CRANFORD, NJ — Here are the numbers opposing defensive linemen will need to get past if they are to bring down a Cougar ballcarrier: 285, 280, 280, 275, 260.
Those are the weights of most of Cranford’s offensive linemen. The overall range is from 200 to 285.
Three of the five starters are back.
Attempting to get by their fronts will not be so easy.
“We have a lot of size and experience up-front, which allows us to be balanced and versatile,” said head coach Erik Rosenmeier, now in his 17th season at the helm of the Cougars.
The starting five include senior Matt Fries, 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, at left tackle; senior Kevin Shriner, 6-foot-2, 285 pounds, at left guard; junior Ryan Heesters, 5-foot-11, 220 pounds, at center; senior Geoff Gretta, 6-foot-6, 280 pounds, at right guard; and junior Kyle Fay, 6-foot-6, 280 pounds, at right tackle.
In addition are junior Dylan McDonald, 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, at guard; senior Connor Ryan, 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, at tackle; and senior Sam Derasmo, 6-foot-2, 260 pounds, at guard.
“Fries and Shriner are our two best players and are true leaders,” Rosenmeier said.
Fries, Shriner and Lucas Ruby started as sophomores two years ago. Ruby, at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, moved over to the H-back position and will be used as a running back this season. He previously played at tackle and center.
“Lucas has the ability to run with the ball, so we moved him there,” Rosenmeier said.
In June, Fries gave a verbal commitment to play in the Big Ten at Illinois. Older brother Will, a 2016 Cranford graduate who excelled at Penn State, is now in the process of making it in the NFL as a rookie with the Indianapolis Colts, which drafted him in the seventh round.
“Matt is a physically dominant player with solid technique,” Rosenmeier said. “He knows where to place his hands and feet, which is equally important.”
Offensive line, like his brother Will before him, is where Fries will seek to make an impact at Illinois. Other schools that showed major interest in him include Indiana, Syracuse, Wake Forest, Arizona and Arizona State.
Shriner, Cranford’s standout heavyweight wrestler, does not have the height that Fries does but is just as intimidating.
“Kevin is as dominant of an inside player that we’ve had here, period,” Rosenmeier said. “He’s right there with (standout linemen from the past) Will Fries, Kevin Doran and Patrick Blowe; he’s at or near the top of that list. He has excellent balance and uses his hands well.”
Gretta is the third returning starter on the line. Rosenmeier said he gained 60 pounds between his sophomore and junior years.
“He’s a little raw but has a lot of athletic ability,” Rosenmeier said.
Keeping the uniform of returning senior quarterback Jack Van Dam as clean as possible is one of the many tasks these high school behemoths have on their list of things to perform.
“Playing these guys as early as we did two years ago, hopefully we will now benefit,” Rosenmeier said.
What Rosenmeier is most proud of is that he has so many multisport athletes out for football. Baseball players include Jack Conley, Jake Carter, Lucca Limeira and Will Gallagher.
“We get tremendous support from all the other coaches,” Rosenmeier said. “That’s how we roll. We all make time and encourage our athletes to play other sports.
“We feel it gives us an edge. We get kids that are used to competing.”
Cranford has produced 11 consecutive winning seasons since 2010. In that mix are the program’s two state championships in the playoff era — North 2, Group 3, crowns captured in 2011 and 2015.
“We have high expectations every year,” Rosenmeier said. “We expect to win.”
That philosophy was not lessened last year, despite the challenges of an unprecedented pandemic, when keeping COVID-19 safe was more important than making a tackle or scoring a touchdown.
“The circumstances were terrible, but I’m proud of what we were able to do and enjoyed it,” Rosenmeier said.
Cranford was able to play eight games, winning six of them and handing 7-1 North Brunswick its only loss, defeating the Middlesex County school 43-19 at home two weeks before Thanksgiving.
“We got over the disappointment of no playoffs and hung our hats on every game, making each one more important,” Rosenmeier said. “Without any playoffs, it was like a throwback season.”
Cranford was able to pick up Lacey after Summit had a COVID-19 setback and North Brunswick filled in when it was supposed to be Rahway’s week.
“The level of intensity was just as high for each game because there was a chance that it could have been our last,” Rosenmeier said. “That’s the legacy last year’s team left.”
Cranford is back in Group 3 for the first time since 2017 and is situated in North, Group 3, for the 2021 season. Should the Cougars qualify for the playoffs it will most likely be in North 2, Group 3 — a section they won in 2011 and 2015.
Sept. 10: vs. North Hunterdon, 7 p.m.
Sept. 17: vs. Summit, 7 p.m.
Sept. 24: at Iselin Kennedy, 7 p.m.
Oct. 1: vs. Scotch Plains, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8: vs. Colonia, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15: at Woodbridge, 7 p.m.
Oct. 22 at Linden, 7 p.m.
Oct. 29: at Montgomery, 7 p.m.
CRANFORD’S SPREAD OFFENSE:
LT Matt Fries, senior (6-5, 275)
LG Kevin Shriner, senior (6-2, 285)
C Ryan Heesters, junior (5-11, 220)
RG Geoff Gretta, senior (6-6, 280)
RT Kyle Fay, junior (6-6, 280)
G Dylan McDonald, junior (6-1, 220)
T Connor Ryan, senior (5-11, 200)
G Sam Derasmo, senior (6-2, 260)
WR Will Gallagher, senior (6-1, 175)
WR Jack Conley, senior (5-9, 170)
WR Liam Godwin, junior (6-3, 175)
Slot Jake Carter, junior (5-9, 170)
Slot Ryan Lynskey, junior (5-10, 175)
RB Lucca Limeira, senior (5-9, 180)
RB Colin Murray, senior (5-11, 175)
HB Lucas Ruby, senior (6-3, 220)
HB Shane Kanterman, junior (5-10, 215)
QB Jake Van Dam, senior (6-4, 185)
PK Liam Godwin, junior (6-3, 175)
Returning starters (7): Fries, Shriner, Gretta, Gallagher, Conley, Ruby and Van Dam.
CRANFORD’S 3-3-5 STACK DEFENSE:
NG Matt Fries, senior (6-5, 275)
NG Kevin Shriner, senior (6-2, 285)
E Sam Derasmo, senior (6-2, 260)
E Lucas Ruby, senior (6-3, 220)
E Chris Blevins, senior (6-2, 195)
E Dylan McDonald, junior (6-1, 220)
MLB Shane Kanterman, junior (5-10, 215)
MLB Ryan Heesters, junior (5-11, 220)
LB Jake Lies, senior (5-10, 185)
LB Angelo Fiorenza, senior (6-1, 180)
LB Jake Carvahlo, junior (5-11, 185)
LB Max Spinner, senior (5-11, 175)
SS Lucca Limeira, senior (5-9, 180)
SS Stephen Kisly, senior (6-4, 180)
SS Dan Abrahamsen, senior (5-10, 175)
CB Liam Godwin, junior (6-3, 175)
CB Will Gallagher, senior (6-1, 175)
CB Michael Normann, junior (6-2, 170)
FS Ryan Lynskey, junior (5-10, 175)
FS Colin Murray, senior (5-11, 175)
P Liam Godwin, junior (6-3, 175)
Returning starters (4): Fries, Shriner, Limeira and Gallagher.
Photos by JR Parachini and Courtesy of Gene Nann