When Phillipsburg head football coach Frank Duffy calls senior Ray Poremba “a unique kind of kid”, it actually might be literally true.
That’s not because Poremba is a gritty, aggressive kind of player; this is P’burg, after all, where such attributes extend to the waterboys. That’s not because Poremba is a gifted receiver with soft hands and a nose for the big play; such players, while not common, are not rare.
And it’s not because Poremba has changed positions to help the team out; most Stateliners would switch to be the guy carrying the first down marker if they were told it would the team win.
No, what Duffy means is the positions Poremba plays. Not every Stateliner plays both ways, though some do, and Poremba is one of them -- at tight end and cornerback.
Most tight ends are bruising, beefy quasi-behemoths, almost like a third offensive tackle. Most cornerbacks are skittering, shimmering speedsters, quite often the smallest players on the field, if not the team.
Poremba is none of that, At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, all of it athletic and physical, he’s a lot faster than a hulking semi-tackle, a lot bigger than the usual dormousian corner, and a lot more of a nightmare for opposing coaches to deal with it at either spot.
It will be Hunterdon Central’s turn to try and handle Poremba when the Red Devils (1-1, 0-1 division) visit the Stateliners (2-0, 1-0) in a key Mid-State 38 Delaware Division game at the newly-turfed Maloney Stadium Friday night (7).
Poremba had been a wide receiver as a junior, and a good one, but with the graduation of Sterling Walker-Sutton, who had pulled off the same odd double as Poremba last fall, P’burg had a gap to fill.
“Coach Duffy had told me at the end of last season that it would be better for me and better for the team if I played tight end,” Poremba said. “I had gotten a lot bigger (from the start of junior season) but I still had to put on some weight and get stronger to be able to play tight end because I’d take more of a beating down on the line. I’ve always had strong legs but I had to get my upper-body strength up since I was going to have a lot of hands-on plays going up against people who were bigger than me.”
Duffy likes the way the Poremba project has turned out.
“Overall, from a toughness standpoint, he’s one of the top kids on the team,” Duffy said. “He’s been great. He’s so versatile. He has really responded well to the new positions.”
Poremba offers wide-receiver speed and hands at tight end with tight end size. This makes it hard for linebackers to cover him (too slow) or safeties (too small), and if Duffy wants they can split Poremba out to give cornerbacks nightmares.
“The coaches did a good job of preparing me for the position switch, especially (tight end) Coach (Kevin) Smith,” Poremba said. “There’s a lot of pushing people around on the line and I want to be in a position where (defenders) don’t stand a chance.”
When not knocking linebackers into next week, Poremba can catch passes. He has one catch for 26 yards for a touchdown this season, but expect those numbers to go up once the Phillipsburg passing game under new quarterback senior Ben Ries really settles in and the weather gets a tad chillier; November is tight end weather.
While Poremba brings skill and experience in catching passes to the new spot, there are some peculiar-to-tight-end receiving skills that he’s had to master.
“I’ve had to learn how to release off the line coming out of my 3-point stance,” Poremba said. “And I have to get my head around more quickly when running patterns. The ball gets to you more quickly when you play tight end.”
At cornerback, Poremba also presents matchup problems for smaller, speed-demon type receivers, and he can battle head-to-head with the kind of tall, rangy receivers the Delaware Division seems to grow as plentiful as corn in Iowa.
“In the past we’ve had smaller corners and we’ve had some problems because of that,” Poremba said. “Having me there with some nice size makes it a lot easier because I am still athletic enough to cover the ground.”
Indeed, Poremba’s mere presence may cause offenses to try the other side of the field, which is fine by Poremba.
“Hey, our other cornerback, (junior) Jalil Terrel, a transfer from DePaul, has more interceptions (2) than I do (none),” said Poremba with a laugh. “He doesn’t have my size, but he breaks on the ball really well. Against Warren Hills I think they threw one ball on my side. That’s fine, Jalil is a really good cornerback too.”
On Friday, all P’burg defenders will need to be hand to stop Hunterdon Central senior running back Will Ezema, a Holy Cross recruit who has run for 264 yards and six touchdown so far thius season.
“We have to put 11 guys on the ball,” Poremba said. “We drill 11 guys on the ball so hard every day, It’s a really tough drill; we call it smart-swarming. That drill wears us out every single day, and we do it every day, but when we watch film on Saturdays the biggest thing we see is the drills, the smart swarming, paying off.”
As a cornerback, Poremba said his task versus Ezema will be to know where the Red Devil, take the right pursuit angles, and “know our jobs and fly to the ball.”
Phillipsburg will be doing its flying on that new turf at Maloney for the first time.
“It’s going to be a completely historic game,” Poremba said. “The new turf, our first home game of the season. You know it is for us at home, the energy just takes over.”
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.