West Windsor-Plainsboro football program entering new season with optimism

North Brunswick Volunteer Fire Co. Nos. 2 and 3 hang the American flag over the entrance to the football field at North Brunswick Township High School prior to the start of the 20th annual Care to Walk for breast and ovarian cancer on Oct. 28.

Two years ago, West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North could not field a varsity football team. The program didn’t have enough players.

So after the missed 2017 season, West Windsor-Plainsboro North merged its football program with West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South’s program, which was similarly depleted. Heading into the second year of the combined program, the West Windsor-Plainsboro football team is in a healthy place again.

The 2018 program had over 60 players on varsity/junior varsity and 30 players on its freshmen team. This year, West Windsor-Plainsboro will again field a three level program, varsity, junior varsity and freshmen. Coach Jeff Reilly has 58 players practicing between the varsity and JV teams, and 24 players signed up for the freshmen squad.

West Windsor-Plainsboro will open its 2019 varsity season on Sept. 14 against Trenton Central High School in Trenton at 1 p.m. Reilly’s varsity team will play half of its home games at South and the other half at West Windsor-Plainsboro North High School in Plainsboro.

“The program is looking good,” Reilly said. “The numbers are good and the culture is developing.”

The transition from two programs at separate schools to one program between two schools was a smooth one, Reilly said. The players had to adjust to each other and the schools needed to figure out logistics like busing from one high school to another, but overall there were no major issues.

But as expected, the West Windsor-Plainsboro varsity team struggled on the field, going 0-9 and losing eight games by double digits. Despite the losses, though, the players remained committed to practicing and playing hard.

“We competed and that’s big in our sport,” Reilly said. “I thought it was a positive experience even though we were 0-9.”

With a lot of talent back for 2019, Reilly thinks this year’s varsity team can compete on the scoreboard.

Then freshman quarterback Shane Johnson entered in relief in West Windsor-Plainsboro’s season finale last year, and threw for 187 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown. The rising sophomore is entering 2019 as Reilly’s projected starter.

“He’s looking excellent,” Reilly said. “He’s a competitor who lives for the game.”

Johnson, who will run his coach’s spread offense, has a lot of options to work with. West Windsor-Plainsboro has four fast skill position players in George Battle, Elijah Powell, Brandon Drayton and Makhi Thompson.

Battle and Powell are returning to the team from last season; Drayton transferred from Eastern Regional High School and joined the combined team; and Thompson “scored four or five touchdowns per game on the freshmen team” in 2018, Reilly said.

“I’m excited to see what he can do,” he added.

In front of those skill guys, West Windsor-Plainsboro has four offensive line starters back as well, tackle Tyler Pandolpho, guard Aarsh Dadan, center Andrew Osborn and tackle A.J. Elhossiani. Those guys will double as defensive linemen, as well. And behind them on defense, West Windsor-Plainsboro has three starting linebacker returning in Major Wilbur, Moses Harris and Jack Hendry.

Reilly’s team has a lot of starters and quality players back on both sides of the ball, as they will try to earn the first victory of the unified era in West Windsor-Plainsboro football.

“It’s looking good,” he said.