UNION – As the years move forward the number increases.
Amazing to some, it’s now been 26 years since the Farmers last won a state championship.
In the late 1970s, throughout the 1980s and in the early 1990s Union winning North 2, Group 4 was almost as automatic as death and taxes.
None of the present Union football players were even close to being born the last time the Farmers achieved their ultimate goal – in December of 1993.
Head coach Lou Grasso, Jr. had just graduated from Colonia High School six months earlier and was embarking on a collegiate playing career at Rutgers, where he later lettered in 1996.
For the fourth time in his first six seasons at the helm of the Farmers Grasso has guided Union to at least the semifinals of the North 2, Group 5 playoffs.
Last year’s squad was the latest to reach that destination. Union traveled to Hudson County to face Union City in a battle of the only two football schools in the state that begin with the letter U.
Union had the ball inside the UC five-yard line twice in the first half, but was unable to punch it in. The host soaring Eagles did get in the end zone twice for a 14-0 halftime edge. Union City then dominated the second half en route to a convincing 46-6 triumph.
Although it was unlikely anyone was going to beat Piscataway last year – the Chiefs at home downed UC 28-7 to win the section for the first time – it was another year, another opportunity when it just didn’t happen for Union.
The opening game comeback victory in overtime at home over Linden and the final minute victory at Phillipsburg – in addition to the first-round playoff triumph in the dark at home over Elizabeth – could be talked about fondly, but not in the sense of those wins leading Union to the promised land.
Union is back at it again this year and some think the Farmers might have what it takes as they seek to create another opportunity.
One thing is for sure. They may possess one of the most lethal quarterback-wide receiver combos in the state, which includes seniors Andrew Sanborn at QB and Rutgers commit Ahmirr Robinson at end.
“We look pretty good on both sides of the ball,” Sanborn said. “We lost a couple of starters from last year, they graduated, but the people that replaced them are just as good if not better in my opinion, so I think we have a really good opportunity to do what we want to do this year and get it done.”
Robinson is sure to use the Union City game as motivation throughout the season.
“I had a lot of mental errors in that game that a lot of people saw and having that feeling (of losing) will motivate me to make me want to get back there again.”
“We’re all used to it, exciting as it is, to have Andrew and Ahmirr,” Grasso said. “They are both special players. They are leaders and great kids and part of our program.”
Sanborn is closing in on 5,000 yards passing. He is a three-year starter at quarterback and four-year starter at punter.
“I think Andrew is as good as any quarterback in the state and Ahmirr is as good as any receiver in the state,” Grasso said. “We’re confident in their ability and now we just have to figure out how to put them in the best situations as possible to be successful.”
Sanborn displayed the ability to rally Union late in games against top-notch competition last season, first Linden at home in the opener and then at Phillipsburg. He also helped guide Union to its comeback playoff win at home over Elizabeth.
“I think his physical abilities have always been there,” said Grasso, who fully expects Sanborn to be playing somewhere in college next season. “His biggest growth is mentally as far as learning the position and being more of a game general.
“He’s still got things that drive you nuts from time to time, but he’s getting better and better with decision-making and understanding what we want from him. He knows what I want and I know what I have in him.”
Christian Murrell, a senior, and junior Diante Wilson are the running backs, with Grasso offering high praise for the pre-season Wilson produced.
Grasso likes where his team is now.
“We had a good pre-season and are relatively healthy,” Grasso said.
Did the season-ending playoff loss at Union City leave a bad taste?
“You can’t dwell too much on one game, but it’s something you can point to any time guys are lacking effort or any time there is a lull in activities.
“We can say that we went through that last year and had our stuff right in front of us and didn’t take advantage of it. It can be sort of a rallying cry.”
Grasso is high on his set of defensive backs, which includes two seniors, a sophomore and a junior.
“We have Desmond Igbinosun at strong safety, a junior, and his brother Davison, a sophomore, at cornerback,” Grasso said. “We also have seniors Kayir McBride at safety and Tre Noelsaint at the other corner. McBride and Noelsaint are four-year starters.
“They’re talented, they run and they have a chip on their shoulder. They want to play. I think it’s as good of a secondary as we’ve had here.”
Up front at tackle is senior D’Shawn Etienne (6-1, 350), one of four returning starters on defense.
“He’s a big guy, very tough to move,” Grasso said.
Union, Elizabeth and Linden all shared the Mid-State Conference’s Watchung Division title last year – with 4-1 records – with Union beating Linden, Elizabeth beating Union and then Linden beating Elizabeth.
On its schedule, Union traded playing one state champion – Phillipsburg – for playing another – Sayreville – this year.
“We know it’s going to be tough, we just take it week by week,” Grasso said. “We understand that if we want to be in the conversation as one of the better public schools in the state this is who we’re going to have to play.”
Before embarking on its always-challenging Watchung Division slate, Union opens Saturday at Rutgers vs. Curtis of Staten Island. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.
“I heard they are a good program and we’re just preparing for everything,” Sanborn said. “We watched film on them. We don’t know them, we know us, so – hopefully – we’ll come out with a win.
“Playing at Rutgers is something not a lot of people get to do.”
“I think they equate to a Group 4,” Grasso said. “They are really talented.
“They have a young running back who is a stud with a bunch of offers and only a sophomore. Their quarterback is back.
“They play a good brand of football. They’re aggressive. We just have to hope that we can battle their aggression when we meet.”
Robinson will get a chance to play right away at the college he is seeking to excel at in the future.
“I’m grateful for the position that I’m in and that we get a chance to play at Rutgers so a lot of people can see what kind of team we have,” Robinson said.
“We’re going to go out there and put on a show for New Jersey.”
UNION’S MULTIPLE OFFENSE:
LT Terrell Cannon, junior, (6-3, 240)
LG Chiemela Onuegbu, senior, (6-0, 210)
C Khari Parker, senior, (6-2, 295)
RG Malachi Pierre-Louis, senior, (6-1, 250)
RT Jared Durand, senior, (6-2, 275)
Warren Francis, junior, (6-0, 245)
QB Andrew Sanborn, senior, (5-11, 185)
RB Christian Murrell, senior, (5-10, 180)
HB Diante Wilson, junior, (5-11, 195)
WR Aaron Myrick, senior, (5-8, 190)
WR Ahmirr Robinson, senior, (6-3, 190)
WR Desmond Igbinosun, junior, (6-3, 195)
WR Kayir McBride, senior, (5-9, 170)
WR Elijah White, junior, (5-8-150)
WR Jalen Carter, junior, (6-1, 180)
PK Ricardo Casas, senior, (5-10, 180)
Returning starters (6): Onuegbu, Durand,
Sanborn, Murrell, Myrick and Robinson.
UNION’S 4-3 DEFENSE:
E Terrell Cannon, junior, (6-3, 240)
E Chris Williams, junior, (6-3, 230)
E Chiemela Onuegbu, senior, (6-0, 210)
T D’Shawn Etienne, senior, (6-1, 350)
T JaQuan Robinson, senior, (6-0, 280)
T Jared Durand, senior, (6-2, 275)
LB Diante Wilson, junior, (5-11, 195)
LB Charles Ozurumba, senior, (5-11, 230)
LB Aaron Myrick, senior, (5-8, 190)
LB Darius Presley, senior, (5-9, 210)
CB Christian Murrell, senior, (5-10, 180)
CB Kofi Ansah, senior, (6-1, 180)
CB Davison Igbinosun, sophomore, (6-1, 180)
CB Tre Noelsaint, senior, (5-9, 170)
SS Desmond Igbinosun, junior, (6-3, 195)
S Kayir McBride, senior, (5-9, 170)
P Andrew Sanborn, senior, (5-11, 185)
Returning starters (6): Etienne, Robinson,
Myrick, Murrell, McBride, Noelsaint.
UNION FARMERS 2019
Sept. 7 Curtis, SI at Rutgers, 3:30 p.m.
Sept. 13 at Elizabeth, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 at Westfield, 1 p.m.
Sept. 27 Plainfield, 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 at Watchung Hills, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 at Linden, 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 Hunterdon Central, 7 p.m.
Oct. 25 at Bridgewater-Raritan, 7 p.m.
Nov. 1 Sayreville, 7 p.m.
Head coach: Lou Grasso, Jr.,
2018 UNION FARMERS (8-3)
(H) Union 14, Linden 7 (OT)
(H) Elizabeth 28, Union 14
(A) Union 42, Plainfield 12
(A) Union 34, Phillipsburg 24
(A) Union 27, South Brunswick 14
(H) Union 21, Westfield 7
(A) Union 28, Hunterdon Central 10
(H) Union 42, Watchung Hills 14
(H) Bridgewater-Raritan 21, Union 19
(H) Union 28, Elizabeth 17
(A) Union City 46, Union 6
Head coach: Lou Grasso, Jr.,
Section: North, Group 5
Conference: Mid-State 36
Division: Watchung, 4-1, tri-champs
Points for: 275
Points against: 200
Head Coach: Lou Grasso Jr., since 2013.
A 1993 Colonia graduate.
Seventh season: 35-30 (.539)
Conference: Mid-State 37
Section: North, Group 5
Union’s last sectional title: 1993
2018: (8-3 and 4-1, tied for first in Watchung Division)
Cooke Memorial Field: Turf.
Grasso has guided Union to the North 2, Group 5 semifinals four times in his first
six 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).