The Highland Echo

Highlander football: the rebirth

Joeseph Heisler, Features Editor

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After years of not having a winning season, West Milford Football appeared to be on the path to success.
Leading the way for the Highlanders was first-year head coach, Steve Maslanek. Having served as assistant coach since 2004, Maslanek knew the ins and outs of the program. Being on the staff for years prior was beneficial as Maslanek knew the players, and their strengths and weaknesses. Maslanek brought multiple changes to the program, the first of which was a motivational strategy to improve team morale and cohesiveness. Prior to every practice, each players hit a sign reading “Put the ball down!” This sign implied for the players to forget the rest of the world and focus only on football. He also instituted a new saying, I. E.A.T. (Intelligence, Effort, Attitude, Toughness.)
Assisting Maslanek this season were returning assistant coaches included Taylor Pevny, Gary Stoll, and Brian Leslie. New faces for the Highlanders coaching staff include Dave Strong, Joe Mattessich (WM coach’03), and Tyler Maurer (WMHS graduate/former quarterback). With the knowledge and passion of these coaches, the Highlanders boasted one of the best staffs in the area. The roster looked good as well. With 16 varsity players returning, this year’s team had the experience that was lacking previously.
Leading the offense was senior quarterback, Zack Milko. Milko is a do-it-all-guy: passing, running, and even playing defense. With Milko at the helm, the Highlanders always moved the ball down the field.
Milko had multiple weapons to help him down the field. Joining the rushing attack with Milko were seniors Ryan Coyle, Brandon Sanchez and Brandon Peters. With those four running the ball and their different rushing styles, the Highlanders had an attack few defenses could counter.
Milko’s receiving corps was just as good as his backs. Receivers included Coyle, Daniel DiMinno, Kevin Schaeffer, Adam Rust, Patrick Lebart and Ryan Pomeroy. The overall skill of this group gave opposing secondaries nightmares on how to gameplan for these options.
The linemen paving the way for the passing and running games are the ones most often forgotten. This year’s men in the trenches included Joe DeSanno, Mike Podmokly, Noah Walker, Luiz Veliz, Ryan Zeppetelli, and Joe Heisler. Four out of six of these players started last season, giving the line the vital key to football experience.
On the other side of the ball the Highlanders are just as talented. The defensive line featured Milko, Schaeffer, DeSanno, Walker, Heisler, Jason Van Dunk and Phil Strina. While not as bulky as opposing offensive lines, the up-front speed of the Highlanders was difficult to match and was the key to getting to the opposing ball carriers.
This year’s linebackers group was the overall strength of the defense. The middle linebackers were Ray Gorny, Sean Kuhn, and Dominic Sweigart. The outside linebackers included Dimino, Coyle, and Kyler Grahame. The skill set and knowledge of these players elevated a strong defense to a whole other level.
The secondary wasn’t half bad itself. The corners on this year’s team included Peters, LeBart, Rust, and Greg Marroquin. The safeties were Pomeroy, Sanchez, Mike Toro, and Brandon Cerone.
The team competed in the difficult Freedom Red division with the likes of Fair Lawn, Indian Hills, Passaic Valley, and Wayne Valley as well as state power, Wayne Hills. Out of conference the Highlanders played Vernon, Montville, Jefferson, and rival Lakeland. This challenging schedule prepared the Highlanders for playoff football in November.
In weeks zero and one, the Highlanders were off to a dominant start. Playing Vernon and Indian Hills, West Milford outscored those teams 77-22. The offense was able to move the ball down the field in the blink of an eye, and no one was getting past our defense.
In Week 2, the Highlanders hit a bump in the road with an excellent Montville team. Despite playing their hearts out, Montville was just too good that night, winning the contest 31-21.
Week 3, the game that everyone waited for–the Lakeland rivalry, pinned West Milford against its neighboring high school, the Lakeland Lancers. The rivalry dates back over fifty years, and the Highlanders led the series 28-23. However, the past five years, Lakeland has won the rivalry.
Going into the game, there was a lot of hype due to the fact that both teams were viewed as playoff contenders. The game lived up to the legend. Early in, the Highlanders fell down 20-0 and everyone believed it was going to be six years in a row for Lakeland.
However, in the second half, West Milford took over the game, outscoring the Lancers 27-12. Lakeland scored late and could have tied the game, but Dimino knocked down the two-point conversion pass, and ultimately sealed the deal.
Week 4, the Highlanders played state power Wayne Hills. The Highlanders put their best foot forward and came in positive, but Wayne Hills is state ranked for a reason. Hills won the game 41-15, despite West Milford’s effort.
In Week 5, there was a war between the Highlanders and Wayne Valley. The Highlanders, despite a slow start, lost 25-19. There was a great second half effort, however the slow first half ended up costing West Milford in the end.
Week 6, the Highlanders got back to their winning ways by defeating Fair Lawn by a score of 27-10. It was a dominant performance, with the opposition never truly being in the game.
Week 7, Highlanders won again by defeating a solid Jefferson team. Milko threw just one incompletion. The pieces all just fell into place. In the final week before the playoffs West Milford fell to Passaic Valley by a score of 12-6 .
The Highlanders went to the state tournament facing an undefeated Paramus team. West Milford was unable to win and compete with the powerful Paramus team 42-14. Although a dissapointing ending, the season was a good one and a step in the right direction for the future of the Highlanders football program.

Above: Highlanders stand for the National Anthem. Photo Courtesy: Kristen Milko

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Highlander football: the rebirth