J. P. Stevens counting on offensive line, athletes to lead football turnaround

Scott Jacobs

Football is becoming more like a flow sport with each passing season.

Quarterbacks are growing into playmakers, not just passers. Wide receivers and running backs are becoming interchangeable skill players. And more and more defenders are roaming all parts of the field to try and make plays.

John P. Stevens High School plans on playing this more open style in the fall of 2019.

Coach Joe Riggi has a lot of athletes from other sports who can make plays on both sides of the ball. But he also has what every great football team needs: strong lines.

The coach thinks both qualities could help J.P. Stevens improve on its 4-6 record from a year ago, which was actually the Hawks’ best mark since 2013, when they also went 4-6.

In other words, if everything comes together, J.P. Stevens could legitimately enjoy its best football season in many years.

But “everything,” of course, is a lot. And Riggi has been coaching since 1996. He understands how to express optimism while managing expectations.

“We are more well rounded and diverse than last year,” Riggi said. “I’m expecting good things.”

Riggi plans on running an offense with a single back, two wing players off the tackles and two jet/slot receivers outside the wings. This formation will allow the Hawks to utilize the Chip Kelly principle, use the width of the field to open up the vertical part of the field, with handoffs, sweeps and short passes.

A football team needs flow sport athletes to succeed with this type of system, and Riggi has a bunch of them going into this fall. Potential skill position starters Gemal Singleton, Willie Moorer and Kyzeon Mays also play for the J.P. Stevens boys’ basketball team. Potential starting quarterback Badr Alamar also plays for the J.P. Stevens boys’ lacrosse team.

There are more athletes for Riggi to experiment with, too. It’s just a matter of finding the right roles and chemistry.

“It’s good to have the problem of too many skill kids,” Riggi said.

Since J.P. Stevens struggles with numbers most years, most of its players play on offense and defense. But this year, that at least means that Riggi will have athletes on both sides of the ball. The coach is planning on using a system with four upright linebackers, instead of four down linemen, to maximize that athleticism on defense.

Now, athleticism in the open field would mean little without strong lines to win the line of scrimmage. This is still football, after all. And while Riggi’s athletes are relatively inexperienced, his linemen are not.

His offensive line features three returning starters in guard Laquan Gray, guard Joe Juzefyk and center Chandler Bradford. His defensive line is centered around nose tackle Jayshawn Brown, an All-Greater Middlesex Conference Red Division selection in 2018.

Riggi loves Brown and said it’s “awesome” that he’s back. But he is especially bullish about his offensive line.

“We’ll pull them and move them,” he said. “The offensive line will run this team.”

Riggi is entering the fifth year of his second stint as J.P. Stevens’ head coach, having also led the program from 2007-2009. He knows better than anyone that no one else puts his Hawks on the central Jersey football map.

But he earnestly thinks that could change in 2019.

“I really think we’ll surprise people,” Riggi said.