The locker room looks the same, the field, even some faces who contributed to Somerville High School’s very deep football legacy.
What hasn’t looked familiar is the results the last two seasons.
Not so long ago at this time of year, Somerville would be preparing for a long playoff run. Instead, the Pioneers will be at Brooks Field Friday night, hoping get win No. 1 against Montgomery. The Pioneers are 0-8 after last year’s 2-8 finish. A winless, untied season would mark only the second time it has happened to a program more than 100 years old.
Head coach Skip Fuller, in his second year, said injuries have severely hurt this season. But being a hometown kid who grew up playing sandlot games at Exchange Field, playing for coach Jerry Moore, then going on to play at the University of West Virginia, Fuller knows more is expected.
After all, it’s The Ville.
“It’s tough, but you have to keep moving, keep working hard, you have to keep pushing the big rock up the hill and eventually you’ll have it over the hill and then you’ll have it rolling and back to where we’re supposed to be,” said Fuller.
For Somerville, that means not just winning games, but being in contention and playing for sectional titles — every season.
Somerville remains out front in Somerset County in sectional titles (7) and final appearances (12). You think of dominance in New Jersey’s 40-year playoff era and Mid State 38 Conference programs like Union, Elizabeth and New Providence come to mind, but only Union’s 10 and Elizabeth’s eight are better than Somerville. New Providence and Franklin have six apiece and Hunterdon Central has five. Cross borough rival Immaculata has four state non public titles, but Somerville is one if the few to hold a comfortable series edge over the Spartans (13-6).
Former longtime Somerville original Mid State Conference rival Piscataway has won eight sectional titles and been in 15 finals. Piscataway had a 12-10-1 edge on Somerville in a series that ended after 1987. The two split their last 10 games with Piscataway joining the Greater Middlesex Conference in 1988.
Somerville’s senior captains Joe Lucas and Nick Brown were a decade from being born when that rugged series ended, but are keenly aware of what Somerville has done, back to when Paul Robeson wore orange and black more than a century ago.
Wins over Montgomery and a consolation opponent is what they want badly, but they also are thinking of how their example can help younger players like promising freshman back Keshawn Newton.
“We talk about the 80s and 90s with coach (Jerry) Moore and coach Carty (Kevin Sr.) and how successful they were,” said Lucas, the quarterback. “It’s good the younger guys are getting time now, so we just want to keep the legacy going in the future.”
Fuller believes better seasons aren’t too far off. The Somerville-Branchburg United youth team has been successful and last year were led by Newton, now playing for the varsity. He scored three touchdowns in last Friday’s 27-19 loss to Roselle and is being looked at as a youngster who can be built around.
“We don’t have the kid who will light up a game right now; we have one coming, they are coming and Keyshawn is a game changer as a freshman,” said Fuller. “If Keshawn does what we believe he’s capable of, if he works hard in the weight room, if he works hard in school, then the others will see it and want to be part of it. You have to believe it’ll happen.”