LINDEN – There aren’t a whole lot of starters back, but the Tigers do have several players who can make a big impact where it doesn’t matter if they have experience or not.
“On offense we’re trying to get back to basics and minimize our mistakes,” third-year head coach Al Chiola said. “We’re talented on both sides of the ball, but inexperienced.”
At quarterback is first-year starter Zion Marshall, a sophomore who was behind center in Linden’s season-finale at Union a year ago.
“He’s a dynamic athlete who has a good arm and is one of our fastest players,” Chiola said. “He’s now learning how to be a varsity quarterback.
“The team has a lot of confidence in him. His strength right now is in his legs.”
One player back with experience and one of the four returning starters on offense is junior running back BJ George, who is one of the top juniors in Union County.
“He’s just a gifted running back,” Chiola said.
George burst on the scene in 2016 to rush for over 600 yards and he also caught passes for more than 400 during Linden’s 5-5 campaign.
“Our offense goes through him,” Chiola said. “He ran track (anchor on relay and the 200) to learn how to be a runner. He has fresh legs. He’s ready to take it to an extra gear.”
Senior wide receiver Markel McDuffie is also a returning starter.
“Markel is also a dynamic player, with great hands and runs great routes,” Chiola said. “He is our emotional leader.”
Linden’s other two returning starters on offense include senior right guard Kyle Yeldell and junior center Isiah Alejo.
The three returning starters on defense include senior end Kahlil Rowe-Woods, senior end Juan Ramirez and senior linebacker Diraje Parker.
“On defense we’re just one unit seeking to get all 11 hats on the ball and so far this summer that unit has been doing that,” Chiola said. “We’re just trying to get the kids to play hard together and rely on each other.
“Rowe-Woods and Ramirez are two players that are very tough to get past.”
One key player Linden lost was senior linebacker Jayden Johnson, who is on his way to Mater Dei.
“Jayden was one of our top guys on defense,” Chiola said. “So it’s next guy up. There’s nothing you can do about it.”
Linden’s opener is at Westfield Sept. 9 at 1 p.m. at Gary Kehler Stadium. Linden is the last team that defeated Westfield, which was by the score of 14-6 in the North 2, Group 5 semifinal played at Linden.
Linden then went on to win North 2, Group 5 for the first time that season.
Westfield has won North 2, Group 5 the past two years and with perfect 12-0 records. The Blue Devils began their state-leading 25-game winning streak by defeating longtime holiday rival Plainfield on Thanksgiving in 2014.
Since Linden is now back in North 2, Group 4 for the first time since 2012, this will be the only time the Tigers face Westfield this year.
“One way or another we have to play them,” said Chiola, with Linden and Westfield being two of the seven teams situated in the Mid-State 38 Conference’s Watchung Division. “Coach (Jim) DeSarno does an outstanding job with them.
“Our kids know they can do it if we do everything right. We know we can give them a tough game. We’re excited about opening up against them.”
LINDEN’S SPREAD OFFENSE:
RT Kelvin Chinekezi, junior, (6-3, 274)
RG Kyle Yeldell, senior, (6-2, 240)
C Isiah Alejo, junior, (6-2, 260)
LG Sebastian Morales, senior, (5-9, 210)
LT Samuel Sanchez, junior, (6-2, 245)
TE Juan Ramirez, senior, (6-1, 210)
QB Zion Marshall, sophomore, (5-10, 160)
RB BJ George, junior, (6-0, 195)
RB Diraje Parker, senior, (6-1, 170)
WR Markel McDuffie, senior, (5-11, 160)
WR Kahlil Rowe-Woods, senior, (6-4, 190)
WR Luis Rodriguez, senior, (5-10, 160)
PK Lawson Paden, senior, (6-1, 175)
Returning starters (4): Yeldell, Alejo,
LINDEN’S 3-5 DEFENSE:
E Kahlil Rowe-Woods, senior, (6-4, 190)
E Juan Ramirez, senior, (6-1, 210)
NG Jhalil Thompson, junior, (5-10, 230)
LB Devon Miller, senior, (5-10, 185)
LB Maurice Garner, senior, (5-9, 200)
LB Nashaun Holmes, sophomore, (5-10, 180)
LB Diraje Parker, senior, (6-1, 170)
LB Lawson Paden, senior, (6-1, 175)
CB Terrell Johnson, senior, (6-0, 165)
CB Markel McDuffie, senior, (5-11, 160)
SS Christian San-Clemente, sophomore, (5-10, 190)
P Schadrac Petit-Homme, junior, (6-4, 195)
Returning starters (3): Rowe-Woods, Ramirez,
Head Coach: Albert Chiola, since 2015.
A 1992 Colonia graduate.
Third season: 10-10 (.500)
Conference: Mid-State 38
Section: North 2, Group 4
Linden’s last sectional title: 2014
2016: (5-5 and 2-4, fifth in 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 is 2-0 in sectional consolations games under
Chiola, with wins at Bayonne and home vs. J.P. Stevens.
LINDEN TIGERS 2017
Sept. 9 at Westfield, 1 p.m.
Sept. 15 Scotch Plains, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 at Ridge, 7 p.m.
Sept. 29 Elizabeth, 7 p.m.
Oct. 13 at Bridgewater-Raritan, 7 p.m.
Oct. 20 Watchung Hills, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28 at Plainfield, 1 p.m.
Nov. 3 at Franklin, 7 p.m.
Nov. 22 Union, 7 p.m.
2016 LINDEN TIGERS (5-5)
(H) Westfield 30, Linden 0
(A) Linden 38, Scotch Plains 7
(H) Ridge 34, Linden 12
(A) Elizabeth 23, Linden 10
(H) Bridgewater-Raritan 21, Linden 0
(A) Linden 21, Watchung Hills 14
(H) Linden 41, Plainfield 12
(H) Linden 38, Franklin 21
(H) Linden 48, J.P. Stevens 15
(A) Union 34, Linden 12
Head coach: Albert Chiola,
Section: North 2, Group 5
Conference: Mid-State 38
Division: Watchung 2-4, fifth
Points for: 220
Points against: 211