As the days shorten and the leaves fall, it’s a good time for scholastic football teams to really hit their stride.
Phillipsburg may well have done that last week.
“I think we played a full game, like we have been trying to do all year,” said senior wide receiver and strong safety Declan Marron of Friday’s 48-7 romp over North Hunterdon. “We had a lot of new faces make big plays. We didn’t let up on the gas pedal, and we played 110 percent all four quarters.”
However well they played against the Lions, the Stateliners (4-1) may need to up that percentage above 110 percent when Bridgewater-Raritan (2-1) visits Maloney Stadium Saturday evening (6) in a Big Central Conference crossover game.
Due to COVID-19 complications, the Panthers have not played since defeating Westfield 27-16 on Oct. 16.
“They’re going to be very eager to play football, and I don’t think we should underestimate that,” Stateliner head coach Frank Duffy said. “The time off will re-energize them, and refocus them. We have to match their intensity. And they’re fresh -- that’s pretty obvious.”
Phillipsburg looked pretty fresh itself in blasting North Hunterdon.
“Our defense was opportunistic, we took the ball away,” Duffy said. “We didn’t turn the ball over. We had a lot of positive energy.”
Perhaps the best part of the win over the Lions for the Stateliners came from consistency.
“The biggest thing I am pleased about is that we played four quarters of football,” Duffy said. “We didn’t have those stretches of not playing good football that we had in previous games.”
Marron said he knows where the steadiness came from, and where it will need to come from thi week.
“It all starts with the way we prepare; we had a great week of practice,” Marron said. “We really dialed it in. We were flying around, with every single player giving 110 percent. And this week (with a Saturday game) we get an extra day of practice, and it’s imperative that we take advantage of that extra day.”
Marron, a Stewartsville resident, said that 2020′s issues impose an imperative of their own.
“With COVID, you never know,” he said. “Any day could be the last day of the season. You never know if you’ll make it to the next game, the next day, the next practice. So you have to give it your all every day.”
That’s never a problem for Marron.
“Declan has been very consistent,” Duffy said. “He’s really worked his tail off. He’s wanted to be a leader.”
Marron’s progress and impact are perhaps even more remarkable given his path to football. The 5-foot-9, 160-pounder Marron didn’t follow the same route as many Stateliners.
“Declan didn’t play his freshman season,” Duffy said. “He came to me in my classroom (Duffy teaches history) in the spring (of freshman year) and asked if he could play football. He told me he wanted to be a part of our DIG culture. That statement impressed me, for a freshman and say that to me. You don’t know what you are going to get, but he’s been consistent ever since.”
Marron liked what he saw of football.
“As a freshman, I sat in the stands, watching the varsity play, and I saw it was a great thing,” said Marron, who also plays lacrosse as a midfielder. “I had a couple of friends who played who said, ‘Hey, Declan, why not give it a shot’? I figured it couldn’t hurt to try out, and I told Coach Duffy he’d always get 100 percent from me.”
And now Marron is a two-way starter at two demanding positions.
On offense, the P’burg slot receiver gets asked to do a lot of things.
“He can run jet sweeps and the bubble screens, a lot of quick passes, because he’s closest to the quarterback,” Duffy said. “We can create mismatches with him because he’s not lined up on a cornerback, instead usually on a linebacker.”
Those tasks are important, and Marron says that “if I get the ball in my hands, I can definitely make a play, whether it’s getting a first down or a touchdown,” but he said he finds the most challenge in yet another role.
“The toughest part of the slot, and the most fun, is run blocking,” Marron said. “When you have a running back like Matt Quetel we love to get him to the second level, and me and Jalil (Terrell) and Mike (Wambold) can all make blocks downfield. We pride ourselves on our blocking.”
Marron said the type of blocking varies from play to play.
“Sometimes I am supposed to block someone specific,” he said. “Other plays, I’m just flying down the field at 1000 percent speed looking for somebody to hit.”
That kind of sums up what Marron does on defense, where he has one of the toughest tasks on the team.
'Strong safety is our most versatile athlete on defense," Duffy said. “At strong safety we expect him to be able to pedal back, to cover receivers, to play in the box, to be able to handle a tight end, and it’s a challenge to find someone who can do that. He can go from standing up running backs to covering deep routes.”
Marron, who recovered a fumble against North Hunterdon, said the safety spot is a matter of matching physicality with smarts.
“I have to be at the right place at the right time,” he said. “Communication has always been big, me and (free safety) Mike (Wambold) screaming out the coverages. My role is kind of hybrid -- I have to be just as strong in the run game as in the pass game. It was a new position for me heading into the season, and I knew I had to get stronger and faster and more explosive. I worked with (strength coach Craig) Merrick during all that off time we had and I didn’t miss a beat.”
For a player who played junior varsity for two years, Marron has made big strides.
“I didn’t think I’d be starting at two positions,” said Marron, who pointed to past P’burg players Sean Morro and Nick Jocelyn as inspirations, watching them play on varsity. “You have to really buy in to football and make it a part of your life. You have to love it.”
While on JV, Marron did something worth noting that Phillipsburg’s varsity hasn’t done in five years.
“Beating Easton -- there’s no better feeling and we drew good crowds for the JV game,” he said. “Now this year we have to win the most important one.”
If the Stateliners do so on Thanksgiving, Marron’s all-around performance may well be a big reason why.
“I see my role as a leader in being very energetic, cheering on my teammates, telling guys, 'let’s dominate it, let’s get it done, let’s make this our own,” he said.
Brad Wilson may be reached at email@example.com.