Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 36
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
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RUN AND SHOOT: Princeton High senior quarterback Alex Mitko throws on the run in a recent practice session. PHS will be relying on Mitko to trigger its offense as it looks to improve on the 0-10 record posted last fall. The Little Tigers get their 2011 season underway by playing at Northern Burlington on September 9.

Learning Lessons From Last Fall’s Hard Knocks, PHS Football Sees Improvement on the Horizon

Bill Alden

While guiding the Princeton High football team to a 0-10 record last fall in his debut season as head coach was painful, Joe Gargione believes he will be better for the experience.

“I have not stopped working since the day after last season, you never want to repeat something like that,” said Gargione.

“I have been doing a lot more planning. I am keeping in touch with my former college coach and bouncing questions off of him.”

Gargione’s work ethic has been rubbing off on his players. “This is the first full year I have had since I have been head coach where I had the winter, spring, and then into summer with the players,” said Gargione, a former star receiver at The College of New Jersey who had been an assistant coach for PHS before taking the helm of the program in 2010.

“I created a leaderboard in the weightroom where we listed the top three lifts by position. It added some competitiveness to the workouts. We usually had 15-25 kids in attendance.”

As a result of absorbing the hard knocks last fall and the subsequent work, Gargione believes his team will be better prepared for the 2011 season which kicks off on September 9 when PHS plays at Northern

“Last year, we had a lot of sophomores and juniors on the field, now they will be juniors and seniors,” added Gargione. “They won’t have that deer in the headlights look, the game will be slower for them.”

Gargione believes that senior quarterback Alex Mitko will display plenty of game this fall for PHS.

“Alex is not your stereotypic quarterback; he is a little short but he has a strong arm and runs well,” said Gargione of the 5’10, 160-pound signal-caller who passed for 829 yards and four touchdowns last fall. “He can do a lot of different things; he is the leader of the offense.”

The PHS also features some talented receivers in seniors Eric Shorter (27 receptions for 535 yards in 2010) and Kevin White.

“We will be looking to get Eric the ball, but we also want to spread it out,” said Gargione, who will also be using senior Timmy Miranda at receiver and sophomore Cal O’Meara at tight end. “Kevin White is the other starting receiver.”

The ground attack will be led junior Ben Smallzman at tailback and junior Grant Schaefer at fullback with elusive junior Javon Pannell in the mix. Junior Zack DiGregorio is the back-up quarterback while versatile senior Collin Bell will get snaps at running back and quarterback.

The strength of the PHS offense could turn out to be its battle-tested offensive line. “We have Jeff Barsamian, Fernando Silva, Jack Persico, Andrew Wensler, and Nick Gillette all back,” said Gargione. “It definitely helps to have continuity there.”

The offensive linemen will also provide continuity to the Little Tiger defense. Barsamian, Persico, Wensler, and Gillette will see action on the defensive line along with Liam Helstrom. Silva will play at linebacker together with O’Meara, Bell, and Morris Cardona.

“Our front eight are pretty good,” said Gargione. “We will be playing a 4-4 scheme. We don’t have guys who are 6’3, 6’4 but the guys run well.”

The Little Tigers boast speed and aggressiveness in the secondary with Shorter, Miranda, Mitko, and White leading the way and Jamyl Williams and E.J. Morgan also seeing action at defensive back.

In preseason action, the Little Tigers have been showing the fruits of their labor.

“Based on what I have seen, we will be an improved team,” asserted Gargione. “In the first scrimmage against Nutley and Edison, we did OK,” said Gargione. “In the second scrimmage against Hightstown, we performed much better.”

In Gargione’s view, improving performance in 2011 will come down to basics. “We need to execute well,” said Gargione.

“We need to stick together and be upbeat for all four quarters. Last year, we would start strong in the first quarter and then things would go wrong in the second quarter and we would get down.”

Gargione is hoping that things start off well this fall when his squad travels to Northern Burlington this Friday evening.

“The kids are really excited,” said Gargione. “It is a good way to start the season; it is a game we think we can win.”

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