West Milford High School’s 2019 football season is set to begin on Sept. 6 against the Indian Hills Braves.
”These kids have been busting their tails for the whole summer, for the whole off season,” said Head Coach Steve Maslanek. “It’s an exciting time for us. Just got to stay humble, stay hungry, and just keep working and keep moving forward.”
This will be Maslanek’s second season as head coach of the Highlanders’ football squad after replacing Donald Dougherty in January of last year.
Maslenek, who’s been an educator and science teacher at the school for the last 13 years, served as an assistant football coach since 2004 before taking over as the team’s defensive coordinator in 2008.
The Highlanders finished last season with a record of 5-5, which marked the first time since 2009 that the team won at least five games and was enough to qualify for the postseason.
West Milford will now have to turn to both returning players and newcomers to replace last year’s talented senior class, which the coach credits with cultivating a winning culture that has carried over to this off season.
“Guys that may not have a ton of experience, they’ve stepped up and why I think that is, it’s just coming from last year,” said Maslanek. “We lost some close games last year, but I think the culture really shifted a lot.”
The good news is that four of five linemen on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, including three of the team’s captains, are among the returning players.
“Throughout our scrimmages, and we had a pretty decent scrimmage schedule, we did very good up front,” Maslanek said. “And that’s huge in high school football.”
Versatile senior Kevin Schaeffer, who plays quarterback and tight end for the team, is also returning this year.
Two impact players who had previously left the school will be transferring back this season as well, according to Maslanek, which is a testament to the positive direction of the football program.
Aside from the returning veterans, less experienced players will be counted on to step up this season.
“We have a bunch of younger guys who may not necessarily have a ton of varsity experience, but they’re very talented,” said Maslanek. “They’re improving every day, which is great.”
Maslanek believes the talent and athleticism is there, but that the team simply needs more game experience to reach its true potential.
”We’ll go one game at a time,” said Maslanek.
The coach believes it’s his team’s work ethic as well as its mental and physical toughness that will set it apart this year.
After the Highlanders kick off what Maslanek refers to as a “tough” schedule at Indian Hills on Sept. 6, the team is set to host its first home game the following week against Vernon Township High School.