Featuring a Strong Group of Seniors, Juniors, PHS Football Aims to Get Back on Winning Track
READY TO POUNCE: Princeton High football player Dylan Angelucci patrols the field in a 2019 game. Senior Angelucci should be seeing action at safety and wide receiver this fall for PHS. The Tigers open their 2020 campaign by playing at Robbinsville on October 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
While the Princeton High football team couldn’t do any contact drills during its first week of practice due to COVID-19 restrictions, it still made good progress.
“We went an entire week essentially without any equipment, the kids were so excited to be out there and the coaches were excited that I don’t think we paid it too much mind,” said PHS head coach Charlie Gallagher.
“We had a lot of learning to do. I am harking back on the fact that football is definitely an intricate, complicated game. There are a lot of moving parts and there is a lot of teaching that needs to take place. We didn’t get to do any of that teaching in the summer time. That week was actually pretty invaluable.”
Despite COVID-19 concerns and coming off a 0-8 season, PHS boasts good numbers this year with a roster of more than 40 players.
“I am pleasantly surprised; we are really happy with the senior and the junior class, those kids are very committed,” said Gallagher.
“With the seniors and juniors we have, we are going to be able to rest some guys. We have 12 seniors and I think 11 of them are going to see significant time. We also have 12 or 13 juniors and six of those guys are going to see significant time and then we have two sophomores in the mix who are going to be playing and starting. We are going to spread the wealth a little bit. I don’t think we have had as many potential starters ever, even going back to 2014 when we had a group of 15 guys who started. I could put my finger on 20 guys that could start at a position.”
In Gallagher’s view, junior quarterback Jaxon Petrone has the potential to have a big season after being sidelined last fall due to injury.
“Jaxon looks fantastic; he has a very good arm and he is showcasing it right now,” said Gallagher.
“Obviously the big thing is being able to get the wide receivers underneath those balls to catch them. We are working on that and we think we have a couple of solid guys that can make contributions and get the ball down the field.”
The PHS receiving corps will feature senior Dylan Angelucci, senior Mike Wargo, junior Everaldo Servil, and junior Jaiden Johnson.
“We have four guys that we are looking at, Dylan and Mike are guys that played last year for us,” said Gallagher.
“We are really high on Everaldo, who got a lot of playing time last year. He is fast and he is a gutsy kid. The other one is a real surprising young man, Jaiden Johnson, who is moving from soccer to football. There was a conversation about maybe playing some football and he came out and is a delight. There is a little bit of a learning curve with him. He is a good athlete so we want to try and give him the ball but at the same time we want to make sure that he knows what he is doing.”
Senior Michael Spadea is poised to do some big things at tight end for the Tigers.
“He had a one-handed grab the other day, it was beautiful, it was stretched out,” said Gallagher.
“He is a tall, lanky kid and is very strong. He was probably the most committed guy in the off season as far as the weight room. He found a weight room somewhere and returned bigger and better than ever.”
The Tigers feature a big group at running back in junior Lehehmoo Pwee, junior Moses Santizo, junior Alan Loarca, senior Richie Valme, and senior Jose Espinosa.
“Pwee is a really solid young man and our starting fullback is going to be Moses,” said Gallagher.
“We are happy with those guys. We have a little bit of depth. Alan played for us as a freshman and didn’t come out his sophomore year but he is coming back out as a junior. We are really happy with him. We also have another senior who we are happy to get back in Richie. Jose Espinosa has really worked hard in the offseason. We had him at line last year but he was committed to being a running back and he is now one of our fullbacks.”
The offensive line is looking like a strength for PHS with a battle-tested group that includes junior Giancarlo Momo, senior Leo Alexandroff, senior Diego Alvarez Garcia, senior Manuel Vasquez, junior Jason Ling, and senior Andreas Lambros.
“Both of our tackles, Momo and Alexandroff, are back; they are really good,” said Gallagher.
They are guys who played last year and just really talented kids and great kids. They know the game of football. We have three guards, Diego, Manuel, and Jason. Jason was a running back and we are moving him to the line. He is going to be really talented for us. Our center is Andreas.”
On the defensive line, junior Wes Henri will augment a unit that has a number of players doing double duty.
“Momo and Leo will be our tackles,” said Gallagher. “We have a newcomer, Wes, who is a wrestler; he was a heavyweight from the past year. He is a big, strong kid and I hope he wreaks havoc in the middle of the field. The wrestlers know leverage. He is super strong, I would be a little nervous if I was a center and I saw him lined up. He is going to be a talented player for us, I am glad he came out for us. At defensive end, we have two good guys in Spadea and Richie. They will play at defensive end and at outside linebacker.”
Santizo and Espinosa will be playing at middle linebacker along with sophomore Faysal Al-Qassab.
“Our inside guys are Santizo, Espinosa, and Faysal,” said Gallagher.
“Faysal is a good football player, he came from Georgia a couple of years ago. He is working hard so we are going to try to find a spot for him.”
The defensive backfield will feature senior Dora Servil, senior Dylan Angelucci, sophomore Risshabh Bhardwaj, and junior Johnson.
“In the secondary, we have got four guys,” said Gallagher. “We have Dora and Dylan back there. We have another sophomore, Risshabh, who is going to be our free safety. We are happy with him. Our last guy is Jaiden, he is probably going to play some corner for us.”
In order to get back on the winning track, PHS will need to be more productive on both sides of the ball.
“As far as success, in the end you want to see yourself in the win column,” said Gallagher.
“At the same time, we are going to rely heavily on the seniors to build the program and get some excitement back. We have to score a lot more points than we did last year. I think our defense is going to be very stingy. We have some really good athletes. The key will be how quickly they can pick up the offense and defense.”
Gallagher acknowledges that not being allowed to have scrimmages this fall will make it harder for the players to be at their sharpest.
“The things you look for in scrimmages are no turnovers, ball security is huge,” said Gallagher.
“We really haven’t been knocked around to where the ball can get jarred. Another thing is penalties, with false starts and all of that stuff. Tackling is going to be an issue. We do tackling everyday but it is form tackling. It is not tackling to the ground. All of that kind of stuff will be a concern.”
PHS hopes to hit the ground running as it starts the 2020 season on October 2 by playing at Robbinsville, who is coming off a 9-1 campaign.
“We open up with a familiar team in Robbinsville, they have made some jumps,” said Gallagher.
“Coach [Andrew] Patterson has got a formula over there, they don’t really break from that. It is a certain offense and a certain defense that they run and they have been doing it for many years. Last year was kind of a pinnacle for them, they run it extremely efficiently. Every game for us is going to be a dogfight. Robbinsville is a great opener to get our feet wet a little bit.”