenging his guys on the defensive side of the ball. He’s taken a base 4-3 that he played at FDU, quadrupled the amount of plays and added his own flavor.
“We’re going to blitz a lot and from everywhere,” Collins said. “It’s a college or a pro style defense full of zone blitzing. We’ll have defensive linemen drop back into coverage.”
Coming off of a season in which Stevens was vastly improved and won three of its final four games, Collins didn’t set any expectations. Instead he sent his players home over a weekend and had them come back with their own individual and team goals.
“My goal is to build a program,” Collins said. “Everyone wants to win a state championship but the goal right now is to beat Marlboro to open the season. If the offense performs the way is should and opposing teams are loading eight men in the box against Chewy (Chukwuneke), we may sneak up on a few teams.”