By most football standards, Phillipsburg enjoyed a pretty successful 2015 season, turning in a 9-3 season and making the North 2 Group 4 sectional final.
But the Stateliners aren’t like most football teams.
“Our goals are the same: beat Easton and get to and win the state (sectional) final,” said senior two-way lineman Robert Melise.
First-year head coach Frank Duffy, the P’burg defensive coordinator last year, would add “winning the division (Mid-State 38 Delaware)” to the list.
Phillipsburg didn’t capture any of those prizes last season, falling to a very strong Middletown South team in the state final, missing out on a division title because of a loss to Bridgewater-Raritan and, of course, there was that turkey on Thanksgiving.
“0-26,” said Melise, reciting the score of the loss to Easton. “That’s our motivation.”
For success to reach Stateliner standards this fall, the team’s offensive line, which is young but promising, will have to come together pretty quickly to support a very talented bunch of skill position players such as senior running backs Ja’Quan Jones (994 yards, 12 TDs in 2015) and Garrett Boures (267 yards, 8 TDs).
Duffy has no intention of changing P’burg’s identity as a ground-first pound-it-out team, and he hopes a strong ground game will open up the passing game, where senior Danny Fisher (688 passing yards, 7 TDs) and sophomore Jack Stagaard are battling for the quarterback spot.
Defensively, the Stateliners look strong up front, led by the dominant Melise from his defensive tackle spot. Melise’s combination of speed, strength and sheer desire make blocking him a most formidable task, and with the hard-charging Boures right behind him at middle linebacker, P’burg should be set in the front eight.
“We’re a little young in the secondary,” said Duffy, though he said he is confident some inexperienced players will step up. This is especially important because, as Duffy noted, the Stateliners will see a lot of one-back or pass-heavy offenses in the regular season.
With a strong kicker in senior Brendan Grube and a dangerous kick returner in Jones, special teams should be a real strength.
Then, add in Phillipsburg passion.
“We always play hard, play our hearts out,” Jones said. “We have to play hard as a team all the way through the fourth quarter. We have to finish all our runs and finish all our plays.”
That’s the only path to success the Stateliners know – and the only way to meet their high standards for success.
From senior tight end/defensive end Zach Troxell: “We can make five or six really good plays and the one bad play sticks with us. We can make a mental or physical mistake and it can really get us down. We can’t let mistakes affect us. We have to let them go and move on to the next play.”
From head coach Frank Duffy: “Success for us will be each player reaching their full potential. If each player does their best and has nothing left in the tank, that’s all you can ask. I know winning is important, and we have to win, but we stress the process. If the players do their best day-in and day out and we take care of the process, success, and wins, will come.”
Returning starters: Sr. RB/LB Garrett Boures, Sr. FB/LB Josh Burton, Sr. WRGarrett DuPont, Sr. QB/LB Danny Fisher, Sr. K Brendan Grube, Sr. RB/CB Ja’Quan Jones, Sr. OL/DT Robert Melise, Sr. TE/DE Zack Troxell.
Key returnees: Jr. OL/LB Jalel Boothman, Jr. OL/LB Jalen Boothman, Jr. S Jevon Boothman, Jr. CB Justyce Branch, Jr. OL/DT David Capitini, Sr. OL Jake Creveling, Sr. OL/DT Alec DeGerolamo, Jr. RB/S Stephen Davis, Sr. WR Marvin Joasil, Jr. OL/DT Nick Josselyn, Jr. OL/DT Zach Leong, Sr. OL/DE Crispus Maina, Jr. TE/OLB Sean Morro, Sr. TE/DE Blaise Santini, Sr. WR Kyle Santini, Sr. WR/OLB Phillip Schwartz, Sr. RB Jurmani Townes.
Top newcomers: So. WR/CB Nasir Ball, So. RB Joe Green, Sr. WR/DB Connan Ritt, So. QB Jack Stagaard, So. FB/DT Jeffrey Vitale, So. WR/S Sterling Walker-Sutton, So. S/FB Mark Zgoda
Conference: Mid-State 38, Delaware Division
Coach: Frank Duffy (first season)
2015 record: 9-3 overall, 6-1 division
Their home: Maloney Stadium, Memorial Drive, Phillipsburg
Fri. Sept. 9 – at Franklin, 7 p.m.
Fri. Sept. 16 – at Hunterdon Central, 7 p.m.
Fri. Sept. 23 – Bridgewater-Raritan, 7 p.m.
Fri. Sept. 30 – at Hillsborough, 7 p.m.
Fri. Oct. 7 – Watchung Hills, 7 p.m.
Fri. Oct. 21 – Montgomery, 7 p.m.
Fri. Oct. 28 – at North Hunterdon, 7 p.m.
Fri. Nov. 4 – Immaculata, 7 p.m.
Thurs. Nov 24 – Easton (at Lafayette), 10:30 a.m.
Brad Wilson may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.