CRANFORD – When your quarterback is hungry and healthy and ready to prove himself again, that’s a good thing.
Junior signal-caller Conner Katz came back earlier than expected last year from an arm injury and now he is ready to lead the Cougars to a special season.
“He’s looked very good so far and he also hit a bit of a growth spurt,” head coach Erik Rosenmeier said. “He’s bigger and stronger than last year.”
Katz started Cranford’s first two games last year before going down. He came back later in the year and saw limited action.
“He’s worked hard in the weight room and gained a lot of experience at camps,” Rosenmeier said. “He wants to be a really good high school quarterback.
“We didn’t expect him to come back last year. He’s worked really hard to be back.”
Katz is a dual threat QB for sure, with teams needing to be very careful in their plan to contain him.
“He might be a pass-first guy, but I think he runs very well,” Rosenmeier said. “He has a very strong arm and he’s certainly a student of the game.”
Rosenmeier said that senior James Shriner is one of the best athletes in the school.
“He’s, obviously, proven himself on the baseball diamond,” Rosenmeier said. “He’s gotten a lot of looks at the FCS level (which is the second highest level behind FBS) and Division 2 people really like him.
“He’s faster than most people realize. He’s a big kid who can have success in both sports (baseball and football).
“He’s big enough to run you over and fast enough to run away from you. He’s a very physical runner, with surprisingly good speed.”
Providing the necessary blocking up front for skill players such as Katz and Shriner is an offensive line that includes returning starters Patrick Blowe, Matt Savino and Dan Wessolock.
“As a whole the offensive line is one of our strongest units,” Rosenmeier said. “We have three guys there that started last year and we filled in with two other solid guys and others fighting for playing time.
“We can do that with our experience; we have big guys that should be able to push people off the ball so that we will be able to run and pass.
“When we’ve been our best we’ve been balanced going back to 2014 and 2015.
Key players from those championship and runner-up years include Pennsylvania college standouts Will Fries at Penn State, Jack Schetelich at Villanova and Luke Christiano at Lehigh.
“We’ve had a good run of kids who are now excelling in college,” Rosenmeier said. “I don’t think it initially occurred to them that they would be playing football somewhere else. It’s all good stuff.”
Defensively, Cranford – the unit once again led by experienced coordinator Joe Hubert – has a chance to be very good according to Rosenmeier.
“Joe and the rest of the defensive staff do a great job,” Rosenmeier said. “We played really well on defense at times last year, but have to be more consistent.
“We were very good against the run last year and so far this year we have really worked on our technique and schemes for defending the pass better.”
Senior Rob Schork returns on the line at end, while all three linebackers – all seniors – return, including Chris Giuditta, Owen Ballweg and Ahmed Rasheed.
Shriner at strong safety, senior Matt Doran at strong safety and senior cornerback Dante Cassaro return in the secondary.
“We’re much more experienced this year, with the potential for several of our kids to become college football players,” Rosenmeier said. “Schork, Shriner, Doran, Ballweg and Blowe all have people interested in them – maybe not at the scholarship level, but some at Division 2 or 3.”
Schork, who last winter was a Union County champion wrestler for the first time and who also qualified for the NJSIAA Tournament after placing second in Region 4 at 220 pounds, is rated high among area gridiron standouts.
“I think Rob is an excellent defensive player,” Rosenmeier said. “In the past we’ve had offensive players that people had to game-plan for.
“Rob may be one of the few defensive players we’ve had here that people are going to have to account for. They had to account for him last year.
“He’s a matchup problem at 230 pounds, but athletic enough to play on offense at slot for us. He returned a kickoff for a touchdown last year (vs. Parsippany Hills in state tournament game).”
Schork is one of 27 seniors in the program this year which is the most Rosenmeier has ever hard. Rosenmeier also reported that there are 73 kids total in grades 10-12. There are another 25 freshmen.
“This senior class kind of hung together and stayed out for football,” Rosenmeier said.
The last two years have been winning, playoff seasons for Cranford, but first-round exits. The Cougars have produced eight straight winning seasons and seven consecutive playoff campaigns – so finishing with a winning record and making the state playoffs is practically expected now.
“As coaches, we’re all miserable, we’re never happy,” Rosenmeier said.
He did say that he was happy the days his 2011 and 2015 teams won state championships – both at Kean, the first one during the day and the second one at night.
“Every coach wants his team to have a great sense of urgency,” Rosenmeier said. “The kids think that they have all the time in the world, but we as coaches know they don’t. We have to have a sense of urgency in practice and make them realize that every play counts.”
Cranford has had only two sub-.500 seasons and just one .500 campaign during Rosenmeier’s first 13 years at the helm of the Cougars. He is six wins shy of 100.
“I’m proud of all my teams,” Rosenmeier said. “What I’m most proud of at Cranford is that the kids care about one another, the town they play in and playing for one another.
“That’s what makes coaching at Cranford special, the kids are there for their teammates and their town and it’s important to them to win and work hard and act right.
“As long as it stays like that and they’ll have me I want to stay here. So far it feels like it’s gone by fast, but it’s something that I’ve enjoyed since the beginning.
“There have been a lot of layers to our success and families putting effort into it. We can’t forget that we have to keep moving forward.
“Cranford is a good place to work and there are a lot of good people in the community.”
CRANFORD’S SPREAD OFFENSE:
RG Patrick Blowe, junior, (6-2, 295)
LG Matt Savino, senior, (6-2, 300)
G Michael Conrad, senior, (6-2, 265)
C Eric Young, senior, (5-11, 205)
C Dan Swanson, senior, (6-2, 190)
RT Sam Caminos, senior, (6-2, 225)
LT Dan Wessolock, senior, (6-0, 225)
RT Zach Blevins, senior, (6-3, 215)
QB Connor Katz, junior, (6-2, 205)
TB James Shriner, senior, (6-2, 205)
TB Cole Zuckerman, senior, (5-6, 170)
SLOT Michael Kalnins, junior, (5-10, 175)
SLOT Rob Schork, senior, (6-4, 230)
SLOT Anthony DeCostello, junior, (6-2, 195)
WR Chuck Fabian, senior, (6-4, 190)
WR Thomas Korzeneski, junior, (6-2, 185)
WR Cole Blazek, junior, (6-2, 180)
WR Steven Shore, senior, (6-1, 175)
PK Jack McAleavey, senior, (6-0, 170)
Returning starters (5): Savino, Wessolock,
Blowe, Katz, Korzeneski.
CRANFORD’S 3-3 DEFENSE:
NG Patrick Blowe, junior, (6-2, 295)
NG Dan Wessolock, senior, (6-0, 225)
E Rob Schork, senior, (6-4, 230)
E Zach Blevins, senior, (6-3, 215)
E Anthony DeCostello, junior, (6-2, 195)
E David Simpson, senior, (5-11, 200)
MLB Chris Giuditta, senior, (5-10, 195)
MLB Matt Coates, sophomore, (6-0, 190)
SLB Owen Ballweg, senior, (6-2, 215)
WLB Ahmad Rasheed, senior, (5-10, 190)
WLB Kevin Keough, sophomore, (5-11, 180)
WLB Dan Librera, sophomore, (5-10, 170)
SS James Shriner, senior, (6-2, 205)
SS Matt Doran, senior, (6-0, 195)
S Jamelle Harper, senior, (5-10, 165)
S Jake Chapman, sophomore, (6-1, 175)
CB Dante Cassaro, senior, (5-11, 175)
CB Michael Kalnins, junior, (5-10, 175)
CB Owen Dowd, senior, (6-0, 175)
PK Jack McAleavey, senior, (6-0, 170)
Returning starters (7): Schork, Giuditta,
Ballweg, Rasheed, Shriner, Doran,
CRANFORD COUGARS 2018
Sept. 7 at North Plainfield, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14 Gov. Livingston, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 Rahway, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 Voorhees, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5 at Somerville, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 Summit, 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 at Immaculata, 7 p.m.
Oct. 27 at Hillside, 7 p.m.
Head coach: Erik Rosenmeier,
2017 CRANFORD COUGARS (6-4)
(A) Somerville 36, Cranford 16
(A) Voorhees 35, Cranford 0
(H) Cranford 24, Rahway 14
(A) Cranford 28, North Plainfield 6
(A) Cranford 43, Scotch Plains 42 (2OT)
(H) Summit 31, Cranford 13
(A) Cranford 38, Gov. Livingston 0
(H) Cranford 34, Hillside 21
(H) Cranford 28, Delaware Valley 18
(A) Parsippany Hills 48, Cranford 21
Head coach: Erik Rosenmeier,
Section: North 2, Group 3
Conference: Mid-State 38
Division: Mountain, 3-2
Points for: 245
Points against: 251
Head coach: Erik Rosenmeier, since 2005.
A 1983 Johnson Regional graduate.
14th season: 94-46 (.671)
Conference: Mid-State 36
Section: North, Group 4
Cranford’s last sectional title: 2015
2017: (6-4 and 3-2, third in Mountain Division)
Rosenmeier first guided Cranford to six straight
non-playoff seasons (2005-2010) and now seeks to
lead the Cougars to an eighth consecutive playoff
campaign. Cranford is 9-5 in the playoffs the last
seven seasons, the first five of those in N2, G3.
In that span Cranford reached the N2, G3 semifinals
five times, the final three times and won it twice
(2011 and 2015). Those are the program’s two
state championships in the playoff era. Cranford lost
in the Central Jersey, Group 3 quarterfinals in 2016
and the North 2, Group 3 quarterfinals in 2017.