Union County coaches Chiola at Linden and Williams at Roselle talk about the many twists and turns of upcoming 2018 campaign; Both open on road Aug. 31 and do not play on Thanksgiving this year

PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – Al Chiola, in his fourth year at the helm of the Linden Tigers, is preparing his team for its opener at Union on Aug. 31.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – Roselle head coach James Williams, at right, is in his sixth season at the helm of the Rams. His team plays four Middlesex County opponents this year, starting with its Aug. 31 season-opener at Bishop Ahr.

The start of the 2018 high school football season in New Jersey – one with many changes – kicks off one week from this Thursday – Aug. 30.

Union County squads begin to have their game-scrimmages this week, with Linden and Plainfield the first to have theirs, both scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 22.

Linden will scrimmage at Colonia, while Plainfield will host Perth Amboy.

Scrimmages scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 23 include New Providence at Parsippany at 11 a.m., Elizabeth at Phillipsburg at 4 p.m., Johnson at Voorhees at 6 p.m. and Gov. Livingston hosting Dover at 7 p.m.

The lone game-scrimmage scheduled for Friday, Aug. 24 is Summit at Union at 11 a.m.

It will be Union’s game-scrimmage, while Summit’s official game-scrimmage will be at Morristown on Aug. 30 at 11 a.m.

Eight of Union County’s 16 teams open the early week – Week Zero – with the other eight to commence play in two weeks – Week One.

The 2018 Union County football season will kick off in Berkeley Heights on Thursday, Aug. 30 when Johnson faces host Gov. Livingston in a 3 p.m. Mid-State 36 Conference battle at GL’s Frey Field.

Johnson remains in the Valley Division and GL in the Mountain Division.

There are now 36 schools in the Mid-State. The conference began with 39 in 2009, including North Warren.

North Warren dropped out after the 2011 season.

Pingry dropped out after the 2016 season.

Roselle Park is not included this season because it is not fielding a varsity team.

Here is the Mid-State 36 Conference for 2018:

Delaware Division (6 schools):

Bridgwater-Raritan, Phillipsburg, Franklin, Hillsborugh, Hunterdon Central, Ridge.

Mountain Division (6 schools):

Somerville, Cranford, Gov. Livingston, North Plainfield, Rahway, Voorhees.

Raritan Division (6 schools):

Montgomery, Warren Hills, Summit, Immaculata,

North Hunterdon, Scotch Plains.

Union Division (7 schools):

Belvidere, Bound Brook, Brearley, Dayton, Manville,

South Hunterdon, New Providence.

Valley Division (5 schools):

Bernards, Delaware Valley, Hillside, Johnson, Roselle.

Watchung Division (6 schools):

Linden, Elizabeth, Plainfield, Union, Watchung Hills, Westfield.

Two coaches that open next week – Roselle’s James Williams and Linden’s Al Chiola – offered their opinions on many of the twists and turns that are about to take place this season.

Both open Aug. 31 on the road – Roselle at Bishop Ahr and Linden at Union.

Here’s what Williams had to say about his school’s field – Arminio – his team’s schedule, the section that the Rams are in and the new playoff system:

Arminio Field is still in the process of getting field turf for the first time – Roselle will play its home games again at Rahway River Park: “Unknown right now. The field was supposed to be opened for Thanksgiving, but since we’re not playing (Roselle Park) on Thanksgiving, hopefully soon. By the end of September, they are telling me.”

Roselle’s four home dates are scheduled to be played at Rahway River Park’s field turf field, which opened in 2016. Williams said most likely that the Rams will play all of their home games at Rahway River Park for the second consecutive season.

“That is a possibility, yes,” Williams said. “The kids love it over there. It’s a nice field.”

Roselle plays twice as many Middlesex County opponents (4-Bishop Ahr, South River, Middlesex and Spotswood) than Union County foes (2-Hillside and Johnson).

“I don’t know how they did the schedule like that,” Williams said. “We’re a Union County school, so we would have liked to have played more Union County schools.

“The schedule is kind of fair. Middlesex County is next store. I like it.”

Roselle is in South 2, one of three Union County schools in the section. The other two are Hillside and Johnson, teams the Rams will play during the regular season.

“It’s a tough section from top to bottom,” Williams said. “Central Jersey, Group 2 was tough. This will be even tougher.”

Roselle reached the CJ, G2 semifinals in 2014 and 2016. The Rams have one state championship in the playoff era – winning North 2, Group 2 in 1989.

For the first time this year the state set it up so that there will be state championship games beyond the sectional finals.

“We have to try it out first,” Williams said. “Everything right now is on paper, with some people saying they like it and some saying they don’t.

“We have to try it out first and see how it goes before we can say whether we like it or not.”

Chiola, like Williams, will not be playing on Thanksgiving this year.

“I won’t miss it,” Williams said.

Union and Linden played each other on Thanksgiving or Thanksgiving weekend every year from 1932-1990.

Then they moved the game up so that both could have a chance to gain more power points for playoff qualification.

They began playing each other again on Thanksgiving after the state expanded the playoff sections from four to eight teams in 1998.

“This wasn’t an easy decision and not just a football decision,” Chiola said. “We talked with our athletic director and superintendent. We just thought it would benefit our program a little.

“I love playing and watching football on Thanksgiving. We need to play Union and have it count (toward playoff qualification). Both schools need the game.

“A couple of years ago we fell short (of making the playoffs in North 2, Group 5) by a couple of power points. It’s a big game for both.

“The rivalry is there, but we feel the game will have more of an impact played before Thanksgiving.

“Everyone loves Thanksgiving, but our goal is to win a state championship. In 2014 (when Linden won N2, G5) we played Union on Thanksgiving and then had to play a state championship game. It was the same for Union the year before, they had to play us on Thanksgiving and then get ready for a state championship game.

“It’s tough. Do you start your starters and risk injury?”

This year Linden was placed in North 4, along with two other Union County schools – Cranford and Scotch Plains. Linden doesn’t play either in the regular season.

“We do bounce around a bit, but I thought we would be in North 5 this year because of our schedule, we play mostly teams in Group 5 (Union, Westfield, Elizabeth, Plainfield, Watchung Hills and Ridge are in North 5 and Hillsborough and Franklin are in South 5),” Chiola said. “North 4 is a great section, there are a lot of really good programs there. You have Cranford now, which is tough.”

When Linden captured North 2, Group 5 four years ago it was the program’s first state championship in 29 years and only its second in the playoff era. Linden won North 2, Group 3 in 1985.

“We try to follow up on it, going to meetings and talking to other coaches,” Chiola said. “I don’t know the algorithm that calculates the points, the Born Index.

“All I know is that we just have to win games, but eventually we will have to look at it to see which teams we may have to scout. That part is totally up in the air.

“I’m in favor of playing to an eventual champion, but the difficult part is that the season really doesn’t start any earlier. We start Week Zero and really have only three-and-a-half weeks to prepare for our first opponent.

“There’s something about winning a sectional championship, which is a great opportunity for kids to have.”

Linden’s Middlesex County crossover opponent is North 3 school South Plainfield.

“We should all be playing each other,” Chiola said of scheduling Union County schools vs. Middlesex County schools this season.

The Mid-State and Greater Middlesex Conference will merge in 2021.

“There’s a lot of talent in Middlesex County, which I think is good,” Chiola said. “You’re never going to make every team happy in terms of schedule.

“You have to win your games and that’s it.”