LINDEN, NJ — There are plenty of veteran players, big guys to do the necessary blocking — and most have the experience to make the 2021 season a special one for the Linden Tigers.
“I like our group a lot,” seventh-year head coach Al Chiola said. “I like our size up front; we’re a fast and athletic team, and we have a lot of seniors.”
Linden returns six starters on offense but is ushering in a new signal-caller in sophomore quarterback Te’Quan Thomas.
“He took some snaps last year,” Chiola said. “He’s a dynamic athlete with a tremendous amount of ability. We’re not going to put too much on his plate right away.”
Chiola calls running back Adrian Cuervo and wide receiver Steeve Dorvil “our playmakers on offense.”
Leading Linden’s 3-5 defense are three-year starters Ibn Nadir on the line and the Cuervo brothers — Adrian and his twin brother, Adam — at linebacker.
“Ibn was an All-Group 4 selection last year and is the nephew of Muhammad Wilkerson,” a 2007 Linden graduate who starred at Temple and then for the New York Jets, Chiola said. “Ibn has a great motor and technique and is a weight room kid.
“I love our defense,” Chiola added. “I’m happy with how it’s progressing.”
Jahaad Halsey, also a senior, makes an impact as well at linebacker. The unit features eight returning starters.
“Ibn’s leadership and experience, along with that from the Cuervo brothers and Halsey, are paying off,” Chiola said. “When those kids are playing well, our defense is doing well.”
Linden began late last year but was still able to get five games in, concluding with a 30-14 home triumph over North Plainfield.
“It was just great to be playing, just great to be out there,” Chiola said. “We’ve moved forward, but the virus is still lingering and in the back of our minds.
“We’re still following all protocols and continue to keep our fingers crossed.”
Linden has an eight-game regular season schedule, while many other schools are slated to play nine or 10.
“It’s a long season from when it starts during the summer, and I think playing eight games before the playoffs benefits our kids,” Chiola said. “Playing one less game could keep us a bit fresher should we qualify for the playoffs, which is the goal.”
After opening at Iselin Kennedy on Sept. 3, Linden is home for three straight games, vs. Montgomery, Westfield and Colonia. Chiola’s son, Casey, who started in the outfield on Colonia’s varsity baseball team as a freshman this past spring, is a sophomore on the junior varsity football team at Colonia. Chiola is himself a 1992 Colonia graduate.
“He may take a few varsity snaps,” mused Chiola about his son. “I won’t have to game-plan for him just yet.”
Linden is scheduled to play all five weekends in October.
The NJSIAA playoffs commence the first weekend in November.
LINDEN TIGERS 2021
Sept. 3 at Iselin Kennedy, 7 p.m.
Sept. 10 vs. Montgomery, 7 p.m.
Sept. 24 vs. Westfield, 7 p.m.
Oct. 1 vs. Colonia, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8 at Scotch Plains, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15 at North Hunterdon, 7 p.m.
Oct. 22 vs. Cranford, 7 p.m.
Oct. 29 at Woodbridge, 7 p.m.
Head coach: Al Chiola, seventh season
LINDEN’S SPREAD OFFENSE:
LT Allan Tomazewski, senior (6-2, 220)
LG Adrian Mauna, senior (6-1, 250)
C Andrew Plummer, junior (6-0, 250)
RG Gusley Louisma, senior (6-2, 220)
RT Isiah Taylor, senior (6-3, 225)
TE Pablo Mantanez, senior (6-4, 220)
QB Te’Quan Thomas, sophomore (5-11, 155)
RB Adrian Cuervo, senior (5-8, 165)
RB Eddie Charles, senior (5-8, 150)
WR Jahaad Halsey, senior (5-9, 160)
WR Steeve Dorvil, senior (6-3, 190)
WR Jaden Myers, senior (6-0, 160)
WR Branden Van Allen, senior (5-11, 175)
WR Andrew Cuervo, senior (5-8, 167)
PK Josue Jimenez, junior (5-9, 140)
Returning starters (6): Tomasewski, Plummer, Adrian Cuervo, Halsey, Dorvil and Andrew Cuervo.
LINDEN’S 3-5 DEFENSE:
L Ibn Nadir, senior (6-0, 195)
L Adelso Collado, senior (5-10, 220)
L Sam Richardson, senior (6-2, 190)
LB Adrian Cuervo, senior (5-8, 165)
LB Andrew Cuervo, senior (5-8, 167)
LB Jahaad Halsey, senior (5-9, 160)
LB Branden Van Allen, senior (5-11, 175)
LB Andrike Terry, senior (5-9, 192)
DB Jaden Myers, senior (6-0, 160)
DB Eddie Charles, senior (5-8, 150)
DB Te’Quan Thomas, sophomore (5-11, 155)
P Steeve Dorvil, senior (6-3. 190)
Returning starters (8): Nadir, Collado, Richardson, Adrian Cuervo, Andrew Cuervo, Halsey, Myers and Charles.
2020 LINDEN TIGERS (1-4)
Oct. 17 (H): Cranford 37, Linden 7
Oct. 23 (A): Colonia 20, Linden 16
Nov. 2 (H): Scotch Plains 27, Linden 22
Nov. 13 (A): Sayreville 20, Linden 17 (OT)
Nov. 20 (H): Linden 30, North Plainfield 14
Head coach: Al Chiola, sixth season
Section: North Group 4
Conference: Big Central
Points for: 92
Points against: 118
Photos Courtesy of Al Chiola