By Rich Fisher
Is Mike Brennan happy with his successor as the Bordentown High boys’ soccer coach? Just ask him. He’ll be happy to tell anyone who will listen.
“I’m extremely excited about Jason Zablow taking over,” Brennan said. “I could talk about that kid all day.”
Except he’s no longer a kid and we don’t have all day. But Brennan’s point was made as Zablow returns to his alma mater as a 24-year-old with some coaching experience.
“He brings an unbelievable amount of enthusiasm,” Brennan said. “He has a love for the game, a love for everything that comes with the game. The work, the relationships, the growth, it’s all things that are very, very important to Jason. They were as a player. I’ve had the opportunity to watch him grow into a coach and those characteristics are still very important to him now.”
The timing was perfect. Zablow got a fulltime health and physical education teaching job last year, and then Brennan stepped down after 12 years at the helm. His first order of business as former coach was to recommend Zablow.
“It is a good feeling knowing Mike wanted me,” Zablow said. “He’s obviously taught me a lot of what I know. I think the guys kind of liked knowing I was coming in and taking over. There would be changes but not real drastic changes because I take a couple things from what I learned from Mike, a couple things from what I learned from Montclair and from what I learned from my club coach. I’ll try to get my own little culture going on.”
Zablow was a four-year varsity performer for the Scotties. His first two seasons he played mostly in the back, got moved up to midfield as a junior and then led the team in scoring when he got pushed to forward as a senior. He also played some goalie.
Brennan noticed a tremendous soccer knowledge even then.
“He was never going to be the maestro on the field, he was never going to be able to carve guys up with unbelievable dribbling skills, but he was smarter than everybody,” Brennan said. “He knew where to be. He knew how to shape, space and balance all over the field. We were never going to be numbers down for more than a second if Jason was on the field because he was able to see things like that. He’s continued with that as a coach. He’s very smart. He’s a very tactical coach.”
Brennan added that he was a lead-by-example type of player but developed some verbal leadership skills as he got older. His example was fairly effective, however.
“When we were at practice I didn’t have to push kids to work harder because you just looked at how hard Jason was working and no one’s allowed to not work that hard,” Brennan said.
After graduating in 2010, Zablow went on to have a successful career at Montclair State and, while in college he would help Brennan with summer training whenever possible. The head coach had encouraged Zablow and several teammates to help with the Midlands recreation program as a way of giving back to the community while they were still in high school.
Midlands was Zablow’s first coaching “job” and after his sophomore year at Montclair, he became a part-time trainer for the Bordentown U-12 travel team from May to August. Those players are now his junior class at the high school. Once he graduated, Zablow took over fulltime and Bordentown got a top-20 state ranking one season.
His first high school position came as a volunteer assistant for Pemberton in 2014. The following year he was co-head coach at Ewing, and last year, a re-shuffling left him as the JV coach.
Now, he is back home and excited to get going in his first year as the sole proprietor of a program.
“This is a very good feeling,” Zablow said. “Being a health and phys-ed teacher helped me get more into wanting to do coaching, since I knew doing camps would help me get more prepared for my teaching career. And then I kind of saw what it was like to teach kids to play soccer and strike a ball and all of that. So it kind of got me started and I fell in love with coaching. I’m still coaching a couple travel teams on the side right now that are eight and 11 years old.”
He had to give up his original travel team since coaches cannot coach their own players outside of high school. But he has a familiarity with the players after being with them for five years.
“Having worked with them in the summer, and having coached a lot of these guys already, it’s really helping with the transition,” Zablow said.
The Scotties are coming off a 13-6-1 season in which they won their second consecutive division title, and must replace one of the state’s top scorers in Matt Horner, who had 39 goals last year.
Zablow feels that senior Hector Harris “is a kid who probably could have had a great junior year if it wasn’t for Matt Horner being as good as he was, so I’m excited to see what he can do.” The coach is also looking for junior Kevin Cryan to be a “special player” and is pointing to midfielders Sean O’Leary and Isaac Bruccoleri as guys he is also counting on offensively.
Bordentown got a tough break when talented defender George Kalargheros tore his ACL last fall, but Zablow has faith in Sean Pedersen, Evan Carr and Kenny Villanueva to come through in the back.
“They’ve won the division two straight years so a goal of mine is to win it again,” Zablow said. “That’s one of my first goals. By doing that we will make the state tournament and should put ourselves in a pretty good spot to host a state game and then see what we can do in states.”
Zablow said he would be unsure of what formation and style he would play until getting several weeks to see his players perform in preseason.
“I have ideas where certain guys will look strong, but it will kind of depend on game-to-game,” he said. “We’ll have to play different against Rancocas Valley than we would against Holy Cross.”
One thing is certain: Zablow is not asking his players to do anything more than he can do in practice.
“I think my age helps me there,” he said “Just from the fact I tell them a lot of times during training camp that if we’re going to do a run, I’m not asking them to do anything that I can’t do myself. I think it helps I can play with them at practice, whether it’s 11 v 11 or possession drill I can jump in.”
“He’s gonna bring that work ethic to training all summer and fall,” Brennan said. “He’s going to do a lot of great things. He pays attention to little things.”
And Brennan will be there to help if needed, but will mostly stay out of the way and let Zablow make the program his own.
“He helps me out behind the scenes when I’m looking at what gear to order and when I’m trying to finalize schedules and stuff like that,” Zablow said. “It’s hard to step away from the game completely. He still wants the program to succeed, so it’s nice to have him on my side and have his support.”
Support might not be a strong enough word. Let’s just say Brennan is the president of the Jason Zablow Fan Club, and proud to be so.