HILLSIDE FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Comets seeking to make their move this year

HILLSIDE – There are two quarterbacks vying for playing time, both seeking to lead Hillside’s spread offense.

They are senior Tajee Irby (5-9, 160) and sophomore Gavin Melendez (6-3, 200).

“Taj is mobile and a leader, who goes back to Pop Warner football,” second-year head coach Barris Grant said. “Also the point guard on the basketball team, he’s smart and runs the offense well.

“Gavin is a bigger version of Taj. He’s a pocket passer who is strong, but new to our system.”

Four wide receivers in the spread scheme include senior Naseef Primo, juniors Boris Nicolas-Paul and Charles Amissah and sophomore Nahree Biggins.

The lone returning starters are both junior linemen, including left guard Jason Wheeler and left tackle David Moline.

Hillside’s 3-3-5 defense has four returning starters, leading with standout junior Brian Ugwu.

“Brian is a team captain who is very fast and physical,” Grant said. “This is only his second year playing football full time.

“He’s an edge rusher who can also drop back. He’s listed high on Rutgers’ juniors list. He has everything right in front of him.”

The other three returning starters include junior linebacker Najee Peele, junior strong safety Boris Nicolas-Paul and junior cornerback Emmanuel Sass.

“The kids are a little more experienced,” Grant said. “We played a lot of underclassmen last year.”

Grant guided the Comets to a 4-6 finish a year ago during his first season as a head coach. The Comets did not qualify in Central Jersey, Group 2 and concluded with a sectional consolation loss at Verona.

Shutout wins were produced at Dayton and at Brearley.

“The kids understand what it takes,” Grant said. “Our first game (home vs. Rahway Saturday) is very important.

“Experience goes two ways.  Our juniors played as sophomores. Also, this being my second year and having coached previously in Essex County, I now have a better understanding of who we face in the Mid-State.

“There won’t be as many surprises as there were last year.”

Captains include Nicolas-Paul, senior Christian Young, junior Mateus Ramos, Ugwu and Irby. Nicolas-Paul, Young and Ramos are honor roll students.

Grant said that he has three seniors on the National Honor Society and 16 players total on the honor roll.


Central Jersey, Group 2 for 2017 (15 schools):


Raritan (708), Holmdel (696), Manasquan (672),


Hillside (669), Bernards (640),


Point Pleasant Boro (636), Bordentown (556),


Lincoln (555), Delaware Valley (551), Johnson (538),


Harrison (537),  Spotswood (521), Metuchen (508)


Roselle (506), South River (504).



RT Aboubakar Diaby, junior, (6-3, 215)

RG Kwame Frimpong, junior, (6-0, 260)

C Jayden Shaw, sophomore, (5-11, 250)

LG Jason Wheeler, junior, (6-3, 305)

LT David Moline, junior, (6-2, 260)

WR Naseef Primo, senior, (6-2, 160)

WR Nahree Biggins, sophomore, (6-0, 180)

WR Boris Nicolas-Paul, junior, (5-11, 160)

WR Charles Amissah, junior, (6-3, 190)

QB Tajee Irby, senior, (5-9, 160)

QB Gavin Melendez, sophomore, (6-3, 200)

RB Christian Young, senior, (6-0, 240)

RB James Louis, sophomore, (5-8, 150)

PK Hugo Carrico, junior, (5-7, 140)

Returning starters (2): Wheeler, Moline.



E Aboubakar Diaby, junior, (6-3, 215)

NT Elijah Cotton, senior, (5-10, 280)

E Mateus Ramos, junior, (5-10, 200)

LB Brian Ugwu, junior, (6-3, 205)

MLB Christian Young, senior, (6-0, 240)

LB Najee Peele, junior, (5-9, 200)

SS Boris Nicolas-Paul, junior, (5-11, 160)

SS Shadon Willis, junior, (6-0, 160)

CB Emmanuel Sass, junior, (5-10, 170)

CB Jyleen Neals, sophomore, (5-8, 150)

FS Nahree Biggins, sophomore, (6-0, 180)

P Trejon Cale-Taylor, sophomore, (5-9, 160)

Returning starters (4): Ugwu, Peele,

Nicolas-Paul, Sass.



Head Coach: Barris Grant, since 2016.

A 1997 Irvington graduate.

Second season: 4-6 (.400).

Conference: Mid-State 38

Division: Valley

Section: Central Jersey, Group 2

Hillside’s last sectional title: 1985

2016: (4-6 and 2-3, fifth in Valley Division)

Wood Field Stadium (Conant Street), which is

also now known as John Zappulla Field: Grass.

Grant, a high school head coach for the first time

here at Hillside, coached with his older brother Darnell

at Irvington in 2002 and 2006 and from 2012-2015

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.



Sept. 9 Rahway, 1 p.m.

Sept. 15 at New Providence, 7 p.m.

Sept. 23 Bernards, 1 p.m.

Sept. 29 vs. Roselle, 7 p.m., RRP

Oct. 6 at Johnson, 7 p.m.

Oct. 14 Dayton, 1 p.m.

Oct. 21 Delaware Valley, 1 p.m.

Oct. 27 at Cranford, 7 p.m.

Nov. 4 Brearley, 2 p.m.

Head coach: Barris Grant,

second season



(A) Rahway 26, Hillside 19

(H) Hillside 37, New Providence 16

(A) Bernards 24, Hillside 6

(H) Roselle 26, Hillside 0

(H) Hillside 27, Johnson 23

(A) Hillside 47, Dayton 0

(A) Delaware Valley 31, Hillside 6

(H) Cranford 49, Hillside 13

(A) Hillside 34, Brearley 0

(A) Verona 26, Hillside 20

Head coach: Barris Grant,

first season

Section: Central Jersey, Group 2

Conference: Mid-State 38

Division: Valley 2-3, fifth

Record: 4-6

Home: 2-2

Away: 2-4

Points for: 209

Points against: 221

Shutouts: 2

Overtime: 0-0