The 2019 football season hasn’t started yet, but Metuchen High School has already earned a huge victory.
Metuchen had 39 players at its first week of padded practices from Aug. 12-16, which is more than twice the amount of players as the program had in 2018.
After an 0-9 season, in which the Bulldogs were outscored 257-39, the team’s head coach stepped down. In lieu of his departure, Metuchen’s boys’ basketball coach, Guy Jensen, took over in April and started reaching out to younger players in the area, as well as other students in the high school.
The efforts worked over the summer, when Metuchen averaged 24-28 players at its workouts. But Jensen’s efforts are really paying off now, as the Bulldogs have added players to the roster even since those workouts began.
Jensen does not necessarily expect victories. But he definitely hopes the Bulldogs improve on their -218 point differential.
“I want to be competitive,” Jensen said.
The increased numbers have had a couple positive effects so far. Metuchen is now practicing with three units in its varsity lineup – a first, second and third. It is also keeping a full junior varsity schedule, a key to developing any scholastic athletic program.
“I’m really happy about that,” Jensen said in response to the full JV schedule.
In basketball, Jensen has a core philosophy about picking starters. A tie goes to the younger player, because the coaching staff will have more time to develop him. Jensen also believes this method will help a program develop chemistry as time goes on.
The Metuchen football program needs to cultivate both talent and chemistry, so Jensen is taking the same approach with his football squad. As many as 11 sophomores may start on offense, while Metuchen’s defense will feature a similar amount of young players, as well.
But with such an inexperienced team, Jensen is keeping things simple on both sides of the ball. Metuchen’s offense will be conservative and run first, with a little misdirection mixed in. Its defense will use deep safeties to help prevent big plays.
“Nothing crazy,” Jensen said.
The main thing for these Bulldogs, right now, is establishing a culture that can maintain these stronger roster numbers. Metuchen had nearly 30 players at the start of 2018, but that number dropped to 16 as the season went on.
Jensen, his assistant coaches and his few experienced players, such as standout linebacker Freddy Krebs (a collegiate prospect), are trying to ingrain a winning mindset into the rest of the team.
“They have to come to practice on Labor Day weekend because we open the following Saturday. It’s more accountability,” Jensen said. “But those are life lessons; not just high school football lessons.”
Jensen knows his players will need time to adjust to the new culture. That kind of strength doesn’t just over night. This season will be devoted to building inner fortitude, not winning football games.
“It’s tough to put a real handle on that. But, we at least want the opportunity to win,” he said. “The kids need to see a reward for buying in and accountability.”
Metuchen High School will open its season on Sept. 7 at home against Keyport High School. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.