The Tigers have the potential of having one of the top running back tandems in Union County this season, and each is only a junior. Juwan Dolbrice, who rushed for a team-high 1,021 yards last season, is reuniting with his cousin Kyle Phipps who returned to Linden after a one-year transfer to Don Bosco Prep. Candia will shift from the power I to a dual back spread, accommodating each ball carrier with sufficient touches. They have a fluid situation at quarterback. Incumbent starter Dazzmen Johnson solidifies the position, while up-and-comer Troy Myers has performed well enough to have his own offensive package installed. Each signal caller will benefit from an experienced and proven core of receivers, including Tykir West and Antoine Morgan. The Tigers should be stingy on defense where they return virtually the entire starting cast from last year. The unit is led by Division I prospect Shaquan Champagne (110 tkls, 8 sacks) at the Mike, and he’s flanked by Tymir Hinton and West to form a very fast and aggressive linebacking corps that Candia considers his club’s strongest unit. Mammoth defensive tackle Derrick Hendricks (6-0, 260) is an integral part of their run-stopping game. Sophomore rookie running back and free safety Samad Starling is a guy with high upside and gifted ability that’s someone to keep an eye on. A year removed from winning a state playoff game, this is a talent-laden squad one year older and can likely challenge Immaculata and Montgomery for the Mid-State 38 Watchung title.
Expectations inside Indians camp are as high as they’ve been during coach Gary Mobley’s tenure. Confidence is sky high, and a solid nucleus of returners with playoff experience from last season seem to be carrying themselves with a bit of a swagger. They have solid veterans at key position and a few promising young newcomers in the mix. Jeffrey Bost is back for his second year starting under center and all indications point to him having a breakout season. He threw the ball accurately with confidence in camp and has some promising receivers with speed at his disposal. Also back is featured tailback Gabril Gross who rushed for over 1,100 yards last season, and third-year starter Tyler West will line up at fullback again. Offensively, they’re going to utilize great team speed and hurry the pace of the game with a silent count no-huddle offense. With the quarterback and backfield in place, if they can get some consistency on the perimeter from 6-3 split end Thorne Roberts and speedy wideout Jeffrey Reyes, look for them to light up the scoreboard. Mobley’s teams are traditionally solid on defense and this squad is no different. They’re very good up the middle with Ivy League recruit Stephan Watkins-Davis at nose guard in front of a handful of skilled linebackers in West, Dante Raymond, Edriece Patterson and Daejon Weeks-Landy. Bost is a three-year starter at corner back with Reyes on the opposite side. They were just 1-5 in road games last season, including a heartbreaking 14-13 loss to Voorhees in Glen Gardner in a winner-take-all game for the division, but Mobley believes the experience can turn a couple of tough road losses into wins. As has become almost an annual occurrence, Rahway was reclassified into Central Group II from North II Group III. “We’re going to be competitive wherever the NJISAA puts us,” said Mobley. “It doesn’t matter what our opponents do. It’s up to us to go out an execute and do the things we do best, and hopefully that’s enough to get to a division or state championship.”
This is an interesting team, with tons of experience and proven ability in the trenches but mostly new faces in the skill positions and defensive backfield. The primary catalysts for last year’s playoff squad are gone. Tailback Eddie Lee took his 1,157 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns to Towson and quarterback Izjaier Sanders took his 1,174 passing yards and 10 touchdowns to Immaculata. With no heirs apparent — the top returning rushed logged 36 yards last fall — Franklin is starting over at those crucial positions. Nevertheless, head coach Louis Solomon said it’s full speed ahead for the Warriors’ spread offense. One asset is the return of leading receiver Sherrod Middleton, who may also see action in the backfield and has experience at placekicker. Up front, Franklin is in good hands with Iowa-bound Jameer Outsey and junior Pace Carey anchoring a unit that lost only one starter. Defensively, Solomon said the front seven is the team’s biggest strength. The Warriors will be tested right away, with Hunterdon Central, Phillipsburg and Immaculata leading off the schedule. Their new permanent home at the high school is a vast improvement over decaying Ackerman Field and should provide a boost in terms of morale and attendance—not to mention better footing on the turf. For years, Ackerman’s slop curtailed Franklin edge in speed.