Union football preview: Farmers bolstered by veteran line, versatile receivers, experience

PHOTO BY STEVE ELLMORE - Union opens its 2015 season at home vs. two-time defending North 2, Group 4 champion Phillipsburg.
PHOTO BY STEVE ELLMORE – Union opens its 2015 season at home vs. two-time defending North 2, Group 4 champion Phillipsburg.

UNION – After reaching its first North 2, Group 5 championship game two years ago Union had to sort of re-invent itself last year.

The Farmers were without a single returning starter on offense and just one on defense.

While growing pains were sustained against such formidable league foes as Phillipsburg, Bridgewater-Raritan, Elizabeth, Hunterdon Central and Hillsborough, Union did show vast improvement in its final four games.

Victories were achieved in three of them, including a 26-19 season-ending home win over eventual first-time N2, G5 champion Linden.

Union is much more experienced this year, especially on the line, and is ready to prove itself for an entire season and against every opponent it goes up against.

“We’re good up front, very big; have versatility with our receivers and are much more experienced,” third-year head coach Lou Grasso, Jr. said.

Union’s entire offensive line returns in the form of seniors Charles James, Jaquan Diggs, Shaheed Cook and David Brown and junior Darrell Davis. The line averages 270 pounds.

They will do their best to protect first-year quarterback, junior Justin Beckett.

Grasso said Beckett took some reps last year during an injury-plagued sophomore season. Beckett began the season listed on offense as a wide receiver.

“He played the position (QB) as a freshman,” Grasso said. “He’s smart enough to handle the position.”

Union’s other returning starter on offense is senior wide receiver Caleb Holden.

“We improved at the end of last year,” Grasso said.

Returning starters on defense include Diggs and Brown on the line along with junior lineman Mike Tverdov, who has already been seriously looked at by big-time Division 1-A programs, including the one his older brother Peter played at – Rutgers.

Union’s other three returning starters on defense include senior middle linebacker Francis Okemezie and senior backs Chris Ortiz, the free safety, and Holden, one of two cornerbacks.

“We have good team speed,” Grasso said. “We have depth at defensive back, with Ortiz and Holden. Ortiz was our defensive MVP last year.”

Grasso’s initial goal is to see his team get off to better starts.

“We’re optimistic and the kids have put a lot of hard work into this,” Grasso said. “Last year we came out kind of flat in some instances, so we want to be a tough out for everyone we play.”

Union has a huge challenge right from the start when it hosts two-time defending North 2, Group 4 champion Phillipsburg in its season-opener.

Since the teams have played each other in Mid-State 38 Conference competition the last three seasons, Phillipsburg has won two of the three meetings, including the last two.

“You know what you get with Phillipsburg,” Grasso said. “They just change the numbers on their uniforms.”

Phillipsburg has the most wins of any team in New Jersey with 661.

“We want to be able to match their intensity,” Grasso said.



LT Charles James, senior, (6-5, 265)

LG Jaquan Diggs, senior, (6-1, 260)

C Darrell Davis, junior, (6-3, 280)

RG Shaheed Cook, senior, (6-3, 270)

RT David Brown, senior, (6-4, 280)

TE Mike Tverdov, junior, (6-4, 235)

WR Caleb Holden, senior, (5-9, 180)

WR Patrick Thomas, senior, (6-4, 200)

QB Justin Beckett, junior, (5-9, 170)

RB Al-Tariq Jones, junior, (6-0, 180)

RB Isaiah Perry, senior, (5-5, 170)

RB Steven Morris, senior, (5-9, 170)

FB Francis Okemezie, senior, (5-9, 195)

Returning starters (6): James, Diggs,

Davis, Cook, Brown, Holden.



E Mike Tverdov, junior, (6-4, 235)

T Jaquan Diggs, senior, (6-1, 260)

NG David Brown, senior, (6-4, 280)

T Justin Bogan, junior, (6-3, 295)

E Chris Bournes, junior, (6-0, 210)

MLB Francis Okemezie, senior, (5-9, 195)

MLB Bryce Wilson, junior, (5-10, 195)

SS Kyle Boyd, senior, (6-1, 195)

FS Chris Ortiz, senior, (5-11, 190)

CB Caleb Holden, senior, (5-9, 180)

CB Steven Morris, senior, (5-9, 170)

Returning starters (6): Diggs, Tverdov,

Brown, Okemezie, Ortiz, Holden.

NOTES: Last year Union did not have

a single returning starter on offense and

just one on defense. The Farmers came

on strong at the end of the year, winning

three of their final four games to conclude at 4-6.



Head Coach: Lou Grasso Jr., since 2013.

A 1993 Colonia graduate.

Third season: 12-10 (.545)

Conference: Mid-State 38

Division: Delaware

Section: North 2, Group 5

Union’s last sectional title: 1993

2014: (4-6 and 2-5, tied for fifth in Delaware Division)

Cooke Memorial Field: Field Turf.

Grasso guided Union to a win last year over

eventual North 2, Group 5 champion Linden.

The Farmers closed with a two-game winning streak

and won three of their last four. Grasso was previously an

assistant coach at Union before becoming the head coach

at Roselle, where he was also previously an assistant.

Grasso was the head coach at Roselle for three seasons in

2010 (7-3, playoffs), 2011 (6-4, playoffs) and 2012 (2-8).



Sept. 11 Phillipsburg, 7 p.m.

Sept. 18 Franklin, 7 p.m.

Sept. 25 at Bridgewater-Raritan, 7 p.m.

Oct. 2 at Elizabeth, 7 p.m.

Oct. 9 Hunterdon Central, 7 p.m.

Oct. 16 Hillsborough, 7 p.m.

Oct. 23 at Watchung Hills, 7 p.m.

Oct. 30 at Ridge, 7 p.m.

Nov. 25 at Linden, 7 p.m.

Head coach: Lou Grasso, Jr.,

third season


2014 FARMERS (4-6)

(A) Phillipsburg 48, Union 6

(A) Union 34, Franklin 28

(H) Bridgewater-Raritan 34, Union 21

(H) Elizabeth 34, Union 6

(A) Hunterdon Central 31, Union 21

(A) Hillsborough 45, Union 12

(H) Union 28, Watchung Hills 23

(H) Ridge 38, Union 34

(H) Union 41, Columbia 21

(H) Union 26, Linden 19

Head coach: Lou Grasso, Jr.,

second season

Section: North 2, Group 5

Conference: Mid-State 38

Division: Delaware 2-5

Record: 4-6

Home: 3-3

Away: 1-3

Points for: 229

Points against: 321

Shutouts: 0

Overtime: 0-0