Unlike most coaches, who would be distraught after graduating nearly every starter from a squad that made a third consecutive NJSIAA sectional final appearance last season, Piscataway’s Dan Higgins is as excited as ever.
The veteran mentor, who returns just 128 yards from scrimmage and two defensive regulars, is accustomed to filling these types of vacancies.
During his initial season at the helm in 2003, Higgins inherited a squad that had to replace 22 starters from an undefeated team. All the coach did in that inaugural campaign was win a sectional title with a 9-3 record.
The perennial power Chiefs never rebuild. They always reload. And this year should be nothing different.
“For me,” Higgins said, “this is normalcy.
“I’m like a kid in a candy store. I’m excited because all these (young) guys are excited. The only thing missing is the experience. It’s the GMC Red Division, so we better grow up real quick. I’m not panicking at all. I like these kids.”
Dajon Foat, one of just five returning starters who will play fullback and defensive end, said Piscataway’s newcomers are impressive.
“They actually are impressing me with a whole lot of hard work and focus,” he said. “They understand what the team is trying to do. The main thing we’ve been working on is just trying to execute everything.”
Unlike most other teams, who couldn’t sustain such losses to graduation, Piscataway, the most successful public school program in the state, expects to fare well because internal competition has prepared the rookies.
“We’ve been here before,” Higgins said. “I know these kids, so it’s going to be interesting. A lot of them, (because) we were so top-heavy last year, probably would have gotten more time. They just had to wait. That’s kind of the way at Piscataway. Sometimes you just get stuck where you’ve got really good players in front of you.”
One of those players is senior quarterback Justin Strother, who must replace Nadir Barnwell, who took his 1,211 yards from scrimmage to Rutgers University.
“He’s got a lot of maturity,” Higgins said of his signal-caller, who attempted just 13 passes last season. “He’s got a really good arm. What we’ve got going for us offensively this year is we are going to be very balanced.”
Barnwell’s younger brother, Elijah, and Kyren Nash, whose older brother Cameron rushed for 1,230 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, will see plenty of time at tailback.
Piscataway is deep at wide receiver, even though Oladiran Isijola is the lone wideout to have caught a varsity pass.
“Justin really needs to run the machine,” Higgins said. “We are not going to put pressure on Justin that he needs to carry the team, and I like that. When you have a balanced offense, it means everybody’s got opportunities and responsibilities and we will do it by committee.
“Those are my favorite kind of teams.”