Reigning EOC football champs prepare for season

EAST ORANGE, NJ — It’s midway through the summer and football teams throughout the state are already starting to look like they are in midseason form, thanks to tournaments, workouts and several 7-on-7 games. 

In the case of East Orange Campus High School, they are simply reloading with rising juniors and seniors this year. The defending state Group 5 regional champs are looking for their first repeat this season. The Jaguars, led by the senior wide receiver tandem of BJ Covington and Joshua Richards, are surely hungry for more. Not to be left out, the front line, led by senior offensive lineman and defensive lineman EJ Pullins, are looking to gobble up all their opponents.

The Class of 2022, led by Ahmad Nalls (Kent State University) and Kyle Louis (University of Pittsburgh), Damon Phillips (East Coast Prep) and Raeden Oliver (Rutgers University) left a legacy that can’t be matched under the steady guidance of Raeden’s dad, Rae Oliver. Upon the close of the 2021-2022 school year, Rae Oliver stepped down as the East Orange Campus head coach. He has successfully done what no other coach has ever done in the history of East Orange High School, Clifford J. Scott High School and East Orange Campus High School: His team won four out of five division championships, appeared in New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association playoffs in four out of five years (the 2020 playoffs were canceled due to COVID-19), were state sectional semifinalists in three out of five years, and were state sectional and regional champs to complete a perfect 13-0 season in 2021 — a season that started, ironically, after a 22-0 win over the Clifton Mustangs at the end of the 2020 season. The Jaguars defeated Clifton again in the regional championship, in an exciting 30-24 triple-overtime game in which Nalls returned a fumble 100 yards for a game-ending touchdown. 

Clifton is getting the rematch to open the 2022 season. 

In a recent interview on the occasion of the annual Phil Simms North/South All Star Football Classic at Kean University in June, Rae Oliver stated, “The reason to step down as head coach has come after considerable thought and a decision that I have reached the pinnacle of my football career at East Orange Campus High School. I came to Campus to use the football program as a vehicle to change lives and to redirect the trajectory of the football players during their high school years and beyond. I am honored and humbled to say I have accomplished these goals. It is time to move on to explore new opportunities and to develop other young people.” Oliver has always been a staunch advocate for his players, encouraging them to achieve their goals by attending top colleges not only for sports but, most importantly, for academics. His players are attending colleges and universities at all NCAA levels, as well as colleges in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, and junior colleges. 

Taking the reins from Coach Oliver is John Jacob, who has been EOC’s offensive coordinator. His coaching pedigree includes lengthy stints at West Orange and Wayne Hills high schools. Jacob also serves as the commissioner of the New Jersey Football Coaches Association. 

In an interview with this paper, Jacob said that, as EOC head coach, “I am going to be myself and continue to bring the same work ethic that I’ve brought here for the past three years.” East Orange Campus officially opens up its scrimmage schedule on Aug. 14, in a quad scrimmage with Pope John XXIII Regional, Union City and Elizabeth high schools.

Jacob is excited to get going. He has made it clear that he will continue to strive for excellence and keep his players shooting for their goals. “What last year’s team did was absolutely phenomenal! I want this year’s team to surpass what they have done. All we will look to do is focus on what we have in front of us. Right now, it’s making sure our squad jells. … Once we get past our scrimmage schedule, then we’ll start to look at the teams that come up. It’s all about taking it one week at a time.”

East Orange will play Paramus Catholic in a home-game scrimmage on Aug. 24 at 10 a.m. East Orange will open the season on the road against the Clifton Mustangs on Thursday, Sept. 1, at 7 p.m. The following week the Jags will be on the road visiting the state Group 4 sectional and regional champs Irvington Blue Knights for what is a highly anticipated game.