South Jersey Football: Absegami Enters Season With Confidence
With anything in life, it’s hard to keep good vibes going for nine months. But the Absegami football team is hoping the hot streak the Braves went on to end the 2018 season carries right on over to the 2019 campaign.
The Braves cost themselves a playoff spot by dropping their first four games last year, including a pair of shutout defeats and two games in which they allowed more than 40 points, but a win over Bridgeton in early October completely turned things around, as Absegami won five of its last six games to finish 5-5. The Braves finished the year on a four-game winning streak that included victories over EHT, Seneca, Howell and Oakcrest, and in those four games they outscored opponents 120-50. A big reason for that was the beginning of the maturation of then-freshman quarterback Ray Weed.
Weed is back as a sophomore with a lot more confidence, and started to have his championship pedigree honed during the wrestling season, where he earned his way to Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, site of the NJSIAA championships. Weed had surgery on his non-throwing shoulder in the spring, but is back to full health as the Braves prepare for their season opener at home Sept. 13 against West Jersey Football League Independence Division rival Mainland Regional.
“A lot has actually carried over. We’re going into this season confident, we’re together this year. We had some bumps in the road last year starting out 0-4. We started to come together, but it was a little too late. We’ve been together since the end of last year, in the film room, the weight room — everybody is training hard together, so we’re pretty excited going into this season,” Weed said. “I’m a lot more confident. I’ve been working with coach (Dennis) Scuderi and even with my shoulder injury I was in the film room, working on the plays. Now, I’m asking him to start running plays that I’m creating on my own. I’m a lot more comfortable and I feel like I know what’s going on around me. (Wrestling) helps a lot. I’ve been doing that since I was a baby, and having a lot of eyes on me is something I thrive on. Whether people love me or hate me, I still like it. I like being ‘the man’ in certain situations, and wrestling helps with that a lot.”
“For the next couple of years that he’s here, he’s going to do some great things. He’s one of the best quarterbacks out here,” said senior defensive end and wide receiver Isaac Ingram.
Weed will have some solid options on offense with the return of guys like Ingram, running back Quinn McLaughlin and junior wideout Jordan Marcucci, younger brother of former Absegami quarterback Andrew Marcucci. The offensive line also has some guys returning, like Brian Searight and Sean Steward.
“We have a lot of kids coming back, so we’ll have experience and they are coming off a high at the end of the year. We put together a nice winning streak and we were able to carry that over into this year,” Scuderi said. “Our front four (on defense) can be pretty good. We have six kids returning who rotated through there, so we’re really relying on them. As they go, that’s how we’ll go on defense. We’re a little young in the secondary, so we’ll need those guys up front to create pressure. Defensively, up front is going to make or break us.”
One thing coach Scuderi is harping on is getting off to a better start. If Absegami stumbles out of the gate like it did last year, the state playoffs will be a long shot. And the Braves don’t begin their season until Sept. 13, so they’ll have some catching up to do on other teams in the Independence Division.
“We have to find a way to start faster than we did last year. Not playing double-zero or zero week is going to be challenging. Mainland opens up zero week and Cedar Creek opens up double-zero week, so by the time we get to them they’ll be almost halfway through their schedule and it will only be our second game. So, we have to find a way to combat that,” he said. “It could be a benefit for us, though, because we have some guys right now who are banged up and it gives us that extra week or two to get healthy. But we have to be in game shape, and one of the things we’ve been trying to do in camp is condition our kids. We’re trying to get as many snaps as possible to simulate a game.”
Scuderi believes he has the type of senior leadership that can set the tone early, however, and have the Braves ready to go in Week 1.
“One of the things we have this year that has been a benefit is our leadership. We have a group of kids who have bought in and are doing everything we ask, and that’s what gives you a shot,” Scuderi said. “We’ve been conditioning hard and doing things with a lot more energy and effort. Hopefully, that will roll into the early part of the season. Last year, we finally learned — we were getting to the right spots and doing the right things, but it was a game or two too late. Hopefully we can bring that out a little earlier this season with that experience. As a coaching staff, we have to do a better job of making sure we’re at that point.”
“We just have to be more disciplined, stick together and keep working hard. We have to work harder on breaking the huddle right away, constantly running to the ball, and if we can do that, I think we’ll be right there (in contention),” added Ingram. “This is my last ride, so I’m trying to do my best for this team.”
Sept. 13 vs. Mainland (6 p.m.)
Sept. 21 at Cedar Creek (TBA)
Sept. 27 vs. Ocean City (7 p.m.)
Oct. 4 at Hammonton (7 p.m.)
Oct. 11 vs. Bridgeton (6 p.m.)
Oct. 18 vs. Moorestown (6 p.m.)
Oct. 25 BYE
Nov. 1 at EHT (7 p.m.)
Nov. 27 vs. Oakcrest (6 p.m.)