Football looks to build legacy


Below: The captains stand for the National Anthem. Photo Courtesy: Laurie Coyle

Joseph Heisler, Sports editor

After a solid 2018-19 campaign, West Milford came into the 19-20 season with plenty of promise. With multiple key players returning to the team, valuable transfers coming in from a variety of private high schools, and hungry young players joining, there were plenty of high hopes throughout the program.
Leading the Highlanders for a second season is head coach, Stephen Maslanek, who has a 5-5 head coaching career record. Returning to his staff from last year include: assistant coaches Gary Stoll, Dave Strong, Taylor Pevny and Tyler Mauer.
Joining this year’s staff include Tim Mickens from Rowan University, Ed Primiveria after taking a couple of years off from coaching, Nick Pressimone from Pope John, and Michael Lambert straight out of retirement. With key staff members returning and great football minds joining the group, the staff looks to bring important knowledge to this young team.
The captains of this year’s team, Joe Heisler, Kevin Schaffer, Ryan Zeppetelli and Luiz Veliz, bring valuable experience to this group. Heisler, Schaeffer and Zeppetelli are three-year starters, while Veliz is a two-year starter. Heisler and Schafer also return after receiving multiple accolades as juniors. Heisler is noted as a First Team All-Conference linemen and WMHS Linemen of the Year, while Schaeffer earned Second Team All-Conference and All-County.
The biggest question mark heading into the season was who was going to replace Zack Milko, the three-year starting quarterback who is continuing his football career at Dartmouth. Sophomore Dylan Connors stepped into the role after spending last season as the freshman team quarterback. While not matching up to Milko’s size, he makes up for in his agility. He has the ability to break off a long 80- yard run, while still throwing an accurate deep ball.
Lining up besides Connors the Highlanders put together a dynamic duo of running backs. Leading the charge is sophomore Joe Palminteri, a power back who a single defender can not take down. Josh Curving is a transfer joining the team from Passaic Tech, bringing a speed aspect to the position that was lacking prior.-
At wide receiver, West Milford brings in a host of young players. The top player is Junior Chris Coyle, a speed demon who can burn opposing defenders on his route. Christian Ashby, Casey Fagan, and Jordan Araujo are also a part of the group, each bringing his own valuable skills to the table.
The strength of the team is on the offensive line. West Milford brings back three starters on the line and plenty of other talent to back them up. Leading the charge include captains Heisler, Zeppetelli and Veliz. Joining these three in the trenches include Ian Babitz, Kyler Grahame, Ralph Turre and Ryan Kirwin. The line is very undersized compared to many of the lines that oppose them, but make up for the lack of size with having much more speed than their oppositions.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Highlanders are much less experienced, only returning two full-time starters. On the defensive line, West Milford returns two rotational players in Heisler and Phil Strina. Babitz, Zeppetelli and Ryan Drazek fill out the line. Despite not being as experienced as last year’s d-line group, the speed and the strength of these five makes it one of the best lines in the conference.
The linebacker position is where West Milford returns the most experience, with Grahame and Schaeffer leading the way. New contributors include Mark Keeser, Tony Gryszkin, Zander Masanko, and Curving. The linebackers are a mix of speed and skill, and with the experience of Grahame, Curving and Schaeffer, the backers are a daunting group for opposing offenses.
The secondary was another one of the biggest question marks of the team pre-season. After graduating six players, many fans wondered who would step up. The leader of the group is Connors, who has the overall football knowledge to make him dangerous at the safety position. Other players include Brandon Cerone, Ashby, and Araujo, who, despite giving up size, have the athleticism required to be great.
West Milford started the season with a 20-14 overtime win over Indian Hills. Notable contributions include Coyle with three touchdowns and Palminteri with over one-hundred yards rushing. On the defensive side of the ball, Heisler and Strina led the way, each having a sack and Grahame added an interception.
The following two games were both losses for the Highlanders, with a close 28-25 loss to Vernon and a 31-0 loss to Montville. Connors had one hundred forty-three yards rushing against Vernon, as well as two touchdowns.
The Highlanders got back on track in a big way against Rival Lakeland at Homecoming with a 33-27 victory in overtime. Conners and Palminteri had 150 yards rushing each and Coyle added 50 yards receiving. On the defensive side of the ball, Heisler led the team with two sacks and Keeser had five tackles.
The next two games West Milford lost to both Wayne schools, Wayne Hills and Wayne Valley. The large margin on the scoreboard does not indicate how close the games truly were. Against Wayne Hills, the Highlanders were only losing 6-0 at halftime. The following week against Valley, without extra points, the score of the game would’ve been 34-18, a two touchdown margin. Both of these schools are North Jersey powers, so despite the large deficits, they were two close losses.
Following the rough two game stretch, West Milford got back on track in a dominating 42-13 win over Fair Lawn. Leading the way on Offense were Curving with 154 yards rushing and 54 yards receiving and Palminteri had 103 rushing yards. On the defensive side of the ball, Heisler and Strina had strong games, Heisler with a sack and fumble recover and Strina with a sack and an interception.
After the win, the Highlanders lost a close game on the road to rival Jefferson. Connors led the way with 159 rushing yards, with Curving and Palminteri also adding 50. Defensively, Ashby had an interception and Grahame added seven tackles.
. West Milford has two games remaining, Senior Night against Passaic Valley, and either a state playoff game or a constellation game. Though there is still plenty left to be played, the Highlanders had a solid 2019 season and a ton of promise returning for next season.