WEST ORANGE, NJ – In 2013 in his initial season as the head football coach at West Orange, Jim Matsakis saw his team play fairly well on defense, and the end result was a nice 7-3 record.
Last fall, things were a bit different. The Mountaineers did not play well on the defensive side (31 points allowed per game) and the end result was a disappointing 3-7 mark. That followed a 5-5 record in 2014 when the defense was also inconsistent.
This fall, Matsakis is hopeful of better results. West Orange won three of its final five contests in 2015, and with a host of returnees, Mountaineer grid fans should
be able to look forward to a successful
“We stepped it up in the second half of 2015,” said Matsakis, who was a good football player in his day. “I think the guys are confident that 2016 will be a good year, despite the fact that we play a very challenging schedule. Heck, we start with Union City, and that will be a real tough game.”
When Matsakis coached at Butler, he led the team to three state playoff finals. And at Jefferson, he also guided his squad to a state final. His big goal at West Orange is to do the same thing.
Leading the charge for West Orange on both defense and offense will be senior Mike Osuji. According to his coach, who admired Steelers linebacking legend Jack Lambert, the youngster “is just an animal on the field. Osuji rushed for approximately 1,110 yards and six touchdowns.
“Mike is such a tough kid,” remarked Matsakis. “He’s a force at middle linebacker and running back. At 5-9, 215, he’s a difficult kid to handle on the field.”
Another tough kid on defense for the team is senior linebacker C.J. Onyechi, a strong 6-3, 220-pounder. When he graduates, he’ll be a top prospect at Rutgers University. Onyechi recorded a team-high 97 tackles with six forced fumbles, six sacks and 11 quarterback pressures last season.
West Orange, which turned its season around in 2015 with a 35-14 decision over Bloomfield in mid-October, has several other top players on defense.
Another real good one at linebacker is junior Sebastian Rawls (5-11, 190). In the area of pursuit, Rawls is particularly effective.
“He comes from a great athletic background,” said the coach, who grew up in Ohio. “I know his dad was a great wrestler at Michigan.”
Linebackers will obviously be in the spotlight for the Mountaineers, but opposing teams will have plenty of other worries.
As an example, senior Dael Ceneus (6-3, 235) is a real good one at end. And then in the secondary, seniors Devin White and Renitho Philemon show a lot of promise. Both youngsters will also help out on offense at the wide receiver spot.
“Devin is a speedster, while Renitho is so dangerous because he has such great hands,” said Matsakis.
Junior Dylan Cowley won the starting quarterback job in preseason play. Osuji won’t have to do it all by himself on offense.
“We have some guys up front who will open up some nice holes,” said the coach, who has a genuine passion for the game. “Ed Hill (5-11, 300) is a superb player at guard. He’s really strong and he’ll do a great job at protecting our QB.”
West Orange, which beat Morristown in its final game in 2015, “has to get off to a good start,” said the coach.
“We can’t pull a repeat of last fall,” said Matsakis, who has great respect for Doug Nevins, the head boys’ soccer coach at West Orange. “We have to be ready when we play a team like Montclair. We have to earn some early wins if we hope to gain a spot in the state playoffs.”
NOTES – Along with Rutgers, schools like Temple, Boston College and Syracuse were very interested in Onyechi… At Butler, the grid coaching legend was Jack Davies, who later became the head man at Montclair… Matsakis was on the Ohio State squad as a freshman before transferring to Liberty College in West Virginia where he starred in the secondary.
Sept. 9, Union City, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16, at Irvington, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23, Columbia, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30, at Bloomfield, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8, at Morristown, 1 p.m.
Oct. 14, Barringer, 7 p.m.
Oct. 22, at Montclair, 1 p.m.
Oct. 29, at Livingston, 1 p.m.
Nov. 5, East Orange Campus, 7 p.m.