HILLSIDE, NJ — You want to try to get to quarterback Caleb Salters? Good luck. In front of you will be an offensive line that averages 283 pounds. There’s only one returning starter, but that doesn’t mean anything. They’re coming after you.
“The meat and potatoes of our team is the offensive line,” head coach Barris Grant said. “They’re physically imposing and huge.”
Senior right guard Matt Ihamesie, a returning starter on both lines, leads the unit.
“He’s as tough as they come,” Grant said of the only starter remaining from Hillside’s 2019 South Jersey, Group 2, state championship squad. “On the O line he has great feet, is extremely physical and is one of the most knowledgeable kids we have.
“He will probably play center in college, but he can play all five of the line positions. He’s also ranked among the top 25 Hillside seniors academically.”
Hillside managed to get in six games last year, including a 3-0 mark at home. The Comets have not lost at home since 2017, bringing an 18-game winning streak at John Zappulla Field into the 2021 campaign.
In last year’s season-ending 20-14 overtime loss at Delaware Valley, Ihamesie managed to excel after going through a personal crisis.
“I got a call at 7:25 a.m. the day of the game and found out that an electrical fire took place in Matt’s house,” Grant said. “He lost all his worldly possessions except for his football jersey.
“Matt also got everyone out of the house. I just told him to stay home and take care of mom. The next thing I know is that, at 3:30 p.m., I see him sitting in the back of the bus ready to play,” Grant continued. “He ended up having his best game of the year.”
Ihamesie is guided by Hillside position coach Darnell Stapleton, a 2007 Union graduate who starred on the line for the Farmers when they made it to the North 2, Group 4, semifinals in 2005 and 2006.
“Matt is looking at Ivy League or Patriot League schools or straight Division II,” Grant said.
Adding to Hillside’s size on the OL is Pope John of Sparta transfer DJ Nesmith, a 6-foot-3, 290-pound junior.
As for quarterback Salters, Grant said he showed “great progress” a year ago for his first season as the varsity’s signal-caller.
“He was able to get his work in this off-season and he can really throw the ball,” Grant said. “He has great awareness and a strong arm.
“He’s more of a pro-style type of QB. He will not run first, but he has the ability to.”
Quite often Salters will be looking to get the ball downfield to returning senior wide receiver Darson Jeanty. Also gifted academically, Jeanty is receiving looks from Lehigh and Columbia.
“He really stretches the field with his body,” said Grant of the four-year program player and two-year varsity starter. “So far he has scored in all of our scrimmages. He’s also a possession receiver.”
Muwaffaq Parkman and Keyon Salaman, both juniors, are the running backs. Parkman has already received an offer from Temple.
On defense, returning starters include Ihamesie at nose guard, senior Kayvion Kennedy at linebacker, Parkman at strong safety and Jeanty at free safety.
The Comets’ defensive unit allowed just 59 points in six games last year, after yielding but 43 in 12 the year before.
That unit is guided by defensive coordinator Thomas Weaver, who, like Grant, is a former standout player at Irvington.
Captains named were Salters, Jeanty, Kennedy and senior TE-MLB Caleb Ramos.
Hillside opens Sept. 5 vs. Bernards in the second annual Rumble at the Raritan Showcase at Rutgers. Hillside and Bernards are two of the six schools situated in the Big Central Conference’s Division 2A for this season.
“Us and Bernards have had a pretty good rivalry now for the past four years,” Grant said. “They will have one game under their belts when we play them.”
Bernards fell to Penns Grove 40-20 on Aug. 28 in the Battle at the Beach at Ocean City High School’s stadium.
Before last year’s unprecedented pandemic season, Hillside produced a record of 32-4 the three previous seasons, winning state championships for all three. When Hillside won the first of those in 2017, it was only the program’s second in the playoff era and first since 1985.
“Out of COVID we are now readjusting,” Grant said. “We used to have a common idea of our opponents. Now programs are smaller. Ours is smaller by eight to nine players. We just found out that North Plainfield dropped its freshman program.
“We used to always be able to recruit in school, in the hallway. We didn’t have that last year. Things are a little bit different now.”
HILLSIDE COMETS 2021
Sept. 5 vs. Bernards at Rutgers, 2 p.m
Sept. 17 at North Plainfield, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 vs. Voorhees, 1 p.m.
Oct. 2 at Gov. Livingston, 2 p.m.
Oct. 9 vs. Roselle, 1 p.m.
Oct. 16 vs. Delaware Valley, 1 p.m.
Oct. 22 at Carteret, 7 p.m.
Oct. 30 vs. Rahway, 1 p.m.
Head coach: Barris Grant, sixth season
HILLSIDE’S MULTIPLE-SPREAD OFFENSE:
LT Charles Allen, junior (6-6, 330)
LG Osagie Ugiagbe, senior (6-1, 230)
C Leo Harris, sophomore (6-1, 250)
RG Matt Ihamesie, senior (6-2, 290)
RT DJ Nesmith, junior (6-3, 290)
RT Zamir Hawk, junior (6-3, 305)
L Brandon Chavarro, senior (5-10, 220)
TE Caleb Ramos, senior (6-0, 220)
TE Kayvion Kennedy, senior (6-2, 230)
TE Nadie Ferguson, junior (6-4, 290)
QB Caleb Salters, junior, (6-0, 180)
RB Keyon Salaman, junior (6-1, 210)
RB Muwaffaq Parkman, junior (6-0, 175)
WR Darson Jeanty, senior (6-3, 195)
WR Jhamari Hill, senior (5-10, 165)
WR Justin Mays, junior (5-11, 155)
PK Gio Lavoura, junior (5-7, 150)
Returning starters (3): Ihamesie, Salters and Jeanty.
HILLSIDE’S 3-3 STACK DEFENSE:
E Dylan West, senior (6-0, 205)
NG Matt Ihamesie, senior (6-2, 290)
L Nadie Ferguson, junior (6-4, 290)
L Brandon Chavarro, senior (5-10, 220)
L Zamir Hawk, junior (6-3, 205)
E Nicholas Brundage, senior (5-11, 210)
LB Kayvion Kennedy, senior (6-2, 230)
MLB Caleb Ramos, senior (6-0, 220)
LB Gerald Thompson, junior (5-11, 205)
LB Quamir McCord, senior (6-2, 200)
SS Muwaffaq Parkman, junior (6-0, 175)
SS Woodnel Alphanor, junior (5-11, 170)
SS McNaully Erminal, sophomore (5-10, 160)
FS Darson Jeanty, senior (6-3, 195)
CB Jhamari Hill, senior (5-10, 165)
CB Sakai Degannes, junior (6-0, 150)
CB Kendall Gordon, sophomore (5-8, 160)
CB Elijah Shockley, sophomore (6-3, 160)
P Gio Lavoura, junior (5-7, 150)
Returning starters (4): Ihamesie, Kennedy, Parkman and Jeanty.
2020 HILLSIDE COMETS (4-2)
Oct. 3 (H): Hillside 14, Bernards 9
Oct. 10 (A): Gov. Livingston 16, Hillside 14
Oct. 17 (H): Hillside 54, Roselle 0
Oct. 30 (A): Hillside 39, Johnson 7
Nov. 7 (H): Hillside 48, Middlesex 7
Nov. 13 (A): Delaware Valley 20, Hillside 14 (OT)
Head coach: Barris Grant, fifth season
Section: South Group 2
Conference: Big Central
Points for: 183
Points against: 59