WEST ORANGE, NJ – As a head coach in the game of football, West Orange’s Jim Matsakis is used to getting good results.
During his tenure at Butler, his team made it to the state finals three times. And at Jefferson High, his team also reached the state championship.
This fall, despite the fact that WOHS is coming off a disappointing 3-6-1 campaign, the veteran coach feels his squad can make the state playoffs and possibly contend for a title.
“We had some games last year which we really should have won,” said Matsakis, who grew up in Ohio with a passion for the pigskin sport. “A tie against Livingston was particularly frustrating.”
With the exception of a 48-7 loss to perennial state power Montclair, West Orange was in every game during the 2017 season. And even in the loss to Montclair, the Mountaineers were very much in the contest during the first half.
“Good defense will be the key for us again this year,” said the personable West Orange mentor. “Our schedule is very tough in the early going, so we have to make a statement in those contests.”
The first two home contests will particularly be challenging. The Mountaineers open up today, August 30, against Montclair, and then after an away tilt, will face always-tough Don Bosco Prep at home on Sept. 14.
Leading the charge for the West Orange defense will be senior end Bryce Nelms, a rugged 6-foot-6, 260-pounder. Nelms, whose family came to N.J. from Georgia, is considered one of the best lineman in the Garden State. He’s already committed to Pitt, a pretty good college football school.
“What I like about Bryce is that he’s a very athletic kid,” said Matsakis. “He runs very well for his size, and he’s certainly going to give opposing offenses a lot of problems.”
Nelms at tackle will lead the offensive line.
Since West Orange is a very young team, the upperclassmen will have to step up. Several of the leaders from 2017 have graduated, including QB Vin DeSantis. The youngster had one of the top performances in the county last fall when he fired four TD passes against Barringer.
Jordan White will be one of the seniors that has to produce big time if WOHS hopes to have a successful season. The 6-1, 185-pounder will be a key man at the safety spot for the Mountaineers.
“Jordan also will contribute as a wide receiver,” said the coach. “Without a doubt, he’s a very dangerous player on both sides of the ball. I expect him to do well in college when he goes to James Madison next fall.”
Two other seniors that will be key players for the team are Terrence Toussaint, a speedster at wide receiver, and Jordan Johnson, who will help on defense as an outside linebacker.
With DeSantis gone, junior Jahmil St. Pierre will handle the chores at quarterback. He’s a very good runner but will have to develop as a passer.
“I expect him to do well,” said Matsakis. “When someone has the ability, that’s always a big plus on the field.”
Two other key men for the Mountaineers in 2018 will be junior running back Adonis May and sophomore running back Shaki Carson.
“At any level of football, you have to be able to establish your running game,” said the coach. “We should be able to do that this fall.”
Still, when all is said and done, it will come back to strong “D.” Despite winning just three games in 2017, WOHS allowed 22.6 points per game.
“We have to be consistent and play smart football,” stated Matsakis, who enjoyed his stint at Butler, a school that has one of the top programs in Morris County. “I know the kids want to bounce back from last year’s performance. I guess we are sophomore heavy, but I like the potential of this group.
“Hey, because of the hot, humid conditions, we had very early practice sessions in the morning. But the kids were always ready to go, and they’ve worked very hard, right from the start. I think we’re ready to play some good football in 2018.”
August 30, Montclair, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7, at Paterson Kennedy, 6 p.m.
Sept. 14, Don Bosco Prep, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21, Columbia, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28, Livingston, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5, at East Orange Campus, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12, Passaic County Tech, 7 p.m.
Oct. 19, at Bloomfield, 7 p.m.
Oct. 27, at Barringer, 1 p.m.