UNION FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Farmers to learn from highs and lows of a year ago

PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI - Union is led this year by three-year starter and senior standout TE and DE, Mike Tverdov (No. 42).
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – Union is led this year by three-year starter and senior standout TE and DE, Mike Tverdov (No. 42).

UNION – Last year the Farmers were one win away from playing for a state championship, yet finished with a record under .500.
Union, 5-6 in 2015, came back in dramatic fourth quarter fashion to post a first-ever playoff victory at Piscataway, but was then handed decisive losses at Westfield in the playoffs and at Linden on Thanksgiving.
There was playoff success followed by playoff elimination and a season-ending game not to be so fondly remembered.
Union will take the above thrill of victory and agony of defeat as lessons learned going into its 2016 campaign.
“The Piscataway game (28-20 N2, G5 first round victory) we showed what it takes to play until the very end,” fourth-year head coach Lou Grasso, Jr. said. “The Westfield game (a 44-14 N2, G5 semifinal loss in which Union trailed 34-0 with 10:07 left in the first half) was a better lesson. It taught us that you can’t wait until the second quarter to show up against a great team and expect to have a good chance to win.”
With scrimmages at home against Madison and Randolph and then South Brunswick before and after a scrimmage at Phillipsburg that also included St. John Vianney and Warren Hills, returning senior quarterback Justin Beckett got plenty of reps to show how far he has come in his second season behind center.
“Justin is very versatile, so we plan to feature his athleticism,” Grasso Jr. said. “He’s really worked hard on his leadership role and his basics and fundamentals.”
Union’s spread offense also features two solid senior running backs in Jeron Whitfield and Al-Tariq Jones.
“Whitfield is a bit more rugged, while Jones has that elusive quality,” Grasso Jr. said. “Both are tough and give us speed.”
Darrell Davis is one of the tackles and this will be the senior’s third year as a starter. He was the starting center a year ago.
“He’s our anchor,” Grasso Jr. said. “We moved him to tackle and he knows the offense.”
Following a 1-3 start last year that ended with tough, six- and three-point losses at Bridgewater-Raritan and at Elizabeth, Union rebounded nicely to win four of its next five games to reach the North 2, Group 5 semifinals for the second time in three years.
“Offensively, we need to be a lot more consistent,” Grasso Jr. said. “We need to be a little bit more balanced and not make mistakes and critical times.”
Leading the defense is three-year starter Mike Tverdov at end. The Rutgers commit was ranked as Union County’s No. 1 college-bound senior prospect by the Dennis McCarthy Report.
“He has great intensity, is very quick and is very well-skilled with the use of his hands,” McCarthy said.
Tverdov, also the tight end on offense, has been a fixture now for Grasso, Jr. since the beginning of his sophomore season.
“Mike is one of those rare kids, a dominant player,” Grasso Jr. said. “He works his butt off. A player of his caliber doesn’t come around every year.”
Complimenting Tverdov at the other end position is senior Chris Bournes.
“Bournes makes a lot of plays as well,” Grasso Jr. said.
Another returning starter on the line is senior Justin Bogan, while senior Bryce Wilson is back at linebacker and Beckett and Jones in the secondary.
“We have some new guys in the secondary as well,” Grasso Jr. said. “Their pursuit to the ball is going to be key.”
Union moved from the Delaware Division of the Mid-State 38 Conference to the newly-formed Watchung Division, which includes all seven schools (five from Union County and two from Somerset County) situated in North 2, Group 5: Union, Elizabeth, Plainfield, Westfield and Linden from Union County and Watchung Hills and Ridge from Somerset County.
Union and Westfield are back to facing each other again after not clashing during the regular season in 2014 and 2015, with Westfield in the Watchung Division and Union in the Delaware Division those seasons.
“We have the same sentiments as Westfield; we should be playing each other,” Grasso Jr. said.
Union is at Westfield Oct. 8 for a 1 p.m. kickoff at Gary Kehler Stadium.
“We know it’s going to be a tough game, but Union’s supposed to play Westfield,” Grasso Jr. said.
Westfield won the Watchung Division with a perfect 7-0 mark last season as part of the program’s first 12-0 campaign that also included the Blue Devils winning North 2, Group 5 for the first time.
It was Westfield’s third state championship in the playoff era and first in 38 years since the Blue Devils repeated as North 2, Group 4 champions in 1977.
“Group 5 teams should be playing each other,” Grasso Jr. said. “It usually all works out later on.”
Union opens at home Sept. 9 against Watchung Hills. The Warriors are now guided by first-year head coach Rich Seubert, who was promoted from within after 1988 Union graduate Mike Katz was not retained after one season.
Seubert, a Wisconsin native, was a 10-season (2001-2010) New York Giants offensive lineman who played on the 2007 squad that defeated the 18-0 New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
The two previous head coaches at Watchung Hills were both from Union, with 1983 graduate Marc Crisafi in charge for five seasons from 2010-2014. Before Crisafi, former Union assistant and Summit head coach Jim Benedict’s last season in charge was in 2009.

G Alex Acevedo, junior, (5-9, 220)
G Carl Lockard, senior, (6-0, 230)
C Jose Rivera, junior, (5-9, 230)
T Darrell Davis, senior, (6-3, 285)
T Chauncey Caffey, junior, (6-3, 235)
TE Mike Tverdov, senior, (6-4, 235)
QB Justin Beckett, senior, (5-10, 170)
RB Jeron Whitfield, senior, (5-11, 185)
RB Al-Tariq Jones, senior, (6-1, 190)
WR Hansly Cenescar, senior, (5-11, 165)
WR Kevin Willis, senior, (6-1, 195)
WR Andy Martin, junior, (5-10, 170)
WR Nasir Wooten, senior, (5-6, 140)
PK Justin Beckett, senior, (5-10, 170)
Returning starters (5): Davis, Tverdov,
Beckett, Whitfield, Jones.

E Mike Tverdov, senior, (6-4, 235)
E Chris Bournes, senior, (6-0, 215)
T Justin Bogan, senior, (6-4, 295)
T Darrell Davis, senior, (6-3, 285)
T Alex Acevedo, junior, (5-9, 220)
T Ndiaye Madiama, junior, (6-0, 240)
LB Bryce Wilson, senior, (5-10, 190)
LB Arthur Pinckney, junior, (5-10, 200)
DB Justin Beckett, senior, (5-10, 170)
DB Al-Tariq Jones, senior, (6-1, 190)
DB Hansly Cenescar, senior, (5-11, 165)
DB Rowland Miller, senior, (5-10, 165)
DB Adens Georges, senior, (5-7, 160)
DB Ryan Dolce, senior, (5-8, 160)
P Andrew Sanborn, freshman, (5-10, 155)
Returning starters (6): Tverdov, Bournes,
Bogan, Wilson, Beckett, Jones.

Head Coach: Lou Grasso Jr., since 2013.
A 1993 Colonia graduate.
Fourth season: 17-16 (.515)
Conference: Mid-State 38
Division: Watchung
Section: North 2, Group 5
Union’s last sectional title: 1993
2015: (5-6 and 3-4, fourth in Delaware Division)
Cooke Memorial Field: Field Turf.
Grasso has guided Union to the North 2, Group 5
semifinals twice in his first three seasons at the helm
of the Farmers. 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. 9 Watchung Hills, 7 p.m.
Sept. 17 at Plainfield, 1 p.m.
Sept. 23 Elizabeth, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8 at Westfield, 1 p.m.
Oct. 14 Franklin, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 at Ridge, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28 Bridgewater-Raritan, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4 at Hunterdon Central, 7 p.m.
Nov. 24 Linden, 10:30 a.m.

2015 UNION FARMERS (5-6)
(H) Phillipsburg 33, Union 12
(H) Union 21, Franklin 0
(A) Bridgewater-Raritan 13, Union 7
(A) Elizabeth 10, Union 7
(H) Union 33, Franklin 14
(H) Hillsborough 29, Union 18
(A) Union 40, Watchung Hills 27
(A) Union 21, Ridge 13
(A) Union 28, Piscataway 20
(A) Westfield 44, Union 14
(A) Linden 35, Union 14
Head coach: Lou Grasso, Jr.,
third season
Section: North 2, Group 5
Conference: Mid-State 38
Division: Delaware 3-4
Record: 5-6
Home: 2-2
Away: 3-4
Points for: 215
Points against: 238
Shutouts: 1
Overtime: 0-0