LINDEN – One year Linden has six wins at the cutoff date and becomes the first squad with that many victories to not earn enough power points to qualify in North 2, Group 4 since the playoffs were expanded from four to eight teams in 1998.
Two years later, which was last season, the Tigers become the first team to qualify with just two wins – with the NJSIAA allowing teams under .500 to make it for the first time – and then come within two quarters of reaching their first state championship game in 27 years.
This year, for the first time, Linden moved up to North 2, Group 5 and is back in a section with familiar opposition such as Union, Elizabeth, Westfield and Piscataway.
Still a member of a Watchung Division that does not include any of the above teams, this may be Linden’s year to not only make the playoffs again but take that next step and reach the program’s first title contest since the Tigers captured their only playoff title in 1985 by winning North 2, Group 3.
While a talented backfield includes senior Dazzmen Johnson returning at quarterback and juniors Juwan Dolbrice – a 1,000-yard rusher last year – and Kyle Phipps – coming back after playing his sophomore season at Don Bosco Prep – at running back, sixth-year head coach Deon Candia is a bit more excited about a defense that returns seven starters.
“Right now our biggest strength is our defense, while our offense is trying to catch up,” Candia said. “Our defense has really jelled in our scrimmages.”
Candia calls senior middle linebacker and three-year starter Sha-Quan Champagne the “nucleus” of a 4-4 scheme that Linden switched to last season.
“He understands everything that goes on,” Candia said. “He’s a very good leader.”
Candia also said that Dolbrice has really worked hard on his defensive game at outside linebacker.
“He’s much more comfortable and athletic enough to shut down a short passing game,” Candia said.
Offensively, Dolbrice and Phipps highlight a 2-back spread offense. Another running back in the mix is sophomore Guirvenson Guillaume (5-10, 183).
“We asked Juwan to do a lot last year and he stayed healthy and did a really good job,” Candia said. “We won’t ask him to do as much offensively this year.
“Kyle coming back has made things a lot more competitive. All of our running backs are hard runners and smart. The right chemistry among them is there.”
Johnson is also a three-year starter at signal-caller and grasping an offense that at its best will spread the ball around and try to fool opposing defenses.
“Dazzmen’s decision-making has improved,” Candia said. “He’s also more of a leader.
“We switched up our offense to have a more balanced attack. Dazzmen also has a receiver in (senior) Tykir West who has good hands.”
Despite finishing with a sub-.500 record of 4-7 in 2012, Linden was right there, knocking on the door of the ultimate goal – winning a state championship.
“There was not a whole lot of motivating needed,” Candia said. “The kids realize their potential and the work ethic needed to accomplish the things they want to achieve.
“When we made the playoffs last year we were given a fresh start and the kids took advantage of the opportunity.”
LINDEN’S 2-BACK SPREAD OFFENSE:
C Max Burgos, junior, (5-10, 260)
G Wesley Clervoyant, senior, (6-0, 250)
T Abdul Shawir, senior, (6-3, 290)
G Tysean Sampson, senior, (5-10, 205)
T Quedner Saint-Louis, senior, (5-11, 215)
QB Dazzmen Johnson, senior, (6-0, 185)
WR Tykir West, senior, (6-0, 180)
WR Antoine Morgan, senior, (6-2, 165)
TE Kahlil Burns, junior, (6-1, 190)
RB Juwan Dolbrice, junior, (5-11, 180)
RB Kyle Phipps, junior, (5-8, 175)
PK Corey Ampey, junior, (5-10, 165)
Returning starters (5): Clervoyant, Shawir,
West, Johnson, Dolbrice.
LINDEN’S 4-4 DEFENSE:
E Khalil Burns, junior, (6-1, 190)
T Derrick Hendricks, senior, (6-0, 265)
T Wesley Clervoyant, senior, (6-0, 250)
E Justin Black-Orr, senior, (6-1, 180)
OLB Juwan Dolbrice, junior, (5-11, 180)
MLB Sha-Quan Champagne, senior, (5-8, 175)
MLB Tymir Hinton, junior, (6-0, 180)
OLB Tykir West, senior, (6-0, 180)
S Samad Starling, sophomore, (5-11, 165)
CB Izaia Bullock, senior, (5-10, 175)
CB Kyle Phipps, junior, (5-8, 175)
CB Derrick Saul, senior, (5-7, 160)
P Corey Ampey, junior, (5-10, 165)
Returning starters (7): Burns, Hendricks,
Clervoyant, Dolbrice, Champagne,
Head coach: Deon Candia, since 2008.
A 1991 Linden graduate.
Sixth season: 25-26 (.490)
Conference: Mid-State 38
Section: North 2, Group 5
Linden’s last sectional title: 1985
2012: (4-7 and 1-5 in Watchung Division-sixth)
Cooper Field: Field Turf
Candia guided Linden to the playoffs last year
for the first time and for the program’s first
time since 2006. The last two times Linden
reached the state playoffs – 2006 and 2012 –
the Tigers made it to the N2, G4 semifinals.
LINDEN TIGERS 2013
Sept. 12 North Hunterdon, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 Plainfield, 1 p.m.
Sept. 27 at Ridge, 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 at Montgomery, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 Immaculata, 7 p.m.
Oct. 25 at Elizabeth, 7 p.m.
Nov. 1 Watchung Hills, 7 p.m.
Nov. 8 at Bridgewater-Raritan, 7 p.m.
Nov. 27 Union, 7 p.m.
Head coach: Deon Candia,
2012 LINDEN TIGERS (4-7)
(A) North Hunterdon 13, Linden 12
(A) Linden 14, Plainfield 12
(H) Ridge 23, Linden 0
(H) Montgomery 24, Linden 14
(A) Immaculata 27, Linden 0
(H) Elizabeth 42, Linden 0
(A) Watchung Hills 35, Linden 21
(H) Linden 23, Bridgewater-Raritan 21
(A) Linden 19, Barringer 18
(A) Linden 31, Union 27
(A) Warren Hills 21, Linden 7
Head coach: Deon Candia,
Section: North 2, Group 4
Conference: Mid-State 38
Division: Watchung 1-5
Points for: 241
Points against: 263