Experience Should Help Pinelands Regional Football in 2016
When Brian Wilkinson was hired as the head coach of the Pinelands Regional High School football team in 2013, he knew he had his work cut out for him. The Wildcats hadn’t won a single game in 2011 or 2012, so Wilkinson knew he’d have to build up a struggling program.
Well, it looks as if he’s done that. True, the wins have come slowly. Pinelands won just one game in 2013. In 2014 it won two, but one was the result of a forfeit because the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association discovered that one opposing team that had defeated the Wildcats had used an ineligible player. Last year, though, the Wildcats clawed out two on-the-field victories.
And Pinelands football is also slowly but surely gaining strength in another, perhaps more critical way. When Wilkinson started, only 32 Pinelands athletes came out for the team; this year that number had risen to 48. And the kids seem to be more dedicated.
“My first year, only 15 to 18 kids were working out during the summer,” said Wilkinson. “This year we had 32 to 35 kids running and lifting every day.”
Wilkinson’s momentum and the 2015 team were hurt by losing 18 players to graduation, leaving only three offensive starters and a lone defensive starter for the coach to work with. This time around the damage was far less.
“We have a lot more experience this year,” he said.
Indeed, some key cogs in the Pinelands double wing running machine are still in place.
Five starters in Pinelands’ seven-man offensive line are returning – two tight ends and a center, guard and tackle.
Brennan Richardson is also back. He was named as a running back on the 2015 Asbury Park Press B South Coaches All-Division Team after gaining 912 rushing yards on 137 carries – a 6.65 yards-per-carry average – and scoring six touchdowns as a sophomore.
Toss in sophomore Evan Burton, who Wilkinson said is a key newcomer, at running back and the Pinelands rushing game should once again be strong.
Two players are battling it out for the QB job, senior Tommy Madge, who Wilkinson said had been with the team as a freshman but then left it the past couple of years, and sophomore Garrett Brown.
Pinelands is clearly a running team. Last year’s starting QB, Nick Rex, who graduated in the spring, attempted only 31 passes all season, completing eight for a mere 52 yards. That could change this year, according to Wilkinson.
Don’t expect Madge or Brown to attempt 20 passes a game. In fact, with the double wing offense, don’t expect 10 tosses a contest. But the Wildcats may air it out more than they did in Wilkinson’s first three years.
“We have a new offensive coordinator, Charlie Diskin, who used to be the Toms River East head coach,” said Wilkinson. “I think he’s going to help us open up our offense a little bit.”
Diskin had a 48-54 record over 10 years with East. He was highly successful at first, winning divisional titles in 2006, 2008 and 2009, going 10-1 two times and reaching the state semifinals twice. The team went 5-5 in 2010 but then slipped, not posting a winning record again before he resigned last December.
The two coaches are reversing roles – Wilkinson was Diskin’s defensive coordinator before taking the Pinelands head-coaching job. Now Wilkinson is the boss.
So, with an experienced line, a budding star in the backfield and a familiar face next to him on the sidelines, Wilkinson is looking forward to continued improvement in the 2016 season.
The Wildcats will be on the road for their season opener, visiting Point Pleasant Boro on Sept. 9 for a game that will kick off at 7 p.m.
— Rick Mellerup