After near misses each of the past two years, the Ewing High football team enters this season optimistic that a trip to the state playoffs is in its future.
As fifth-year head coach Drew Besler says, “These guys are hungry and they know what’s been left on the table.”
Each of the past two years, the Blue Devils had opportunities to qualify for the playoffs only to see last-minute losses prevent them from advancing. Ewing went 4-6 both seasons, losing a total of six games by eight points or fewer.
“With a play here or there those games could have been wins,” Besler said. “These kids understand the last two years they’ve missed out on the state playoffs on the very last qualifying game on the very last series with us having the football. These seniors don’t want to leave here kind of heartbroken. They want to have an opportunity to get into the dance, which is the playoffs.”
“We feel confident when the state playoffs come around we’ll be in the mix,” he added. “That’s all we can hope. The guys are excited to be here; the guys are excited to work. Everything has been positive. That’s all I ask for.”
Ewing’s push for its first playoff berth since 2013 will be fueled by a potentially powerful offense led by senior quarterback Edamiyon Doggett.
Last year, Doggett threw for 1,165 yards and 11 touchdowns and also rushed for 670 yards and six more scores. His passing yardage was second best in the West Jersey Football League’s Patriot Division and he tied for the lead in TD tosses. His rushing yardage was third best in the division.
“It all starts with Edamiyon Doggett,” Besler said. “He’s a playmaker. He’s a difference maker.”
Doggett, who is entering his third year as Ewing’s starting quarterback, will see a number of familiar faces around him. Among them are senior linemen Cesar Valdivieso, Charles Heading and Phil Hall, and juniors Josh Alexander and Mark Rogers.
Juniors Lavinsky Collins and Michael Robinson return in the backfield along with senior newcomer Tyquan Parker. Senior Corey McKinnon leads the receiving corps, where he is joined by classmates Justin Jacobs and Justin Reed, and junior Stanley Derry.
“We’re excited about those guys and what they bring,” Besler said. “These guys can make plays daily. That’s what makes us excited. We can break open a game because we’re talented in areas where you need to be talented.”
He added that the offensive line looks good so far. “Tyquan Parker is a transfer from Trenton, and he’s been great for us so far. He’s got the right attitude and the right work ethic.”
Doggett also is enthusiastic about the unit’s potential. “These guys can make plays for me and get us some wins in big games,” Doggett said. “I’m getting most of my linemen back, so that’s pretty good. It’s going to be fun.”
“I’m looking forward to this year,” Doggett said. “I just love playing. I’m going to play every game as hard as I can. We’re trying to get to the playoffs. I’m trying to go as far as we can. We’re young is some spots; a lot of guys don’t have varsity time. But when people see us on the field in action, it might surprise a lot of people.”
Defensively, the Blue Devils expect to play aggressively. Senior Nestor Santiago, who had 52 tackles and 3.5 sacks last season, and Reed can apply pressure from the edges while Heading, Rogers and Paul anchor the line. Heading had 59 tackles and four sacks a year ago.
The linebackers are young but could be a strength, with sophomores Chris Seifert and Jaden Holman and senior Alon Walker looking to contribute. Senior Terrance Stokes II, who had 43 tackles and three interceptions last season, is the top returnee in the secondary.
“TS2 is a great student and a great kid in the community; he’s also a great football player,” Besler said, referring to Stokes. “At linebacker we’re young but those kids can play. We’re aggressive up front. We’re looking to get after people.”
Santiago said the team worked hard in the offseason in preparation for a winning campaign.
“I think we have a good team; I’m looking forward to the season,” Santiago said. “We’ve put in a lot of work. We’re all out here grinding. Everyone doubts us because we’ve had losing records, but this year is going to be different. We all feel it’s going to be different. Everything is falling into place. We’re all unified.
“It’s all family. We’re all close to each other. I think we’re going to make the playoffs. We’re all looking for a state championship. That’s the prize.”
Ewing opens its season Sept. 9 at West Windsor-Plainsboro South.
“We expect to be competitive,” Besler said. “We expect to be in the mix from the very beginning. We have a tough game to open up but we’re hoping to get right after it and see what happens.”