by- Sean Farrell NorthJersey.com

This year is all about defense for Waldwick/Midland Park.

The Warriors have a title to defend and the defense to win a championship.

The co-op raced to the top of the NJIC Colonial last season and it’s not hard to figure out how. The Warriors held teams to 11 points per game (third best in North Jersey) and pitched four shutouts during an 8-2 season.

Coach Greg Gruzdis is confident that his team will be able to build on that success in 2020. It doesn’t hurt to have the biggest roster in years.

“We think our defense could even take the next step and be better than last year,” said Gruzdis, now in his 11th season. “Last year was unbelievable and we’re super excited about our defense again this year.”

Garfield at Waldwick/Midland Park high school football game on Friday October 10, 2019. Waldwick celebrates a touchdown.

The excitement is justified with Shawn Grigsby and Zach Hulsizer returning at linebacker. Grigsby became the first player under Gruzdis to receive first-team, all-county honors.

The secondary will be led by corners Rashawn Markman and Christian Cerrito. Myles Leonard, a Bergen County finalist in wrestling, will be in the rotation at safety.

The big story last season was the tantalizing speed at running back. Grigsby backed up the hype with 1,327 yards and 20 touchdowns, but Markman missed significant time with a knee injury. Both will be featured in the ground game this year with Hulsizer, a fullback.

“We’re going to have a three-headed monster there,” Gruzdis said. “Pick your poison.”

The most significant change will come at quarterback. Junior Russell Pigg is expected to lead the Wing T after an impressive summer.

“He studies and watches film and knows our offense inside and out,” Gruzdis said.

History

The Warriors have won six division titles and one state sectional title (1988). Midland Park also owns two division titles from its time as an independent program.

Since joining forces in 2006, the rival towns have combined to go 75-65. The Warriors have finished with a winning record in six of the last seven years.

Expectations

Garfield at Waldwick/Midland Park high school football game on Friday October 10, 2019. Waldwick #33 Zachary Hulsizer with the ball.

Waldwick/Midland Park will not be a particularly experienced team with only five seniors.

But Gruzdis said the goals will be the same as they are every year: the Warriors want to win the division, contend for the conference title and put themselves in a good spot for the postseason.

It’s been more than 40 years since a Waldwick team repeated as division champions, but this group will have a chance.

Developing an offensive line will be the key since Braden Holm is the only returning starter. Staying healthy is also going to be crucial for the Warriors with several two-way players.

“Some guys that didn’t get out there and have been waiting their turn are hungry to step out there,” Gruzdis said.

Coronavirus impact

Gruzdis felt like his team had a productive summer in spite of COVID-19. He counted 50 players on the roster and said the turnout was high all summer.

The caveat is that the Warriors weren’t able to do some of the usual training activities like 7-on-7s. Tackling technique will need to be polished up after a truncated preseason.

“We managed to get seven weeks in so we got to Phase 3,” Gruzdis said. “It’s a lot more than some other schools.”

Tentative 2020 schedule

Oct. 2: Lodi

Oct. 9: at Lyndhurst

Oct. 16: Garfield

Oct. 23: at Rutherford

Oct. 30: Manchester

Nov. 6: TBD

Nov. 26: TBD

Sean Farrell is a high school sports reporter for NorthJersey.com. For full access to live scores, breaking news and analysis from our Varsity Aces team, subscribe today. To get breaking news directly to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter and download our app 

Email: farrells@northjersey.com Twitter: @seanfarrell92