Union football preview: Farmers seek breakout season to be remembered

UNION – It’s now been 20 years since the Farmers have won a state championship.

None of the present players were even born yet when Union last captured North 2, Group 4 for a record 10th time in 1993.

It’s been 10 years since the Farmers reached a state championship game. Union played in the N2, G4 final for the 14th time in 2003.

It’s been five years since the Farmers won a playoff game. Union defeated visiting Elizabeth in the 2008 N2, G4 quarterfinals and then lost at eventual champion Piscataway in the semifinals.

It’s been 21 years since the Farmers went undefeated. The 1992 team, which included present assistant coach Carmen Marano as a starting lineman, repeated as N2, G4 champions with a second straight 11-0 mark.

Union used to be the big-school standard in Union County and northern New Jersey. Seasons that included no losses and state championships were once the norm.

That hasn’t been the case for awhile.

Union came close to winning a state championship 10 years ago and just four years ago was 7-0 before losing standout senior running back Isaiah McLean to a season-ending injury.

With one of the top returning senior running back combos in the area in halfback Jamauri Bogan and fullback Jabree Robertson, a top-notch offensive lineman in senior Uchenna Egwuonwu and a standout senior defensive back in Agbai Iroha, Union is strongly considered one of the top teams in North 2, Group 5 and the Delaware Division of the Mid-State 38 Conference.

But can the Farmers finally put it all together?

It’s been a long time since they have.

“We want to win a state championship and be the best team in Union County,” said Bogan, a Western Michigan commit who has rushed for a school-record 4,560 yards, including two 1,000-plus yard seasons and one 2,000-plus yard campaign. “We want to have a season like Elizabeth had last year.”

Elizabeth went 11-0 last year and captured the first North 2, Group 5 championship, defeating defending N2, G4 champ Piscataway in the final. The Minutemen would have finished 12-0 for the first time had Hurricane Sandy not wiped out a regular season game against a Plainfield team that ended up finishing 0-9.

Instead, Elizabeth went undefeated for the second time in the playoff era and posted its first 11-0 record since finishing No. 1 in New Jersey in 1989.

Union has the potential to succeed on a higher level than last year’s 5-4 finish that saw the Farmers ousted for the second straight season in the N2, G4 quarterfinals.

“We have to continue to work hard, play fast, be unselfish and never let up,” said Bogan, who sustained an ankle injury in last year’s loss at Elizabeth in week two.

Bogan is 100 percent healthy and ready to go. The only statistic he is interested in is being one of the Union players who gets to hoist the N2, G5 championship trophy in December.

For all the yards Bogan has rushed for, he has not yet experienced winning a single playoff game.

“Being remembered in this town is not just making the playoffs,” Bogan said. “You get remembered by winning a state championship. That’s the goal. That’s what the standard should be.”

Leading this Union team is first-year head coach Lou Grasso Jr., who was the offensive coordinator at Union when Brian Sheridan was the head coach. Grasso served as a head coach for the first time the past three seasons at Roselle, leading the Rams to two winning records and two playoff appearances.

Last year’s interim head coach, once Sheridan gave a leave of absence at the start of official practice last August, and the offensive coordinator his first year at Union in 2011 was Dominic Cuniglio. The former Kean assistant  and 1993 Steinert graduate has moved on to become the offensive coordinator at Nottingham on the staff of head coach Jon Adams.

Nottingham captured Central Jersey, Group 3 last year with an 11-1 record and this season moved up to CJ, G4.

Grasso, a 1993 Colonia grad who went on to play at Rutgers, realizes how demanding the division Union competes in and how challenging the section is. If the Farmers win, everything will be okay. If they don’t, the grumbling will continue.

“This is a big challenge and there’s a lot of work to do,” said Grasso when he was hired back in April. “The section we’re in is brutal, with a lot of tough teams that are really well-coached.”

Also coming to Union from the Roselle staff were Grasso’s brother Dan, who is the defensive coordinator, and Rich Kondrk, who coaches the quarterbacks, defensive ends and is the special teams coordinator.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself to be prepared,” Grasso said. “I took this job just as I took the Roselle job three years ago – proud and excited. I will attack it the same way.”

Replacing three-year starter Doug Carter at quarterback is senior Diego Rios.

“Diego’s a hard-worker and very athletic,” Grasso said. “He’s learning the offense and has pretty good arm strength.”

Robertson, like Bogan, is capable of breaking any play he touches the ball for six points.

“He’s an extremely complete back,” Grasso said. “He’s a hard-worker, tough and a quiet leader.

“He’s a hard-nosed runner who finds the gaps. He also has pretty good speed in the open field.”

Egwuonu is a Division 1-A candidate who is the left guard on offense and who will also play defense this year as one of the tackles.

“He’s a raw, big, strong kid, one of the most physical,” Grasso said. “He has to sharpen his skills.”

Iroha, considered one of the top free safeties in Union County, will also see time on offense at fullback.

“Agbai is a great leader by example for the other kids,” Grasso said. “The way he carries himself, you can tell he was raised right. He’s received three-to-four 1-AA offers.”

Last year Bogan broke the school’s all-time rushing record which was set by All-America Tony Stewart in 1985. Grasso gets the opportunity to coach Bogan for his final season.

“Jamauri’s a workaholic who loves the sport,” Grasso said. “He’s really been a big help to me since I got here. “He’s a perfectionist who strives to do more.

“Jamauri’s simply a special player.”

NOTES: Union football, which dates back to 1922, is now at 497 wins and counting.

Here’s what Dennis McCarthy of The Dennis McCarthy Report says about Egwuonwu, Bogan and Iroha, ranking the three among his Union County Top 10 this season for college-bound seniors:

2-Uchenna Egwuonwu, (6-4, 265), Union, OL: “He’s so athletic for a guy that size,” McCarthy said. “He’s Union’s left guard and pulls and leads the plays down field. He’s clearly a Division 1-A player.”

3-Jamauri Bogan, (5-7, 170), Union, RB-KR: “A game-breaker who can put points on the board and is also an outstanding kick returner,” McCarthy said. “The only negative on him are his injuries.”

10-Agbai Iroha, (5-10, 185), Union, DB: “Iroha’s a playmaker, a very active defensive back all over the field,” McCarthy said. “He’s a hard-nosed player who provides excellent coverage.”

Iroha and Bogan were two of Union’s four captains in 2012.

Here is Bogan’s three-season yardage and touchdowns breakdown:

2010: freshman season: 1,100 yards, 17 touchdowns

2011: sophomore season: school-record 2,260 yards, 27 touchdowns

258 carries for 8.76 average – NJ Gatorade Player of the Year

2012: junior season: 1,200 yards, 17 touchdowns

Totals: 4,560 yards, school record; 61 touchdowns, school record

 

UNION’S MULTIPLE OFFENSE:

74-LT Moses Jean-Louis, senior, (6-3,245)

78-LG Uchenna Egwuonwu, senior, (6-3, 280)

67-C George Quintero, senior, (5-10, 245)

72-RT Vladimir Valmir, senior, (6-0, 275)

52-RG Robert Skinner, senior, (5-10, 220)

2-TE Lance Lee, senior, (5-11, 185)

3-WR Gabe Rios, senior, (6-0, 190)

17-WR Travon Gravenhise, senior, (6-3, 195)

1-QB Diego Rios, senior, (6-0, 190)

32-RB Jamauri Bogan, senior, (5-7, 170)

5-FB Jabree Robertson, senior, (5-10, 200)

Returning starters: (4) Egwuonwu,

Quintero, Bogan, Robertson.

BACKUPS:

71-OL Darren Ransome, senior, (6-0, 265)

58-OL Mike Seraquaze, junior, (6-1, 235)

9-WR Terrance Cajuste, senior, (6-2, 180)

10-WR Frank Brewer, senior, (5-8, 155)

6-RB Maurice Francis, junior, (5-9, 180)

21-FB Agbai Iroha, senior, (5-11, 200)

 

UNION’S 4-4 DEFENSE:

58-E Mike Seraquaize, junior, (6-1, 235)

2-E Lance Lee, senior, (5-11, 185)

78-T Uchenna Egwuonwu, senior, (6-3, 280)

94-T Kameren Stowe, senior, (6-1, 275)

5-OLB Jabree Robertson, senior, (5-10, 200)

4-MLB Randall Laguerre, senior, (6-2, 215)

52-MLB Robert Skinner, senior, (5-10, 220)

28-OLB Ali Shehaiber, senior, (6-0, 200)

24-CB Demetrius Gresham, senior, (5-10, 185)

21-FS Agbai Iroha, senior, (5-11, 200)

7-CB Brice Nazaire, senior, (5-9, 155)

Returning starters (3): Robertson,

Laguerre, Iroha.

BACKUPS:

51-E Robensky Edouard, senior, (6-2, 245)

29-OLB Oliver Hyppolite, senior, (5-10, 195)

 

UNION FARMERS

Head coach: Lou Grasso Jr.

A 1993 Colonia graduate.

First season.

Conference: Mid-State 38

Division: Raritan

Section: North 2, Group 5

Union’s last sectional title: 1993

2012: (5-4 and 4-2 in Raritan Division-third)

Cooke Memorial Field: Field Turf

Grasso’s three-season record as head coach

at Roselle from 2010-2012 was 15-15 (.500).

He led the Rams to the CJ, G2 playoffs in 2010

and a 7-3 record and to the N2, G2 playoffs

in 2011 and a 6-4 mark. Last year’s squad finished 2-8.

 

UNION FARMERS 2013

Sept. 12 at Bridgewater-Raritan, 7 p.m.

Sept. 20 Elizabeth, 7 p.m.

Oct. 4 Phillipsburg, 7 p.m.

Oct. 12 at Westfield, 2 p.m.

Oct. 18 at Hillsborough, 7 p.m.

Oct. 25 Franklin, 7 p.m.

Nov. 2 at Plainfield, 2 p.m.

Nov. 8 Hunterdon Central, 7 p.m.

Nov. 27 at Linden, 7 p.m.

Head coach: Lou Grasso Jr.,

first season

 

2012 UNION FARMERS (5-4)

(H) Union 48, Bridgewater-Raritan 7

(A) Elizabeth 42, Union 7

(A) Union 24, Phillipsburg 21

(H) Union 35, Westfield 23

(H) Union 28, Hillsborough 24

(A) Franklin 26, Union 13

(H) Union 42, Plainfield 6

Nov. 2, 10 – at Hunterdon Central

Cancelled because of Hurricane Sandy.

(A) Franklin 38, Union 14

(H) Linden 31, Union 27

Head coach: Dominic Cuniglio,

(acting) first season.

Section: North 2, Group 5

Conference: Mid-State 38

Division: Delaware 4-2

Record: 5-4

Home: 4-1

Away: 1-3

Points for: 238

Points against: 218

Shutouts: 0

Overtime: 0-0

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