Things have been hectic for Charlie Gallagher as he has taken the helm of the Princeton High football program.
“I tried to prepare as much as I could over the summer to be ready for the practices and to have the playbook completed,” said Gallagher, an assistant with the program for five years before moving up to replace previous head coach Joe Gargione.
“We only had three coaches coming back from last year’s staff, including me. We have five new coaches, we are putting in a new offense and a new defensive scheme and we are trying to get on the same page.”
Based on the team’s play in the preseason, it appears that coaches and players have been getting on the same page.
“I think we have done a nice job of preparing the kids; I think we have gotten better in each scrimmage,” asserted Gallagher, who is taking over a squad that posted a 2-8 record in 2012.
“The South Hunterdon scrimmage was average but it was good to hit someone else. North (WW/P-N) was a great scrimmage; we didn’t put as many points on the board as we wanted but the defense played well. Against Robbinsville, we were on top after three quarters. The offense did a nice job, putting 19 points on the board. I think the kids have responded well.”
Junior Sam Smallzman has responded well as he has taken over as starting quarterback spot for graduated star Zack DiGregorio.
“We have a really fantastic quarterback in Sam Smallzman; he is a great leader,” said Gallagher, whose team opens the 2013 campaign with a game at Northern Burlington on September 12.
“He is a phenomenal football player. There are not many guys that play quarterback and middle linebacker. He worked real hard in the offseason. He wanted to lift with the team this spring and he also went out for the track team to learn how to sprint. He has worked on his passing game; that is much improved. First and foremost, he is a great leader for the kids.
PHS will feature a leading offensive threat at receiver in senior star Liam Helstrom.
“When everyone sees Liam, they are going to double team him,” said Gallagher.
“He is 6’2, 195 and he bench presses 285 pounds. He had a great year at tight end for us last year and he is going to be one of the strongest wide receivers around. We need to make sure to get others the ball; the rest of the offense has to be involved.”
Gallagher will be looking to get the ball to junior Colin Buckley, senior Will Harrison, and sophomore Rory Helstrom in the running game.
“Buckley has moved from guard to fullback,” said Gallagher. “He is a good lacrosse player; he has endurance and speed. Will is a scatback; he is a tough kid. Rory will also be at running back.”
PHS has some tough young kids at offensive line in sophomore Noah Ziegler, junior Omar Moustafa, sophomore Matt Poplin, junior Brian Lemus-Camey, junior Tom Moore, and senior Jo-Jo Kuranche.
“On the line, we are young, we have two sophomores, two or three juniors, and a senior,” said Gallagher.
“Ziegler is at left tackle, Moustafa is at left guard, Poplin is at center, Lemus-Carney is at right guard, and Moore is at right tackle. Jo-Jo can play anywhere.”
Gallagher is confident that his defense will play well. “We are running a 50 front,” said Gallagher.
“Our No. 1 goal is to stop the run. We need to make teams pass because when teams pass, three things can happen and two of them are bad. The odds are in our favor if we can stop the run.”
In preseason play, the Little Tigers have done a good job of stopping foes.
“I think the defense usually clicks sooner than the offense,” asserted Gallagher.
“Buckley and Jo-Jo are at tackle, Harrison is at strong safety, Mike Chonka is at free safety, and Rory will also be at defensive back. Sam is a player. Liam and Buckley can really get after the quarterback, we have seen that in scrimmages.”
In Gallagher’s view, the Little Tigers are ready to get after it collectively.
“I think we can be OK; we want to win football games this year,” said Gallagher.
“We want the games to be competitive and go down to the wire. We want it to matter at the end.”
In order to be more competitive, PHS will need some luck and execution. “The No. 1 thing is to stay healthy; we only have 48 or 49 kids and 15 of them are freshmen,” said Gallagher.
“Will Harrison is a really big component for us. He has the ability to be a great football player; we need to get him holes. We need 75-80 yards from him a game. We also need to win the turnover battle. We have done a good job of that in the scrimmages.”
PHS is facing a battle in its opener against Northern Burlington. “We are excited for that game,” said Gallagher.
“We have beaten them two years in a row and they have been in the state semis. We know they are a good ball team and they are going to pull out all their stops to beat us.”