UNION, NJ — For the first time since the 1994 season — when legendary head coach Lou Rettino was still at the helm of the Farmers — Union football is a defending state champion.
The Farmers were fortunate to get in seven games during the pandemic last season, winning four. However, there were no playoffs to qualify for, in a season that commenced the first week in October and concluded, for several schools, on Thanksgiving.
Union defeated Paterson Kennedy, West Orange and Clifton to capture the North 2, Group 5, state championship for the first time in 2019, with a 12-0 record that closed at 12-1 following a regional game loss to North 1, Group 5, state champ Ridgewood at Giants Stadium.
“We want to be the first Union team to go 13-0,” said senior strong safety Kendall Bournes, who is one of six returning starters on the defensive side of the ball.
“When asked what his goals were for his senior season, Rutgers commit Davison Igbinosun said, “Just one: to win a state championship.”
When Union won two years ago it was the program’s first state title in 26 years — the first since the 1993 squad three-peated as North 2, Group 4, state champions.
Although the Farmers are not stacked with an extremely high number of returning seniors, there are six returning starters on offense. Several quality players lost to graduation are playing at the next level, including wide receiver/defensive back Desmond Igbinosun, Davison’s older brother, who is playing for Rutgers, and running back/linebacker Diante Wilson, who is at Southern Connecticut State University.
Come playoff time, Union will be expected to be in the mix once again in North 2, Group 5.
“We want to prove that winning a state championship is not a one-time thing,” said senior Ginika Ozurumba, a returning starter on offense at right guard and on defense at inside linebacker.
Union will be the first Union County team to play a game this season, as the Farmers will clash for the first time with Millville in the Battle at the Beach at Ocean City High School Stadium. That game is to be played on Saturday, Aug. 28, with a scheduled 5 p.m. kickoff.
Union is then scheduled to play at St. Joseph’s in Metuchen on Sept. 3 at noon and at Plainfield on Sept. 11 at 1 p.m.
Following a week off, Union’s first home game at Cooke Memorial Field is scheduled to take place Friday, Sept. 24, vs. Elizabeth.
Union is one of five teams in the Big Central Conference’s Division 5A this season, along with Elizabeth, Plainfield, Watchung Hills and Westfield.
“Right now we’re just competing,” said head coach Lou Grasso Jr., in his ninth season in charge. “I like what we’re doing. We just had a great week. We’re trying to develop depth now.”
Competing at times for quarterback are seniors Jaden Stewart, a left-handed passer, and Miles McEachin.
“Both kids have good arms,” Grasso said. “Jaden can run the option and is very athletic. Miles had a great off-season and is a bit more of a pocket guy, but can also move.”
Senior running back/linebacker Ashan Harris just transferred in from Rahway, while seniors Ahron McReynolds and Tyler Malik-Ismail are Mater Dei transfers.
Nick Rua-Broadnax, at left tackle on offense and at tackle on defense, is another returning starter on both sides of the ball, as is Davison Igbinosun, rated as one of the top players in New Jersey.
Igbinosun was a key player as a sophomore for Union’s 2019 state championship squad.
“His leadership has been fantastic,” Grasso said.
Igbinosun is Union’s free safety on defense and will also be a threat at receiver and running back on offense.
“We’re going to try to use him on offense in many different ways,” Grasso said.
Other Union home games are scheduled vs. Westfield on Oct. 1, Bridgewater-Raritan on Oct. 8 and Watchung Hills on Oct. 22.
Westfield is scheduled to be the last Union County team to open its season this year, with the Blue Devils set to host St. Joseph’s of Metuchen on Saturday, Sept. 11, at 2 p.m. at Gary Kehler Stadium.
Westfield played the fewest games of any Union County squad last year, getting in only two, both losses.
The playoffs are scheduled to commence the first weekend in November. This will be the final year of single regional games that follow the state championship contests. Beginning next year, the playoffs will be extended to play down to group state champions in all five public school sizes.
Aug. 28: vs. Millville, Battle at the Beach in Ocean City, 5 p.m.
Sept. 3: at St. Joseph’s, Metuchen, noon
Sept. 11: at Plainfield, 1 p.m.
Sept. 24: vs. Elizabeth, 7 p.m.
Oct. 1: vs. Westfield, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8: vs. Bridgewater-Raritan, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15: at North Brunswick, 7 p.m.
Oct. 22: vs. Watchung Hills, 7 p.m.
Oct. 29: at Hunterdon Central, 7 p.m.
Head coach: Lou Grasso Jr., ninth season
UNION’S MULTIPLE SPREAD OFFENSE:
LT Nick Rua-Broadnax, senior (6-2, 275)
LG Najee Bowe-Pinckney, senior (5-11, 295)
C Chris Ejekwu, senior (6-1, 315)
RG Ginika Ozurumba, senior (6-1, 245)
RT Emeka Chukwura, senior (6-3, 255)
L Zack Menon, sophomore (6-4, 260)
L Tyler Michael, senior (6-0, 240)
QB Jaden Stewart, senior (6-1, 190)
QB Miles McEachin, senior (6-0, 185)
RB Kendall Bournes, senior (5-10, 180)
RB Elijah Stewart, junior (5-10, 180)
RB Todd Francis, junior (5-9, 170)
RB Amar Kelly, sophomore (5-6, 175)
WR Davison Igbinosun, senior (6-3, 185)
WR Matthew Nazaire, senior (6-0, 175)
WR Louikenzy Jules, senior (6-0, 180)
WR Omar Ibrahim, junior (6-1, 175)
WR Rodney Marcellus, senior (5-10, 175)
WR Josh Jones, senior (5-9, 170)
TE Ahron McReynolds, senior (6-2, 250)
TE Wesley Ciceron, senior (6-2, 260)
TE Quamir Brown, junior (6-2, 265)
PK Ramsey Lafond, junior (5-10, 155)
Returning starters (6): Rua-Broadnax, Bowe-Pinckney, Ejekwu, Ozurumba, Chukwura and Igbinosun.
UNION’S 4-3 DEFENSE:
T Mahkai Winston, senior (6-2, 325)
T Nick Rua-Broadnaz, senior (6-2, 275)
E Ahron McReynolds, senior (6-2, 250)
E Wesley Ciceron, senior (6-2, 260)
E Emeka Chuckwura, senior (6-3, 255)
L Najee Bowe-Pinckney, senior (5-11, 295)
L Chris Ejekwu, senior (6-1, 315)
ILB Ginika Ozurumba, senior (6-1, 245)
ILB Quamir Brown, junior (6-0, 265)
OLB Jeusten Jourdain, senior (5-9, 190)
OLB Jonas Cherilus, junior (6-3, 180)
ILB James Jones, senior (6-1, 220)
CB Davison Igbinosun, senior (6-3, 185)
CB Louikenzy Jules, senior (6-0, 180)
SS Kendall Bournes, senior (5-10, 180)
S Rodney Marcellus, senior (5-10, 175)
CB Omar Ibrahim, junior (6-1, 175)
S Tyler Malik-Ismail, senior (6-1, 185)
S Clefson Jean-Jaques, senior (5-10, 185)
S Elijah Stewart, junior (5-10, 180)
Returning starters (6): Winston, Rua-Braodnax, Ozurumba, Igbinosun, Jules and Bournes.
2020 UNION FARMERS (4-3)
Oct. 3 (A): Union 39, Eastern 15
Oct. 9 (A): B-Raritan 36, Union 28
Oct. 16 (H): Ridge 37, Union 21
Oct. 24 (A): Union 25, St. Joseph’s, Metuchen 0
Oct. 30 (H): Union 34, Elizabeth 0
Nov. 6 (A): Union 30, Watchung Hills 10
Nov. 20 (H): Northern Highlands 45, Union 35
Head coach: Lou Grasso Jr., eighth season
Section: North Group 5
Conference: Big Central
Points for: 212
Points against: 143