One of Brian Russo’s biggest wins as a head coach took place in Union County six years ago. The Woodbridge native and 1996 Woodbridge High School graduate guided eighth-seeded Woodbridge to a stunning 23-14 win at top-seeded Union in a North 2, Group 4 quarterfinal.
The new Rahway mentor now has designs on leading the Indians to numerous big victories in and out of Union County.
This is a new beginning in the truest sense of the term for Russo. He is not only getting himself familiarized with his next challenge, but also the surroundings that come with it.
Officially tabbed as the successor to highly-successful mentor Gary Mobley as Rahway’s new head coach back in late March, Russo welcomed Monday’s first day of official practice with a quick exuberance.
“There’s tradition and there are athletes here,” said Russo, 37, who was the head coach at Woodbridge from 2003-2011.
This is Russo’s second head coaching stint.
So in addition to familiarizing himself with the Rahway program, Russo will be learning all he can about his new Union County opposition, in addition to the Mid-State 38 Conference. Rahway is situated in the Mountain Division along with five other schools, including defending champion Roselle, which Rahway opens at on Sept. 12.
“The first thing I want to do is get the bad taste out of our mouths,” Russo said, referring to the team’s 1-9 finish a year ago. “I know the team was young last year and we’ll be young again this year.”
There are not that many seniors on the team at the moment, but one of them ranks as one of the top players in Union County. That is 6-3, 225-pound defensive end Edriece Patterson, a four-year varsity starter.
“Edriece has been offered by Army and 1-AA schools such as Wagner and Monmouth,” Russo said.
Last year’s squad featured five sophomores starting on both offense and defense.
“We’ll have to grow up quickly,” Russo said. “The kids are working hard and starting to pick things up.”
Russo will be working with the offense, which is a Multiple-I, while the defense will have a 4-4 look. His defensive coordinator is Al Reinoso and Rich Nyers is also on staff.
When Russo got back into coaching last year after not coaching in 2012 and 2013, he was an assistant on Nyers’ staff at Hightstown. Ethan Jeros, a 1989 Hightstown graduate, is the new Hightstown head coach after Nyers served there for one season.
“I’m just trying to catch up with everything and get our team prepared for our first game against Roselle,” said Russo, who was previously a head coach in the Greater Middlesex Conference.
Russo has a tough act to follow as Mobley guided Rahway to a 74-44 (.627) record in 11 seasons, including nine winning seasons, one .500 campaign, nine playoff seasons, seven sectional semifinal appearances and one state championship game, which was Rahway’s first in nine years. Mobley’s only season under .500 was last year, which included seven different sophomore starters in the mix.
“I met with Gary and he’s a great guy, I respect him a lot,” Russo said.
Bill Nyers was the head coach at Woodbridge the last three seasons, with the Barons going 7-4 last year, 2-8 two years ago and 6-4 three years ago.
Russo’s nine-season record at Woodbridge was 48-45 (.516), including three winning seasons, three .500 campaigns, five playoff seasons and two playoff victories, both coming on the road.
Russo guided his first and last Woodbridge squads to 8-3 marks, with the 2011 team – as the sixth seed – winning at third-seeded Burlington Township 24-21 in a Central Jersey, Group 3 quarterfinal.
Russo is presently a special education teacher at Iselin Middle School.
A standout player in college at Wagner, Russo moved up to head coach from assistant at Woodbridge over a decade ago. As a sophomore at Woodbridge he played on the Barons team that captured the 1993 Central Jersey, Group 4 championship.
Russo served as the Woodbridge school district’s supervisor of guidance and special education during the two years he did not coach.
NOTES: Rahway’s complete scrimmage schedule includes all three on the road. Ground is soon to be broken for a new turf field to be established for the 2016 season.
Rahway will first scrimmage at Iselin Kennedy Aug. 18 at 10 a.m. and then at Somerville Aug. 21 at 5 p.m.
Rahway’s game-scrimmage is at J.P. Stevens of Edison Sept. 3 at 6 p.m.