GLEN RIDGE, NJ – “Hold the rope.”
That’s the motto that Glen Ridge head coach Duke Mendez and his coaching staff have been preaching to their team during preseason.
It relates to players on a team staying together, while always showing support for each other.
“As a team, you need everybody to hang on. If somebody was on a cliff ready to fall off, you need everybody to help pull him back up,” said Mendez.
Indeed, the Ridgers plan to stick together as they bring back a ton of experience, looking to build on last season’s 5-5 playoff season.
The senior captains on the team will lead the way. They are senior receiver/
cornerback Tyler Grady, senior receiver/strong safety Nick Weber-Zazzu, senior quarterback/free safety/place-kicker Matt Myles, senior tight end/linebacker Owen Fincher, and senior offensive tackle/defensive tackle Ryan Liddy.
“They are the leaders,” said Mendez of the captains. “They have all had plenty of playing time. A lot of them have been playing since their sophomore year. Nick has been a starter since his freshman year as an outside backer. So those kids will be the leaders of the team.”
Grady suffered a broken collarbone on the third day of preseason practice and is hoping to return by the third week of the regular season, Mendez said.
Myles and junior Tyler Liddy, Ryan’s brother, will lead the offense as quarterbacks. Both saw valuable time last season when since-graduated starting quarterback Paddy McDermott was sidelined with an injury. Their targets will be Grady, Weber-Zazzu and Fincher, who all have experience. Other receivers are sophomore Simon Low and senior Billy Kelty.
The ground game will be paced by experienced junior running backs Joe Marchesano and Avery Hackett.
The offensive line returns three starters: senior center Mark Nyhuis, junior guard Max Auborn and tackle Ryan Liddy. Junior guard Kieran Moran and senior tackle Quinlan Hood are the other starting offensive linemen. Senior Philip Meng, junior Jack Olczak and sophomore Jake Kuhn provide depth on the O-line.
Defensively, Meng joins Ryan Liddy at the tackle spots. Hood, Kuhn and senior Jon Bronander will rotate at the end positions.
Auborn and Moran join Fincher in the linebacking corps.
Hackett, senior Chris Harris, Kelty and Low will see time at the cornerback spots, along with Grady. Marchesano, junior Jose McCallen-Villafane, and Weber-Zazzu will rotate at the strong safety positions. Tyler Liddy and Myles are the free safeties.
In the past, the Ridgers haven’t been strong on both lines of the ball. But this season, it appears both lines will prove to be a strength, much to Mendez’s delight.
“The strength of the team is our ‘O’ and ‘D’ lines, for a change. Usually, it’s not,” said Mendez, who also likes the team’s experience and talent level at the receiver and secondary positions.
As the Ridgers prepare for the season, Mendez and his coaching staff have put a big emphasis on better tackling.
“One of our goals is to be a better tackling team,” said Mendez. “We’ve been working a lot on tackling. We really implemented rugby-tackling. We went to a workshop at Rutgers (University) and watched Rutgers practice and they brought a guy in from the state of Washington about rugby-tackling and to keep your head (safe), and things like that. We’ve been working on that.”
The Ridgers, who compete in the National Red Division of the newly-formed North Jersey Super Football Conference, have a challenging schedule. Their divisional opponents are Hoboken, Shabazz, Cedar Grove, and Weequahic. Their non-divisional opponents are Butler, Verona, Newark Collegiate Academy, Montclair Kimberley Academy and Immaculate Conception.
Glen Ridge lost to eventual champion Hoboken in last season’s state North Jersey Section 2, Group 1 playoffs in the quarterfinals. In addition, Verona beat Cedar Grove in last season’s state North Jersey Section 1, Group 1 playoff championship to cap a perfect 12-0 season. Shabazz won the Section 2, Group 1 title two seasons ago. Newark Collegiate is coming off a 7-3 season.
The Ridgers don’t have much depth on the roster, so staying healthy will be a key. If they remain healthy, Mendez strongly believes the Ridgers can achieve another successful season.
“We got to stay healthy. That’s the key,” said Mendez. “I really think we can be competitive. It comes down to health and executing our plays and being a better tackling team.”
NOTE – Mendez enters his 25th season overall as the Ridgers head coach. This will be his 14th season in his second stint. He served as the Ridgers head coach from 1985-1995 (11 seasons) and returned in 2003.
Sept. 9, at Butler, 7 p.m.
Sept. 17, Newark Collegiate Academy Charter, 1 p.m.
Sept. 24, Montclair Kimberley Academy, 1 p.m.
Sept. 30, at Cedar Grove, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8, at Verona, 1 p.m.
Oct. 15, Weequahic, 1 p.m.
Oct. 22, Shabazz, 1 p.m.
Oct. 29, at Immaculate Conception, 1 p.m.
Nov. 5, Hoboken, 2:30 p.m.