LINDEN – A much more experienced unit than a year ago, complimented by two big linemen that transferred in, should put Linden back in the mix in the newly-aligned Mid-State 38 Conference’s Watchung Division.
The Tigers also have aspirations of getting back to the North 2, Group 5 playoffs after winning their final two games last season to finish an even 5-5.
Linden captured N2, G5 in 2014, which was its first championship in the playoff era – and only second overall – since 1985.
“Our motto this year is Just Finish,” second-year head coach Al Chiola said. “Not just finishing games, but finishing drives and finishing tackles for example.”
Back under center to navigate Linden’s spread offense is senior signal-caller Joey Krempa, who was the point guard on Linden’s Group 4 state championship basketball team last winter.
“Joey brings something that last year’s team was missing and that’s experience at the position,” Chiola said. “He’s confident and not only a team leader on the field, but also in the locker room and the school hallways.
“The offense goes through him, somewhat. He has a great arm. We hope to get a special year from him. He’s like having another coach on the field.”
In addition to the Yeldell brothers – senior Kameron and junior Kyle – back on the line, Linden is bolstered up front by Hackensack transfer Eli Fields, a 6-6, 290-pound senior.
“He played more defense than offense last year, but he’s projected to play on the offensive line in college,” Chiola said. “If our offensive line plays its ‘A’ game then we can do some damage.”
Defensive leaders include linebackers Dashaun Simmons, a senior, and Jayden Johnson, a junior.
“Both are very tough to get past, while Simmons led the team in tackles last year,” Chiola said.
Chiola also likes the way his corners have performed, with seniors Davin Williamson and Abraham Kroma providing excellent coverage.
“They’re very good shut-down corners,” Chiola said.
Back at Linden is senior nose guard Amir Bryant (6-1, 330). He played his freshman year at Linden, his sophomore season at Marist and his junior campaign at Barringer.
“It’s good to have Amir back home,” Chiola said. “We were fortunate that it worked out that we have Amir and Eli with us. Usually when Linden gets a transfer it’s not a lineman or a player of their size.”
The only team in the regular season not to lose to last year’s eventual North 2, Group 5 champion Westfield by double-digits – Linden fell 10-7 – the Tigers will seek to continue their stingy play on defense.
Linden yielded only 164 points last season, which was fourth-best among the 17 Union County football playing schools.
“We want to continue to get better at having all 11 hits to the ball,” Chiola said. “The philosophy is almost the same as on offense. On a third-and-long, we can’t allow the other team to get a first down.
“We gave up some of those kinds of plays last year, so this year our focus is on not giving up big plays.”
Linden opens Sept. 9 at home against Westfield, a battle of the last two North 2, Group 5 champions. The Union County rivals have had some memorable games of late, including last year’s 10-7 Westfield win in Westfield and Linden’s two home wins over Westfield in 2014, the first one 15-14 in overtime and the second one 14-6 in the N2, G5 semifinals.
The teams also played the Union County Game of the Year in 2010 when Westfield won at home 30-24 in double overtime. That win helped Westfield qualify in North 2, Group 4, while Linden became the first 6-2 team in the section not to garner enough power points to make it.
The following year in 2011 was the famous late October Snow Game at Linden, played on the Saturday it was scheduled to be played – which was two days before Halloween – and won by Westfield 12-0.
Linden and Westfield did not play each other in 2012 and 2013.
“Yeah, to get Westfield right away will be some kind of challenge for our kids,” Chiola said.
LINDEN’S SPREAD OFFENSE:
LT Eli Fields, senior, (6-6, 290)
LG Wilner Louis, senior, (6-2, 210)
C Kameron Yeldell, senior, (6-0, 220)
RG Kyle Yeldell, junior, (6-2, 230)
RT Robert Gaudenzi, senior, (6-3, 235)
WR Kyree Rogers, senior, (6-4, 165)
WR Travon Hodge, senior, (5-11, 190)
WR DeAndre Clark, senior, (6-2, 180)
WR Reggie Winston, senior, (5-9, 160)
WR Markel McDuffie, junior, (5-9, 150)
QB Joey Krempa, senior, (5-11, 165)
TB BJ George, sophomore, (5-10, 185)
TB Jayden Johnson, junior, (6-0, 240)
PK Steven Ortiz, senior, (5-10, 165)
Returning starters (7): Louis,
Kameron Yeldell, Kyle Yeldell, Gaudenzi,
Rogers, Winston, Krempa.
LINDEN’S 3-5 DEFENSE:
NG Amir Bryant, senior, (6-1, 330)
E Robert Gaudenzi, senior, (6-3, 235)
E Juan Ramirez, junior, (6-1, 190)
LB Dashaun Simmons, senior, (5-8, 180)
LB Travon Hodge, senior, (5-11, 190)
LB Diraje Parker, junior, (6-0, 165)
LB Jayden Johnson, junior, (6-0, 240)
LB Shaun Johnson, junior, (5-10, 160)
CB Davon Williamson, senior, (5-10, 170)
CB Abraham Kroma, senior, (5-11, 160)
S Marquel Miles, senior, (5-11, 170)
S BJ George, sophomore, (5-10, 185)
P Schadrac Petit-Home, sophomore, (6-3, 180)
Returning starters (6): Simmons, Hodge,
Parker, Jayden Johnson, Williamson, George.
Head Coach: Albert Chiola, since 2015.
A 1992 Colonia graduate.
Second season: 5-5 (.500)
Conference: Mid-State 38
Section: North 2, Group 5
Linden’s last sectional title: 2014
2015: (5-5 and 3-4, tied fourth Watchung Division)
Cooper Field: Field Turf.
Chiola was an assistant coach at Asbury Park for
five seasons from 2002-2006 before joining Linden’s
staff in 2007. He was the offensive coordinator under
head coach Deon Candia for six seasons, 2009-2014.
LINDEN TIGERS 2016
Sept. 9 Westfield, 7 p.m.
Sept. 17 at Scotch Plains, 1 p.m.
Sept. 23 Ridge, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 at Elizabeth, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 Bridgewater-Raritan, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 at Watchung Hills, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28 Plainfield, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4 Franklin, 7 p.m.
Nov. 24 at Union, 10:30 a.m.
2015 LINDEN TIGERS (5-5)
(H) Immaculata 26, Linden 6
(A) Linden 26, Plainfield 18
(H) Montgomery 20, Linden 14
(A) Westfield 10, Linden 7
(H) Linden 42, Scotch Plains 0
(A) Linden 35, North Hunterdon 0
(A) Ridge 45, Linden 27
(H) Elizabeth 25, Linden 7
(A) Linden 16, Bayonne 6
(H) Linden 35, Union 14
Head coach: Albert Chiola,
Section: North 2, Group 5
Conference: Mid-State 38
Division: Watchung 3-4
Points for: 215
Points against: 164