CRANFORD – Not since 2008 have the Cougars had as few returning starters as they have this season.
There are only two on offense and just three on defense.
“That 2008 season we didn’t score until our fourth game,” said head coach Erik Rosenmeier, now in his 13th season at the helm of the Cougars.
The lone returning starters on offense, both seniors, are left tackle Jack Carroll and wide receiver Jake Bradford.
“We, pretty much, have all new faces,” said Rosenmeier, who has guided Cranford to the playoffs the last six years and to winning seasons the last seven. “We’re a little ahead on defense because although many of the kids did not start last year, more of them were on the field than our guys on offense.”
Also returning is senior placekicker Valentino Ambrosio, one of the better kickers in North Jersey. He played his first two years at Roselle Park.
The three returning starters on defense include senior left end John Markase, junior right end Rob Schork and senior middle linebacker Dylan Budnik, who has aspirations of playing at the next level.
“This is Dylan’s second year starting, although he played a lot on our 12-0 team as a sophomore,” Rosenmeier said. “He’s a Division 2 or 3 player and also a wrestler.
“He’s tough, physical and a leader. He will have to step up his leadership role this season.”
Schork was the only sophomore who started last season.
“He has an opportunity to be a dominant player,” Rosenmeier said. “He’s quick and physical.”
Junior linebacker Owen Ballweg is a transfer from Los Angeles, Calif.
Carroll is the only returning starter among the offensive linemen.
“Our offense right now starts with the offensive line,” Rosenmeier said. “We have some seniors, led by Carroll.”
Cranford’s new quarterbacks include sophomore Connor Katz and senior Dan Curren. Connor’s father Mike Katz played for legendary head coach Lou Rettino at Union, while his own coaching resume includes head coaching stints at Johnson, Mater Dei and Watchung Hills.
“With Connor and the rest of our sophomores we really can’t wait to grow slowly,” Rosenmeier said. “Connor is balanced. He can throw and run.
“Curran can do both as well, but is more of a passer.”
If Cranford is to continue its winning ways and make another run in North 2, Group 3, here are the keys, according to Rosenmeier: “they are the leadership of our seniors and the development of our sophomores.”
Katz is part of what Rosenmeier feels is a very good sophomore class.
“Connor has shown good leadership, a good arm, and toughness under pressure,” Rosenmeier said. “He has many positive qualities.
“Our line needs to develop and understand the game.”
After spending just one year in Central Jersey, Group 3 last fall – Cranford qualified and was defeated in the first round at eventual repeat champion Rumson-Fair Haven – the Cougars are back in North 2, Group 3 this year.
Cranford reached the North 2, Group 3 semifinals five seasons in a row from 2011-2015, advanced to the final in 2011, 2014 and 2015 and won the championship in 2011 and 2015, undefeated.
“We’re a cusp school geographically and in terms of population,” Rosenmeier said. “Teams leave sections every year.
“Rahway and Summit back in the section and teams like Parsippany Hills still in there is good stuff. I don’t really care where we are. I care where we end up being.”
Last year’s team had four of its first five games at home, with Cranford sporting a 3-2 record after that stretch.
This year’s squad will play four of its first five away from Memorial Field.
“I think it’s a good thing, especially for a young team,” Rosenmeier said. “I don’t put too much in home and away, although we have had success here at home.
“We might as well get the kids on the road right away. Sometimes there are less distractions than what take place at home and it becomes easier to focus.”
Since 2005 when Rosenmeier succeeded Cranford alum Chris Hull as the head coach, the Cougars have been as consistent a winner as any other program in Union County, including a 60-16 (.790) mark this decade.
The only two years Rosenmeier fielded a team that finished below .500 were 2008 and 2009. The 2008 team overcame a 0-5 start to finish 3-7, while the 2009 squad won three of its last four games to finish 4-6. Both of those teams concluded their seasons with sectional consolation victories.
Rosenmeier was 6-0 in sectional consolation games his first six seasons at the helm, with Cranford coming close a few times but falling short of making the playoffs in any of those seasons. In the last six seasons, all playoff years, he has led Cranford to a 9-4 playoff record that includes a 2-1 mark in state championship games.
Although last year’s team did not win a playoff game, Cranford did produce a six-game winning streak to qualify for the first time in CJ, G3.
A big reason for Cranford’s recent continued consistency is the upgrade of its feeder program.
“Our feeder guys, the PAL coaches, are the unsung heroes,” Rosenmeier said. “They are unpaid and they have done so much.
“They get the kids to love the game of football and they also make them understand the commitment to teammates.”
Cranford continues to be the only head coaching position Rosenmeier has had. He has guided the Cougars to success they never attained before.
“As long as they still want me to coach here I plan on doing so,” Rosenmeier said. “The community and the support of everyone here has really been great.”
NOTES: Cranford’s lone scheduled day game so far is its Oct. 7 date at Scotch Plains, which is now guided by first-year head coach Mark Ciccotelli, a close friend of Rosenemeier’s. Ciccotelli was Cranford’s offensive coordinator in 2015 when the Cougars went 12-0 for the first time and won North 2, Group 3 for the second time in five seasons.
Ciccotelli was the head coach at North Plainfield a year ago.
CRANFORD’S SPREAD OFFENSE:
LT Jack Carroll, senior, (6-3, 230)
LG Matt Savino, junior, (6-2, 260)
LG Nick Macchi, senior, (6-0, 230)
C Kevin Easse, senior, (5-11, 195)
C Nazir Benton, senior, (6-0, 230)
RG Patrick Blowe, sophomore, (6-1, 290)
RT Dylan Budnik, senior, (6-2, 215)
RT Dan Wessolock, junior, (5-10, 215)
QB Connor Katz, sophomore, (6-2, 175)
QB Dan Curren, senior, (5-10, 190)
TB Anthony Araujo, senior, (5-8, 185)
TB James Shriner, junior, (6-2, 185)
LSB Anthony DeCostello, sophomore, (6-2, 190)
LSB Isaiah Glover, senior, (5-8, 165)
RSB Joshua Cadet, senior, (5-10, 165)
RSB Mike Kalnins, sophomore, (5-9, 165)
LWR Jake Bradford, senior, (5-9, 160)
LWR Liam Loughlin, sophomore, (6-3, 175)
RWR Cole Blazek, sophomore, (5-11, 170)
RWR Thomas Korzeneski, sophomore, (6-2, 165)
PK Valentino Ambrosio, senior, (5-8, 150)
Returning starters (2): Carroll, Bradford.
CRANFORD’S 3-3 DEFENSE:
LE John Markase, senior, (5-9, 180)
LE Zach Blevins, junior, (6-2, 185)
N Tim Joyce, senior, (6-0, 190)
N Dan Wessolock, junior, (5-10, 215)
RE Rob Schork, junior, (6-3, 225)
RE Ian Scott, senior, (6-3, 215)
LLB Chris Guiditta, junior, (5-10, 180)
LLB Owen Ballweg, junior, (6-2, 185)
MLB Dylan Budnik, senior, (6-2, 215)
MLB Josue Kernen, sophomore, (5-9, 175)
RLB Ahmad Rasheed, senior, (5-10, 205)
FS Anthony Araujo, senior, (5-8, 185)
SS Matt Doran, junior, (5-10, 190)
SS James Shriner, junior, (6-2, 185)
LCB Joshua Cadet, senior, (5-10, 165)
LCB Dante Cassaro, junior, (5-10, 160)
RCB Owen Dowd, junior, (5-11, 170)
CB Josiah Cadet, senior, (5-9, 160)
P John McAleavey, junior, (5-9, 165)
Returning starters (3): Markase, Schork,
Head coach: Erik Rosenmeier, since 2005.
A 1983 Johnson Regional graduate.
13th season: 88-42 (.677)
Conference: Mid-State 38
Section: North 2, Group 3
Cranford’s last sectional title: 2015
2016: (7-3 and 3-2, third in Mountain Division)
Memorial Field: Field Turf.
Rosenmeier first guided Cranford to six straight
non-playoff seasons (2005-2010) and now seeks to
lead the Cougars to a seventh consecutive playoff
campaign. Cranford is 9-4 in the playoffs the last
six 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 COUGARS 2017
Sept. 8 at Somerville, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 at Voorhees, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 Rahway, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 at North Plainfield, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 at Scotch Plains, 2 p.m.
Oct. 13 Summit, 7 p.m.
Oct. 20 at Gov. Livingston, 7 p.m.
Oct. 27 Hillside, 7 p.m.
Nov. 3 Delaware Valley, 7 p.m.
2016 CRANFORD COUGARS (7-3)
(H) Somerville 41, Cranford 17
(H) Cranford 35, Voorhees 0
(A) Rahway 40, Cranford 34
(H) Cranford 56, North Plainfield 35
(H) Cranford 40, Scotch Plains 14
(A) Cranford 37, Summit 7
(H) Cranford 49, Gov. Livingston, 7
(A) Cranford 49, Hillside 13
(A) Cranford 28, Delaware Valley 27
(A) Rumson-Fair Haven 23, Cranford 13
Head coach: Erik Rosenmeier,
Section: Central Jersey, Group 3
Conference: Mid-State 38
Division: Mountain 3-2, third
Points for: 358
Points against: 220