MORRISTOWN — For Union Local, the time is now.
Head coach Bernie Thompson, who is beginning his fourth season at the helm of his alma mater, doesn’t want to hear words like youth or rebuild.
“We have to turn the corner this year … no more excuses,” Thompson said. “Our guys have put in the work and now it’s time to learn how to win football games.”
The Jets welcome back a significant core from last season’s team that won only two games, but competed significantly better than it did a year prior when they lined up with mostly freshmen and sophomores and finished 0-10.
Coach Bernie Thompson on the upcoming campaign
UL has a record 55 players on the roster. Considering its record the last couple of seasons, Thompson is extremely excited about that.
The Jets offense should be a strength when you consider they return their top three rushers, a 1,500-yard passer, half of their top four receivers and the majority of their O-line.
Fueling the offense will be junior Carter Blake (6-2, 172), who completed 124-of-238 passes for 1,572 yards and 13 TDs last year.
Thompson raved about the offseason that Blake has put in. It included a trip to Louisiana for the Manning Passing Academy.
“Carter is a tremendous kid, hard worker and competitor,” Thompson said.
Junior Jaksan Price (5-10, 215) is embarking on his third season as one of the top ball carriers for UL. He’ll be joined by junior speedster Hayden McCrate (5-10, 185).
A season ago, Price rushed for 993 yards and 11 TDs, while McCrate, who battled injuries and sat out half the season due to OHSAA transfer rules.
Vying to get into the mix at running back are senior Aiden Myers (6-0, 160), juniors Brody Myers (5-9, 160), Preston Curry (6-2, 202), sophomores Jake Toohey (5-9, 170), Levi James (5-7, 140), Matt Keller (5-8, 145) and freshmen Dre Saunders (5-8, 120).
One of the Jets’ keys will be finding a replacement for graduated wide receiver Carter Loase, who participated in last month’s OVAC All-Star Game. He caught 53 passes for 853 yards and 10 TDs.
Senior Dakota Hess (5-11, 202) caught 24 passes last season and missed some time with injury. Senior Caleb McWhorter (5-7, 160) is coming off a 33-catch year in which he gained 319 yards and scored two TDs.
A large group of tight ends have been competing for that job throughout camp. It includes juniors Dylan Higgenbotham (6-2, 185), Trey Jeffers (5-11, 202), sophomore Coye Fillipovich (5-8, 170), freshmen Logan Hess (5-10, 185) and Peyton Causby (6-0, 160).
Leading the way up front is junior Carson Causby (5-10, 209), who is embarking on his third season as a starter at left tackle.
The other tackle is expected to be sophomore Johnny Sabinski (6-0, 252), while sophomore Alex Beaver (5-9, 222) is ticketed for the right guard.
The battles for the starting center spot has been between junior Tyler Graham (6-1, 271) and sophomore Evan White (5-9, 215).
At left guard, senior Coleman Peck (5-9, 200) and junior Trey Underwood (5-8, 202) have been battling for the spot.
The linebacker corps should be a strength with Dakota Hess and McCrate leading the way at the inside spot. McCrate could slide down to a defensive end spot.
Higgenbotham and Myers are penciled in at the sam and will linebackers, respectively.
A defensive end rotation is expected to include Causby, Price and Curry, while Logan Cole, Lucas and Sabinsky are getting the majority of the work at defensive tackle.
The secondary is the level of the defense where the most question marks reside, according to Thompson.
Moore, Blinco, Akers and McWhorter are working at the corner spots. Blake could see time at safety, but Thompson would prefer not to have his quarterback on the field for an entire game.
So, Toohey and Brody Myers are vying at free safety.
Blake is expected to handle the punting duties and the kicking job is a battle between numerous players.
Assistant coaches are Anthony Rocchio, Joe Toohey, Ryan Kutcher, Jimmy Hess, Josh Luyster and Vaughn Butler.