Bears hoping to overcome early injuries

East Brunswick opens tonight against Perth Amboy


Staff Writer

SCOTT PILLING staff Randal Nixon is back to lead a Bears offense that has not had much practice time together this preseason due to a rash of injuries that has besieged the team. SCOTT PILLING staff Randal Nixon is back to lead a Bears offense that has not had much practice time together this preseason due to a rash of injuries that has besieged the team. Normally the beginning of a new season is the time to express hope and possibility, realistic or otherwise.

But for East Brunswick High School football coach Marcus Borden, tonight’s opener against Perth Amboy brings more than a little anxiety.

The coach started preseason drills with an eye toward improving upon last year’s rather uncharacteristic 2-8 record. After all, there were kids coming back with an autumn’s worth of tough experience under their collective belt. Then the injuries started – and while Borden praises his players’ hard work and still has hopes that his gridders will be competitive in the always tough Greater Middlesex Conference Red Division – there remains a lot of uncertainty.

“We’re pretty banged up and now it’s a patchwork situation,” Borden said. “It really started with our very first intrasquad scrimmage.”

At the moment, it’s difficult to tell when EBHS will field a full complement of varsity frontliners. On the bright side, however, the Bears have quite a few seniors back in the fold, starting with the quarterback and co-captain Randall Nixon, a 6-1, 207-pounder.

“He’s big, very physical and he has a strong arm,” said the coach. “We’ll try to take advantage of that.”

The other co-captain is running back-linebacker Sergio Garcia (5-9, 190), who is not only one of the Bears’ primary rushers, but also showed his versatility by leading the defensive unit in tackles last fall.

Back for another fall on the offensive and defensive lines are Chris Santiago, who carries a formidable 286 pounds on his 6-2 frame, and Tom Correa, who stands 6-1 and weighs in at 242. Another key senior lineman, Jeremy Bloom (5-10, 222), is among the injured, and Borden hopes he’ll be back in action for the early going. Also sidelined is senior Alex Weidenfeld (5-11-159), a returning receiver, who may be out indefinitely.

As for the other returnees, senior Eric Eckhardt (6-0, 206) started at tight end and wide receiver last year, junior Bobby Tocco, a 5-10, 150-pounder, is back at outside linebacker, along with defensive end Kevin Norris, a 6-2, 216-pound junior.

“We also have some new people,” Borden said. “Junior Doug Fischer [6-0, 158] was a quarterback, but has moved to wide receiver, and I think he looked pretty good in scrimmages. Another junior receiver, Andrew Mariani (5-7, 165) has also had a fairly decent preseason.”

East Brunswick will also test some sophomore talent, including defensive back Randy Varbelow, a 5-10, 160-pounder, and Justin Price (5-9, 162), who will see action at linebacker.

As usual, Borden has a deep staff of assistant coaches to help out on the sidelines, starting with the Pazinko brothers, Glenn and Matt. Also in the braintrust are Andy Steinfeld, Keith Lane, Justin Hornlein, Chris Yanazzo, Tom Giordano and David Hagen.

It’s some small consolation for Borden, perhaps, that his 24th campaign will begin with considerably less controversy than his 23rd. Last season, readers may recall, the coach made some national headlines when he briefly resigned over his practice of holding a prayer before each game. That seems like ancient history now, and Borden’s chief concern is getting people like Bloom and Weidenfeld back on the field, so his Bears can have a fighting chance to return to reverse last year’s ledger and return to something like the 6-2 record they forged back in 2004.

“Our main goal right now,” he said plainly, “is to get healthy.”