NJIC Preview

By Tom Szieber
Posted:  Thursday, August 29, 2013   9:00 am

Colonial Division

The Pick to Win: Elmwood Park
Led by a strong corps of offensive linemen, the Crusaders have a great shot to win its second straight division title after previously going through a 27 year drought. Junior quarterback Michael Dare has consistently improved in his two years as Elmwood Park’s starter.

In the Hunt: Glen Rock, Rutherford
2012 was a tough year for the Panthers, but you have to give the benefit of the doubt to a program that rarely has back-to-back letdowns. Rutherford is a perennially successful regular season team, though their 5-13 all-time postseason record shows that they need to work on finishing stronger.

Player to Watch: Michael Dare, QB, Elmwood Park
Dare’s injury during last season’s playoff game against Kinnelon changed the complexion of that eventual Crusaders loss. His weapons this season are less experienced, and his chemistry with wide receiver Brandon Velez will dictate a large degree of this offense’s success.

Anything Else?: After posting five straight winning seasons between 2005 and 2009, Lodi now finds itself in a position that was previously unfamiliar to the program. The Rams have now posted two sub-.500 seasons in the past three years, and have not had a winning season since ’09.

Liberty Division

The Pick to Win: Pompton Lakes
The graduation of quarterback Robbie Meyers means change for the Cardinals, but Pompton believes new senior signal caller Adam Rayford has the arm and versatility to keep them a championship contender. The Cardinals are 23-1 over the past two seasons.

In the Hunt: Cresskill, Secaucus
Both the Cougars and Patriots are consistent programs, and each have had just one sub-.500 season since 2005. Cresskill is the only team to best Pompton Lakes over the last two years.

Player to Watch: Ryan Kazanowski, RB, Pompton Lakes
As Pompton breaks in its new quarterback, Kazanowski and the Cardinals’ running game will need to be at its best. Kazanowski has rushed for 626 yards and nine touchdowns over the last two seasons.

Anything Else?: The next team to beat Pompton Lakes in regulation will be the first in over two seasons. The last team to accomplish that feat was Hasbrouck Heights, on November 5, 2010.

Meadowlands Division

The Pick to Win: Hasbrouck Heights
The Aviators will have to replace running back Anthony Seidel, but they have nearly their entire offensive line back from a year ago. The offense may have to rely even more heavily on quarterback Darren Iurato, a three-year starter.

In the Hunt: Saddle Brook
Leo Ciappina has made just about everyone forget that the Falcons were once a hapless squad that went 1-19 in 2008 and 2009. Saddle Brook has gone 27-5 since.

Player to Watch: Malik St. Hilaire, WR/CB, Palisades Park
Other than its drubbing at the hands of Summit in the North 2, Group 3 final a year ago, the Tigers were two early-season overtime losses away from an 11-0 start. St. Hilaire, who is being recruited by the likes of Army, Boston College and Rutgers, will need to be a playmaker for them if they hope to achieve similar success.

Anything Else?: The Aviators will need to focus on finishing this season. After a 7-0 start, they lost three of their last four to close out the year.

Patriot Division

The Pick to Win: St. Mary
The Gaels haven’t had much trouble in the regular season over the last several years, and their concern probably won’t surface until the Non-Public, Group 1 final, where they’ll likely see St. Joseph (Hamm.) for the fourth consecutive year. The young  running back trio of Keon Banks, Kevin Woupes and Daruis Stone should keep defenses on their toes.

In the Hunt: Emerson
The Cavos had a tough season last year at 3-6-1, but it was their first losing season since 2007. Head coach Dave Murphy has a good coaching pedigree and an able staff, and Emerson should be able to bounce back.

Player to Watch: Willie Krajnik, QB, St. Mary
The Gaels’ first-year starter will need to learn quickly to make the St. Mary offense multi-dimensional. Speaking of multi-dimensional, that word could be used to describe Krajnik’s game, as his passing ability and speed make him a threat on every snap.

Anything Else?: On paper, this division seems to be a one-horse race. St. Mary’s “closest” divisional games last season were 40-14 victories over both Emerson and Bogota.

Tom Szieber can be reached by emailing tom@gridironnewjersey.com.