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It's been a series of peaks and valleys over the last few seasons for the Lakewood Piners and they've hit bottom and are trying to get back up.

They had a stretch of making the playoffs for seven years in a row but the 2018 and 2019 campaigns were not kind to them and it wasn't necessarily because of skills, abilities and putting points on the board."

"I think going to the playoffs for seven straight years, character had a lot to do with that," head coach LJ Clark tells the Shore Sports Network. "In the offseason, we've been doing a lot of character building, not really X's and O's, and I think that's going to help us this year because I have a group of kids with better character. I think the character of the team is very good this year."

The character building is not just for the football field at practices and games but for how the Piners act in the classroom and in the community.

"It's flat out morals, 'what do you do when we're not watching?' and I'm a firm believer that if you're a good person, good things will work out for you," Clark said. "If you're doing the right thing off the field, I think the right thing will happen to you on the field. We've been preaching (to the team) do the right thing all of the time."

The top goal of the Piners program under Clark isn't to just pick up wins on the football field, it's to pick up wins in the classroom and in life.

"If your goal is to just win football games, you're never going to win. The goal of my program is that we're going to be good kids on and off the field," Clark said. "Our main goal is to get these kids to have a better life in college or some type of post-high school education. It's about pushing these kids to better themselves."

Photo by Richard O'Donnell

There may only be between 30 and 40 student-athletes on the roster but Clark says "I have eight or nine kids going to college every year. I have some kids going into the military as well."

One of Clark's former players ended up in the NFL earlier this year when Chapelle Russell was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of Temple University, where another former Piner, Amir Tyler, currently plays as a redshirt Senior.

Clark is passing onto his players what his late mother, Barbara, who had a huge impact on the Lakewood community, passed on to him before she died in June.

"For the last ten years my mother cooked pasta dinners on Thursdays or Fridays, every night before a game and before every home game she would cook twelve dozen eggs and six pounds of bacon for the kids so they'd have a square meal to eat," Clark said. "She was the best and she loved Lakewood football."

Clark said this season is for Momma Clark.

 

At A Glance

Projected Starters:

Offense: Shotgun Wing-T

QB: Jayvon Gonzalez So.

RB: Haaziq Barksdale Sr.; Angel Gonzalez Sr.; Gustavo Saaverda Sr.; Kenyon Tims So., Rashon Dabney Sr.

FB: Raymond Torres Sr.; Alexis Montes Jr.

SB/WR: Andre Peace Jr.

WR: Evan Wall Sr.

WR: Sykeer Powell Sr; Matt Sutton Sr.; Matt Vargas Jr

OL: Jayvon McDaniels Sr.

OL: Jalen London Jr.

OL: Lamir Clark Jr.

OL: Raymond Torres Sr.

OL: Alexis Baustia So.

Defense: 3-4 Multiple

DL: Jayvon McDaniels Sr.

DL: Jalen London Jr.

DL: Lamir Clark Jr.; Raymond Torres Sr.; Angel Gonzalez Sr.; Alexis Baustia So.; Alexis Montes Jr.

LB: Angel Gonzalez Sr.

LB: Gustavo Saaverda Sr.

LB: Kenyon Tims So.

LB: Rashon Dabney Sr.; Alexis Montes Jr.

DB: Haaziq Barksdale Sr.

DB: Evan Wall Sr.

DB: Sykeer Powell Sr.; Matt Sutton Sr.; Matt Vargas Jr

SS: Andre Peace Jr.

Special Teams

K: Jayvon Gonzalez So.

P: Jayvon Gonzalez So.

 

Head Coach: L.J. Clark, 10th season

Career Record: 41-51

Team Record Last Five Seasons: 

2019: 2-8

2018: 1-9

2017: 6-5

2016: 7-3

2015: 6-4

Assistant Coaches: Evan Baubles (Assistant Head Coach/Off. Coordinator); Andy Carlstrom (Defensive Coordinator); Sam Turner (OL); Be Pivets (WR/DB); Bob Terringo (FB/LB); Tim Brown, Mike Muth, Tim Redding, John Revel.

 

Player to Watch: Haaziq Barksdale, Sr., RB/DB

The younger brother of former Piners star Amir Tyler is poised for a big senior campaign of his own. Barksdale is now a four-year starter for Lakewood and Clark predicts he is going to have a breakout year.

"He's one of the fastest kids in the Shore Conference in track and field. He's also done a really great job of dedicating himself during quarantine by staying in shape and running by himself, and I think his hard work is going to pay off," Clark said.

 

Player Under the Radar: Andre Peace, Jr.,  WR/SS

May there be Peace on offense...and defense, too. Clark expects this 2-year starter to have a breakout junior season in large part because of his speed.

"He's one of the top guys in track at the Shore and unfortunately because of the spring season being cut short (due to Covid-19) no-one really knows that he's that fast," Clark said.

 

Impact Newcomer: Jayvon Gonzalez, So. QB

It'll be a baptism by fire for Jayvon Gonzalez who will be taking the reins as the starting quarterback in 2020. Clark describes him as "very athletic" and someone who has taken the bull by the horns during training camp.

 

Top Position Group: Running Backs

From Chapelle Russell to Amir Tyler, the Piners have found success in recent seasons at the running back position. Russell and Tyler moved to become primarily defense players at Temple University but they both have been blessed with speed and that's something that comes out of the current group of running backs in Lakewood. The group this year will be led by Tyler's younger brother, Haaziq Barksdale, whose ability to find daylight could provide a much-needed boost to the offense.

 

Big Shoes To Fill: Evan Wall, Sr. WR/DB

It's very important to have skillful receivers with good hands and great speed and can also block a little bit in a Shotgun Wing-T offense. The Piners lost three wide receivers to graduation following last season in Rodney Wall, Tymir Bergstrom and Sean Antoine, all of whom were also over six feet tall. Wall and the other receivers playing this season will need to have speed, agility and good instincts to make up for a lack of size.

 

X-Factor: The offensive line

The Piners have produced some successful running backs over the years and they've been helped by the offensive line. They have four starters returning this season and Clark says they'll be relied on heavily.

 

2020 Season Schedule:

Saturday, Oct. 3 – vs. Central, 1 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 9 – at Toms River South, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 17 – vs. Monmouth, 1 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 24 – vs. Pinelands, 1 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 30 – at Jackson Liberty, 7 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 6 – at Point Boro, 7 p.m.

 

You can follow Vin Ebenau on Twitter and Instagram and email at vin.ebenau@townsquaremedia.com.

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