The West Windsor-Plainsboro football team is feeling better about the potential for the program in its second season co-opping with players from both high schools in the district.
“I feel like we’ve really improved from the first day,” said High School North senior Aarsh Dadan, one of four captains. “Since we graduated a lot of seniors from last year, I feel like we have a lot more younger kids in many of our starting positions. As we’ve moved through the season I feel like we’ve melded more together as a team this year.”
In its first year as a co-op, WW-P went 0-9, and the team is still currently winless, starting the season 0-3 (a 54-13 loss at Trenton on Sept. 14, a 28-21 loss at Hamilton West on Sept. 21 and a 50-13 loss in its home opener against Notre Dame on Sept. 27). The team hopes to get its first win on Friday, October 4 at Hightstown. The game is at 7 p.m.
Despite the losses last year, there was a bright spot hidden at the base of the program. The freshman team was unbeaten. Many of them now will have a chance to play varsity.
“This year we have a young team,” said another team captain, High School South senior Major Wilbur. “The focus is to set a strong foundation for the young players so we get on track to become a stronger team.”
Dadan will play right guard on offense and defensive tackle on defense for the second straight season. “I feel like our line has greatly improved from previous years,” Dadan said.
WW-P considers itself a passing team, but has focused on being more effective in the running attack if they are going to pass well. They have a good starting point with three senior starting offensive linemen. They also have focused on being able to stop the run, something that was a problem last year.
“I take it as a challenge,” Dadan said. “I feel it’s good to set goals like that, especially since we haven’t been able to accomplish that in previous years. I find it a good driving force for our offensive linemen to get together and establish that run game from the beginning.”
Wilbur will also play on both sides of the ball. He’s playing H-back, which WW-P will utilize more this year on offense, and he returns at inside linebacker for a defense that he feels confident will be much improved.
It’s the third year starting at linebacker on varsity for Wilbur, who was named after former West Virginia star quarterback Major Harris.
Now he’s drawing on that experience in his captain role and as quarterback of the defense.
“I feel a lot more confident,” said Wilbur, a team captain. “As a sophomore, I started on the South team. Playing with older kids when you’re a sophomore can be nerve-wracking. Now as a senior, it gives you confidence and you feel more like a leader.”
This year, the offense will be in the hands of last year’s freshman quarterback, Shane Johnson.
“The culture is much improved,” said WW-P head coach Jeff Reilly. “The kids have shown a good response to what we’re doing.”
Wilbur said he thinks that WW-P could surprise some teams this year. They will once again be an underdog in many games, but are looking to establish a new level of competitiveness this year.
The scrimmages helped to emphasize the importance of the concepts and details that WW-P is emphasizing.
The start of the season will show WW-P what it needs to do to take the next step. They know each week will be a challenge and a chance to develop.
“Early signs are our first three games will be very competitive,” Reilly said. “Right off the bat we’ll be tested. It won’t be easy but I think our kids will compete well and possibly come out with some positive things and after that the schedule is lighter, but it’s a competitive Mercer County schedule.”
Dadan is looking to lift the program in his final season. The future is looking brighter, and this year needs to have progress.
“I take it as a challenge to be better than how it was in previous years for us,” Dadan said. “We know these kids are coming up and we have to show them so we keep the program alive. We want to keep getting that freshman season over and over again and maybe get it at a varsity level.”
Both Dadan and Wilbur are keeping their college options open, and spending this fall focusing on helping to lead a WW-P program on the rise.
“Against the tough teams, I’m just hoping we’re able to compete at the level we’re expected to compete at,” Wilbur said. “If we can establish ourselves as a team, we’ll send our message to the rest of the CVC that we’re developing and getting there.”