UNION – After a “What If” season that included three straight one-point losses – the third one in overtime – the Farmers are anxious to pummel opponents this time and leave no doubt about it.
Union possesses a strong passing attack behind returning junior quarterback Andrew Sanborn and senior wide receiver Isaiah Stewart, a Scotch Plains transfer who caught 75 passes for 975 yards – a 13-yard average – a year ago.
Stewart’s father Tony – a 1986 UHS graduate – is considered to be the best football player to ever come out of Union. His No. 41 was retired in 2003.
Sanborn has two other quality wide receivers to get the ball to including returning junior Ahmirr Robinson and sophomore Jalen Carter.
“It was frustrating to score and then not finish it off with a kick,” Sanborn said. “We’ve moved on this year.”
Sanborn now has a year under his belt and a receiving corps he already feels very in sync with.
“I’m a lot more comfortable than I was last year,” Sanborn said. “The experience of feeling things is there and the game has also kind of slowed down for me a bit.”
Union averaged three touchdowns a game last year, but there is potential to get the ball in the end zone even more this fall.
“I’ve been working on everything to perfect my craft,” Sanborn said. “That includes throwing on the run, keeping my shoulders down and reads.”
From a won-loss standpoint Stewart is very excited to have the opportunity to play his final season at Union.
“The atmosphere here is way different,” Stewart said. “There is a winning mentality.”
Scotch Plains went 1-9 in each of its last three seasons, winning only season-ending consolation games. The last year Scotch Plains won a game other than a consolation one was 2014.
“The vibes here are totally different,” Stewart said.
Stewart, who wears No. 2, is fully aware of what he can do and how he can also guide players below him in grade.
“I have to show leadership and be able to show the younger receivers things like running routes, staying crisp and bouncing back from dropping a pass and getting ready to catch the next one,” Stewart said.
Sixth-year head coach Lou Grasso, Jr. has seven returning starters on offense and eight on defense, so this is by no means a rebuilding season.
“We’ve had our ups and downs in the pre-season, but we’re healthy and have more depth,” Grasso said.
Union’s passing attack looked sharp in its home game-scrimmage vs. Summit.
“Andrew has the chance to be a special player,” Grasso said. “We’ll need to protect him.
“I think Robinson can be a breakout receiver. All of our receivers are pretty good.”
The lead running back is returning senior Justin Peterman, who is primed to show people more of what he can do.
“He had a great off-season, is big and strong and works very hard,” Grasso said. “He has a better understanding of the offense as well.”
Senior linebacker Michel Lucien is one of Union’s leaders on defense.
“He’s our signal-caller there, so he has a lot of responsibility,” Grasso said.
“We’re looking for tackles for losses and completing sacks,” Lucien said. “Everyone needs to complete their roles and do the little things.”
Lucien is also Union’s fullback in its multiple scheme offense.
Jacqu’e Cook, a two-way starter, is a transfer from Paramus Catholic, where he played the last two seasons. From Union, he moved back for his senior year. He played his freshman season at St. Joseph’s, Montvale.
Cook is a running back on offense and safety on defense.
“He’s a fast, aggressive kid that grasps his roles well,” Grasso said.
Sean Simmons is a first-year starter at defensive end.
“Sean has come a long way and didn’t miss a lift all year,” Grasso said.
For the first time since 2001 Union will play Linden before Thanksgiving. The Union County rivals open against each other Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. at Union’s Cooke Memorial Field.
Union defeated Linden 22-19 at Linden’s Cooper Field the night before Thanksgiving last year, with Union finishing 4-6 and Linden 5-5. Linden qualified for the playoffs in North 2, Group 4 while Union didn’t in North 2, Group 5.
Union won its final two games last year, while Linden lost its last two.
This is a rare year where Union opens with consecutive home games against Linden and Elizabeth.
Linden’s second game will be its-home opener against Westfield, with that being the first game of the season for the Blue Devils. Westfield will enter with a state-leading 37-game winning streak.
“Having our first game before school starts puts a different spin on pre-season,” Grasso said.
Grasso is a 1993 Colonia grad and Linden head coach Al Chiola a 1992 Colonia grad, so they go back a ways.
“It will be kind of weird not finishing up with Linden,” Grasso said.
As far as qualifying for the now North, Group 5 playoffs, Grasso – like many coaches – has no clue what will count and what will not count toward playoff qualification.
“If we win more than we lose we should be fine,” Grasso said.
When Lucien, Sanborn and Stewart were asked to name a theme for this upcoming 2018 Union Farmers football season the consensus was: “just grinding and winning. Be tough.”
UNION’S MULTIPLE OFFENSE:
T Jared Durand, junior, (6-1, 290)
G Excellent Asare, senior, (6-1, 285)
C Chiemela Onuegbu, junior, (5-11, 200)
T Chris Nelson, senior, (6-1, 210)
G Ernesto Hernandez, senior, (6-1, 225)
QB Andrew Sanborn, junior, (5-11, 180)
RB Justin Peterman, senior, (6-0, 190)
RB Christian Murrell, junior, (5-10, 170)
RB Jacqu’e Cook, senior, (5-10, 190)
FB Michel Lucien, senior, (6-1, 220)
WR Isaiah Stewart, senior, (6-2, 180)
WR Ahmirr Robinson, junior, (6-3, 185)
WR Jalen Carter, sophomore, (6-1, 180)
SLOT Aaron Myrick, junior, (5-9, 180)
PK Ricardo Casas, junior (5-10, 178)
Returning starters (7): Asare, Sanborn,
Peterman, Murrell, Lucien, Robinson,
UNION’S 4-3 DEFENSE:
E Ernesto Hernandez, senior, (6-1, 225)
T JaQuan Robinson, junior, (5-11, 285)
T D’Shawn Etienne, junior, (6-0, 345)
E Sean Simmons, senior, (6-1, 220)
LB Michel Lucien, senior, (6-1, 220)
LB Isaiah Martinez, senior, (5-11, 215)
LB Justin Peterman, senior, (6-0, 190)
CB Aaron Myrick, junior, (5-9, 180)
CB Camil Lewis, senior, (5-10, 165)
CB Ahmirr Robinson, junior, (6-3, 185)
CB Lonell King, senior, (5-10, 175)
S Jacqu’e Cook, senior, (5-10, 190)
S Isaiah Stewart, senior, (6-2, 180)
S Christian Murrell, junior, (5-10, 170)
P Andrew Sanborn, junior, (5-11, 180)
Returning starters (8): Robinson, Lucien,
Martinez, Peterman, Myrick, Lewis, King,
UNION FARMERS 2018
Aug. 31 Linden, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7 Elizabeth, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 at Plainfield, 1 p.m.
Sept. 21 at Phillipsburg, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 at South Brunswick, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5 Westfield, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 at Hunterdon Central, 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 Watchung Hills, 7 p.m.
Oct. 26 Bridgewater-Raritan, 7 p.m.
Head coach: Lou Grasso, Jr,
2017 UNION FARMERS (4-6)
(A) Union 34, Watchung Hills 17
(H) Union 28, Plainfield 13
(A) Elizabeth 42, Union 26
(H) Westfield 7, Union 6
(A) Franklin 14, Union 13
(H) Ridge 37, Union 36 (OT)
(A) Bridgewater-Raritan 28, Union 13
(H) Hunterdon Central 24, Union 21
(A) Union 28, Hackensack 7
(A) Union 22, Linden 19
Head coach: Lou Grasso, Jr.,
Section: North 2, Group 5
Conference: Mid-State 38
Division: Watchung, 3-3
Points for: 227
Points against: 208
Head Coach: Lou Grasso Jr., since 2013.
A 1993 Colonia graduate.
Sixth season: 27-27 (.500)
Conference: Mid-State 36
Section: North, Group 5
Union’s last sectional title: 1993
2017: (4-6 and 3-3, tied for second in Watchung Division)
Cooke Memorial Field: Field Turf.
Grasso has guided Union to the North 2, Group 5
semifinals three times in his first five seasons at the helm
of the Farmers. Grasso was previously an assistant coach
at Union before becoming the head coach at Roselle,
where he was also previously an assistant. Grasso was
the head coach at Roselle for three seasons in
2010 (7-3, playoffs), 2011 (6-4, playoffs) and 2012 (2-8).