HILLSIDE – Football coaches thrive on challenges.
The bigger, the better.
First-time head coach Barris Grant has one on his hands here at Hillside.
While the Comets have been competitive in recent years, they have not distinguished themselves since their last winning and playoff season of 2008.
Grant and his coaching staff are out to change that.
“Hillside is a town rich with talent and hard-working kids,” Grant said. “It’s time to get the ball rolling.”
Grant – who played his high school ball at Irvington where he graduated from in 1997 and then after playing in junior college was a standout linebacker at Mississippi State in 1999 – has quite a coaching resume going back to 2001.
It includes stints as a grad assistant at MSU, three terms with his older brother Darnell – two one-season ones at Irvington and the last four seasons as the offensive coordinator at Shabazz – in addition to college and Arena Football positions and an internship with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
However, this is his first head coaching position of any kind and he’s ready to get the project under way.
“I’ve definitely dreamed about becoming a head coach,” said Grant, 37. “I was fortunate enough to coach with my brother for a long time and he’s been one of the most successful coaches in the state.”
Darnell Grant, a 1991 Irvington graduate who was the head coach there before taking over at Shabazz in 2010, guided Irvington to one state championship game and Shabazz to two, including the program’s first state title in the playoff era, which came in 2014 when the Bulldogs captured North 2, Group 1.
“I will take what I learned from Jackie Sherrill at Mississippi State and what I learned from my brother as well,” Grant said. “Owning a program, I’ve always dreamed about, so I’m ready.”
Returning at quarterback to push the Comets in the right direction offensively is senior Kevin Miller. Grant likes what he sees so far from the 5-10, 205-pound signal-caller.
“Kevin’s matured a lot in our system so far, throughout camp,” Grant said. “He can make a bunch of plays and has immaculate timing with his throws.
“He’s surprisingly a very good pocket passer. He’s a good-sized kid, sort of a Russell Wilson type who can take control of the game.”
Miller has plenty of targets to throw to, including standout senior Joseph Stuckey, who Grant said has already received an offer from 1-AA New Hampshire.
“Joseph is a pleasure to coach,” Grant said. “He’s a leader out there for us and is very dangerous with the ball in his hands. He reminds me of Hines Ward, someone who can do it all. He’s old school, a three-sport (also basketball and baseball) star.”
Dennis McCarthy of his annual Dennis McCarthy Report that ranks college-bound players in each class has Stuckey ranked 4th among Union County’s Top 10 seniors.
“He reminds me a great deal of Jerron McMillian of Hillside who played with Green Bay,” McCarthy said.
Other impact players on defense include senior end Sekou Diaby, senior nose tackle Nasir Johnson, sophomore linebacker Brian Ugwu, junior strong safety Mike Fields and senior strong safety Jayden Stuckey.
“Sekou has a great combination of strength, speed and power,” Grant said. “At camp he was all over the place.
“Johnson is a presence at nose, with a great deal of speed and power.
“Ugwu and Fields have emerged at their positions, while Jayden is another all-around, do-it-all type of performer.
“We’ll look for all of our guys to make an impact and play fast.”
Hillside closed a 4-6 season a year ago that included a forfeit loss on a strong note by downing Robbinsville 34-14 at home in a consolation game. The triumph snapped a four-game losing streak.
“We have to execute the plan to be successful,” Grant said. “I’ve been blessed with a really good staff, including defensive coordinator Thomas Weaver, who played on Villanova’s national championship team. He brings a wealth of experience.”
Weaver is also an Irvington graduate, class of 2007, who was a senior standout on Irvington’s 2006 team that narrowly lost the North 2, Group 3 final that year to New Brunswick 18-14 at Rutgers. Weaver went on to star on the defensive line at Villanova and signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins in August of 2011.
Weaver’s father Emanuel played in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals and Atlanta Falcons. His Godfather, George Rogers, played in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins. Rogers, who starred collegiately at South Carolina, was the 1980 Heisman Trophy winner his senior season.
HILLSIDE’S SPREAD OFFENSE:
RT Will Tagoe, senior, (6-2, 220)
RG David Moline, sophomore, (6-2, 260)
C Sam Obeng, senior, (5-10, 230)
LG Jason Wheeler, sophomore, (6-3, 270)
LT Sekou Diaby, senior, (6-2, 250)
WR Boris Nicolas-Paul, sophomore, (5-11, 170)
WR Jayden Stuckey, senior, (5-9, 170)
WR Joseph Stuckey, senior, (6-0, 185)
WR Joshua Graham, senior, (5-10, 160)
QB Kevin Miller, senior, (5-10, 205)
TB Mike Fields, junior, (5-9, 170)
PK Joey Jaramillo, senior, (5-10, 200)
Returning starters (5): Obeng, Diaby,
Joseph Stuckey, Graham, Miller.
HILLSIDE’S 3-3-5 DEFENSE:
E Sekou Diaby, senior, (6-2, 250)
NT Nasir Johnson, senior, (5-9, 200)
E Aboubakar Diaby, sophomore, (6-3, 205)
LB Najee Peer, sophomore, (5-9, 195)
MLB Tyrese Lattimore, senior, (5-10, 210)
LB Brian Ugwu, sophomore, (6-3, 205)
SS Mike Fields, junior, (5-9, 170)
SS Jayden Stuckey, senior, (5-9, 170)
FS Joseph Stuckey, senior, (6-0, 185)
CB Damon Anglin, senior (5-11, 160)
CB-P Bernie Nerestant, senior, (5-11, 170)
Returning starters (3): Lattimore,
Joseph Stuckey, Nerestant.
Head Coach: Barris Grant, first season.
A 1997 Irvington graduate.
Conference: Mid-State 38
Section: Central Jersey, Group 2
Hillside’s last sectional title: 1985
2015: (4-6 and 2-3, tied third Mountain Division)
Woodfield Stadium (Conant Street): Grass.
Grant is a high school head coach for the first time.
He coached with his older brother Darnell at Irvington
in 2002 and 2006 and the last four seasons at Shabazz,
where Barris was the team’s offensive coordinator.
Grant also has collegiate and Arena Football coaching
experience in addition to completing an internship with
The NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
HILLSIDE COMETS 2016
Sept. 10 at Rahway, 1 p.m.
Sept. 17 New Providence, 1 p.m.
Sept. 23 at Bernards, 7 p.m.
Oct. 1 Roselle, 2 p.m.
Oct. 8 Johnson, 1 p.m.
Oct. 14 at Dayton, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 at Delaware Valley, 7 p.m.
Oct. 29 Cranford, 1 p.m.
Nov. 4 at Brearley, 7 p.m.
2015 HILLSIDE COMETS (4-6)
(A) Dayton 1, Hillside 0 (forfeit)
Score was Hillside 34, Dayton 13,
but Hillside used ineligible player.
(A) Hillside 16, Roselle 13
(H) Rahway 20, Hillside 14
(H) Hillside 18, Pingry 0
(A) Hillside 49, Bernards 34
(A) Cranford 51, Hillside 17
(H) Johnson 34, Hillside 15
(H) Delaware Valley 41, Hillside 0
(A) Summit 38, Hillside 6
(H) Hillside 34, Robbinsville 14
Head coach: Halim McNeil,
Section: Central Jersey, Group 2
Conference: Mid-State 38
Division: Mountain 2-3
Points for: 169
Points against: 246