EAST ORANGE, NJ – East Orange Campus can relate to Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz.”
“Our motto is, ‘There’s no place like home,’ ” said second-year head coach Rae Oliver. “Our thing to let people know is that you don’t have to leave the city walls to be good. You can stay right within these walls and be whatever you want to be.”
When he took over the program in 2017, Oliver made it his mission to keep players home, thus stopping the trend of players from attending schools outside of the East Orange district. Cleveland Browns second-year safety Jabrill Peppers is one such notable EO native who decided to attend non-public powerhouses Don Bosco Prep and Paramus Catholic.
The Jaguars last year started to get a few hometown players to transfer back to East Orange as the team finished with a 6-4 record while qualifying for the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group 5 state playoffs.
This year, the team got back a few more players as Oliver and his staff continue to keep the Jaguars going in the right direction.
East Orange returns juniors Nasir Montgomery and Quadir Scott, who both split time at quarterback. This season, Montgomery will be the starter, with Scott looking to also see time under center. When Scott isn’t the signal caller, he’ll line up as a receiver.
The other receivers are senior returnee Kashim Daniels and junior Matt Parchman.
The Jaguars have a pair of talented running backs in sophomore Al’shaheed Salaam and senior Lenny Mumford. Salaam possesses blazing speed, evidenced by a standout track season in the spring. Mumford is a transfer from Bloomfield High School.
The offensive line comprises junior Keyshawn Mumford, Lenny’s cousin; and senior Andy Torres at the tackle positions, senior Chris Stultz, a transfer from powerhouse St. Peter’s Prep; and junior Tishi Ayere at the guard spots, and senior center Zavier Adams.
Aside from a few tweaks, the players are now accustomed to the offensive system in Oliver’s second year, looking to utilize the running game and passing game in equal parts.
“We’re looking to be a balanced offense,” said Oliver. ”I think we have the ability to be an explosive team.”
This year, the Jaguars are going to be in attack mode, looking to dictate things and force the issue, unlike last season when they called plays based on the opposing defenses’ looks.
Defensively, junior nose guard Christopher Johnson will be joined by Stultz and Keyshawn Mumford at the defensive tackles on the line.
Locksley Burke, a sophomore, returns as the MIKE linebacker. Daniels, Lenny Mumford and sophomore Matt Ziao are the other linebackers.
In the secondary, Salaam and junior Majhid Terrell are the cornerbacks. Ibn Brown, a junior transfer from state champion DePaul, is a safety, along with Scott.
The Mumford cousins will handle the kicking and punting chores.
Salaam and fellow track star Dominic Dazzell, a senior, will return kickoffs and punts.
Though welcoming back players to East Orange was a positive, Oliver acknowledged it also created some distractions. But that won’t be the case this year. The team keeps jelling, which is something Oliver wants to continue to see.
“I really believe that if we circle the wagons and play with blinders on and limit our distractions, our best football is ahead of us,” he said. “When we were young last year, I noticed we had the potential to be much better than we were, but (the players) were distracted with being starters, being back home. They got a year in. It’s kind of being in that hot tub. At first, when you get into it, it’s kind of sensitive. But now it’s warm. Now we’re settling in and I think we’re going to show what it’s like to be a Jaguar. It’s definitely inspiring.”
Yet the key to success remains hard work and dedication, and developing strong team chemistry, Oliver said.
“It’s about hard work and dedication. It’s not about anybody but us, and that’s where we are.”
August 31, Watchung Hills, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7, at Passaic, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22, at Montclair, 1 p.m.
Sept. 29, Seton Hall Prep, 1 p.m.
Oct. 5, West Orange, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12, at Livingston, 7 p.m.
Oct. 20, at Columbia, 1 p.m.
Oct. 26, Bloomfield, 7 p.m.
Nov. 22, at Barringer, 10:30 a.m.
Photos by Steve Ellmore