PATERSON, NJ - At long last, high school football has finally arrived in North Jersey. The Eastside High School varsity squad spent this week fine-tuning their game plan for their first contest of the season, Friday night, October 2, at Passaic.
“We really got a late start this year due to COVID-19,” second year Head Coach James Magazine told TAPinto Paterson. “We had to close our weight room at the end of April. We were just allowed to open it, recently, while following the appropriate precautions.”
Magazine said he, his coaches, and players have adhered to New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association's (NJSIAA) rules throughout the pandemic.
“The opening day of practice for us was September 14,” Magazine observed. “At first we positioned players in a number of pods, or small groups, rather than the entire team. Now we are able to practice with all the players together. I hope the shortened practice time does not lead to injuries as we have already seen in the NFL. Thankfully, we haven’t had any yet.”
Two years ago, the Ghosts finished their fall foray with a 1-9 record. Last season, Magazine’s first at the helm, Eastside posted a winning record of 5-4. This year, both coaches and players expressed optimism for improvement. The Ghosts are highly ranked in at least one North Jersey poll.
“There is some stress with the lack of practice time,” Magazine admitted. “We feel great getting recognition but we must take everything one day at a time. We must prove ourselves on the field.”
The Ghosts’ roster is loaded with eight returning starters on offense and nine on defense, according to Magazine. A quartet of players, all juniors, have started since their freshman years. Arthur Edmonds will start at left offensive guard and right defensive tackle while Ahsin Jacobs gets the nod at wide receiver and defensive back. Kelvin Medina will snap the ball from the offensive center position and Amir Smith will line up at tailback.
Senior Whamier Reed, who split time last year with Michael Jackson III, will start at the key position of quarterback.
“Reed’s strengths are experience and a strong arm,” Magazine noted. “He’s a great leader. He listens and executes our game plan.”
Magazine said that the Ghosts will employ a spread offense yet focus on running the ball.
“We have so much speed that the running game will loosen up opposing defenses for the pass,” Magazine continued. “This year we have Alexander Quayir, a junior and transfer from DePaul. He has run the 100-meter dash in 4.4 seconds.”
Eastside will employ a 5-3 defense.
“Our focus will be against the run,” Magazine elaborated. “Stopping the run was one of our weaknesses two years ago. Last year we improved. This year we want to get better. Our goals include being competitive, having a winning season, and having a 100% graduation rate as well as having the players that are inspired to go to college do so.”
Senior Jonathan Gonzalez said he has, “a positive feeling about this season.”
“I play defensive back,” the 17-year old said. “The hardest part is that you have to do about everything. You have to look out for the run but also have to cover against the pass.”
Gonzalez said that he and his teammates did their best to stay in shape during the coronavirus hibernation.
“We had to send the coaches videos of us doing situps and pushups. I did my best and as a senior leader and encouraged the younger players to do the same.”
Middle-linebacker and fullback will be the positions that Albert Canty plays. The 18-year-old senior has also filled in at defensive end during his stellar prep career. “This year, I will be able to adjust my attitude because I am more mature,” Canty, also a varsity wrestler, stated. “Before, I would get mad if I missed a tackle or made a mistake. Now, I know if that happens, I will just come back and do better on the next play. At middle-linebacker, you have to make sure nothing goes across the middle while being able to make different pass coverages.”
Canty said his biggest thrill last year was Eastside’s win over cross-town rival John F. Kennedy High School.
Messiah Muckle said he has been playing football, “for my entire life.” The senior played for Elmwood Park last season and for Pope John XXIII Regional High School as a sophomore and hopes to play outside linebacker and wide receiver this year for the Ghosts.
“I saw the momentum that Coach Magazine and his staff have brought to Eastside, so I decided to transfer,” the 17-year old senior said. “The POD system worked well and it gave everyone a chance to learn. I like the IQ here. Some offensive plays are designed to gain a certain amount of yards but they may also sprout into more. Our offense is very versatile. You never know what you’re going to get hit with.”
Senior Amir Smith will line up at running back and outside linebacker for the Ghosts. “I like running the ball and scoring touchdowns,” the energetic Smith said. “This summer, we did our best to work out on our own. We made a big comeback last year after being 1-9 the year before. I can’t wait for the games to start.”
Sophomore Elijah Carroll grew up watching his father, Rufus Carroll, star at running back for Paterson’s amateur men’s football squad, the Silk City Sharks. The younger Carroll played for DePaul Catholic’s freshman team last year.
“There’s no place like home,” the 14-year-old said concerning his transfer to Eastside. “I want to be part of a winning tradition. My father has been a role model for me. I couldn’t ask for anyone better.”
A player that may turn out to be Eastside’s secret weapon is senior walk-on Levi Holton who said he has not played organized football since the 8th grade. However, he has done plenty of work dribbling and dunking on the basketball court, having started for the Eastside varsity since his sophomore year. Holton said that his football quest has the blessing of Eastside Head Basketball Coach Marquise Webb.
“My friends have been telling me for a long time to try out for football,” Holton said. “Now, I am 6’1” tall and 190 pounds. I had a growth spurt. This is my second day at practice. I am starting to feel good on the field.”
Eastside coaches also stress community service for their players.
Last year’s initiatives included cleaning up the weed-strewn yard of an elderly lady, a trunk-or-treat Halloween candy giveaway for children, handing out turkeys to those in need at Thanksgiving, and cleaning up a vacant lot beside Paterson’s Creech Temple.
This year’s Eastside coaching staff includes: James Magazine - Head Coach; Khalil Ahmad - Offensive Coordinator; Morris McKenzie - Secondary; Lindsey Jacobs - Defensive Coordinator; Lorenzo Leary - Receivers/ Linebackers; Bernard Williams - Running Back; Shamar Hill - Offensive Line; Kenny Ford - Defensive Line; Tahrik Brown- Special Teams; and Joseph Lusk- Special Teams.
The Ghosts open their season Friday night, October 2, against Passaic at 7:00 p.m. Thursday, October 8, at 6:00 p.m. marks Eastside’s home opener at Bauerle Field against Teaneck.
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