Currently in his second season as head coach, Scott Bray has lived and breathe football in the Bridgewater-Raritan community his entire life.
The high school established a football program back in 1958.
"In 1960, the school split into two schools," Bray explained.
"There was the eastside and the westside. The eastside won three state championships in the 70's and then won sectionals in the 80's."
"I was part of the west program. We had many coaching changes and really lacked stability to match their success."
In 1991, the schools consolidated again becoming one force.
Bill Savage, who was the long tenured head coach on the eastside, continued to coach the program. He led the team to three consecutive conference championships in the first three years of the consolidated program.
Savage before the 1999 season when Kirk Hammer took over the program. Hammer coached for five seasons, and in his last season, the team finished 9-2 after losing in the sectional final against Union High School that year.
The program suffered three straight losing seasons following the 2003 season before Bray took over the program in 2007.
"We finished 2-8 last season," said Bray. "My biggest focus is to re-build community support behind the program. I want to establish a little accountability with each player. I want to build this program back up to where I know it was in the past."
"I know there are people out there looking for instant success, but it is going to take several years to establish the consistency of where I want this progarm to be. I want to constantly put a team on the field that is going to be competitive."
Thus far, in 2008, the Panthers are 1-3 in a very tough Skyland Conference.
There is still plenty of football to be played and improvement to be made in 2008.
Coach Bray offered DeBartolo Sports University an overview of his seniors looking to play on the collegiate level, and on the group of underclassmen that has him excited for the future.
LB Josh Gabriel (6-2, 225-pounds) â€“ â€śHeâ€™s a physical, aggressive young man. He plays DL and RB for us. Most likely, at the next level heâ€™ll play linebacker because heâ€™s a pretty good darn athlete. He had a few D1 schools call in on him but took this past summer off to attend a military boot camp so he sort of fell off schoolâ€™s radars. He has the capability to play at high level, but it'll be up to him on how far he wants to push himself.â€ť
OL/DL Joe Grabler (6-2, 224-pounds) and LB James Mirra (6-1, 215-pounds) - â€śBoth guys are very hard workers. Mirra plays lacrosse so heâ€™s cut some weight and brings some more speed and ability to the table. He is a lineman for us, but could make a good fullback or linebacker in college. Grabler is a good lineman for us on both sides of the ball. Both these guys I think would make great players on the division three level.â€ť
WR Justin Burke (5-10, 165-pounds) â€“ â€śA very good receiver. Probably one of the better ones I have seen at the high school level in terms of catching with his hands and having such a great understanding of route running. When you put the ball in the air, heâ€™s one of those kids that itâ€™s not a maybe but a definite that heâ€™ll catch the ball. Had an incredible work ethic throughout the summer, and has made himself a better player.â€ť
OL Jon Alicea (6-2, 262-pounds) â€“ â€śStarted as a sophomore. Heâ€™s growing and you can see that with his maturity level, as well. Heâ€™s a kid that did not start playing football until his freshman year. With that being the case, just the way heâ€™s grasped the concept of blocking schemes and all, heâ€™s made the most progress of all five of our returning lineman. He has to continue to work on his footwork, and how well he can build off that and push himself in the weight room this off-season will determine how high of a level he can play at in college.â€ť
TE John Oâ€™Keefe (6-5, 203-pounds) â€“ â€śHe has a great game. Played a lot as a sophomore. As a junior, heâ€™s stepping up. He understands the tight end position more and more. One thing he can work on is playing more physically. Heâ€™s a big target, though, that runs well and catches the ball well. It comes down to when he puts on the pads he needs to play more physically. There are already a few schools, like Rutgers, keeping an eye on him.â€ť
WR Derek Beck (6-3, 179-pounds) â€“ â€śBased on size and potential, he has great expectations. For him, itâ€™s learning to catch the football on a regular basis and making the big play. If learns to do that heâ€™ll project out well. He already runs a 4.6. He looks like a prototypical receiver. When he walks into the room, as a sophomore, you see him and say thatâ€™s a guy. It comes down to maturity level; like a lot of young athletes; will he mature and make himself better. Justin Burke will be a good guy for him to look up to. Justin saw he had tools and worked hard to push himself to performing the way he is now.â€ť
Other Athletes of Note:
OL/DL Kushmir Capers (6-2, 236-pounds)
QB Collin Clifford (5-10, 158-pounds)
WR Eric Pauli (6-3, 188-pounds)
RB Connor Smith (5-7, 137-pounds)
C/DL Peter Machala (6-0, 230-pounds)
TE/LB Kyle Paustian (5-11, 170-pounds)