Washington Township football head coach Mike Schatzman took the position four years ago with the hope of transforming the Group V team back to its former glory back when Schatzman himself was wearing pads on Friday nights.
Schatzman took the job following a two-win season for the Minutemen. As expected it takes a few years for a coach’s vision and direction to be fully implemented within a program, especially when one of those years is mired by the difficulties of a COVID-shortened season.
But now in the midst of his fourth year, winning ways seem to be back in Washington Township. The Minutemen are 5-1 after six games this season. They started off the season with a four-game winning streak.
“For me personally, it’s really enjoyable to see the success that they’ve had thus far due to the work that they’ve put in,” Schatzman said. “It’s nothing that we’ve done differently in terms of time spent or anything like that, we’re fortunate to have some talented players and when you have talented players that work hard, it’s usually a recipe for success.”
Washington Township has given up a stingy 69 points on defense, good for sticking out as one of the best defensive teams thus far in the West Jersey Football League. But to win, you also have to score points, and Washington Township can do that early and often thanks to its two senior running backs.
Jo’Nathan Silver and Nah’mere Graves have, for the most part, taken turns in the backfield for Washington Township so far this season. Although Silver has double the carries and yards as Graves through six games, both have six rushing touchdowns to their name. The duo has helped maintain a strong offense while sophomore Jared Dzierzgowski gets his first season of varsity football under his belt. He also has six rushing touchdowns this season.
“We knew of both [Silver and Graves] as they were coming up through the ranks of our youth program and it was always a priority to make sure they stayed with us and not go anywhere else,” Schatzman said. “They had to wait for their opportunity and they’re absolutely making the best out of it.”
Graves, a varsity player for the last three years who plays on both sides of the ball, previously spent time as a wide receiver the last two years before refocusing at running back on offense for his senior year and is enjoying the opportunity to be a dynamic player each and every game.
“I realize that I have to work hard to be an asset on both sides of the ball, that’s going to be hard but knowing that those coaches I trust are on our side of the field, I can play my best,” Graves said.
In working together in the backfield alongside Silver, Graves thinks the pair are a force to be reckoned with every Friday night.
“I feel like we’re unstoppable when we’re both back there,” Graves said. “Having him by my side back there is a great feeling, sharing time with him isn’t a big deal at all, on a given day it can be my turn to shine or his in any given game.”
As for Silver, Schatzman said he thinks he is the type of running back whom Washington Township “hasn’t had in quite a long time.” Silver said the feeling is mutual and that the relationship between the two childhood friends makes for an exciting senior year.
“Nah’mere and I have been best friends since we were, like, 6 years old and always went back and forth with each other with carries and what not, and it’s nice to be able to have that other running back so you can go to and rely on that’s honestly just as good,” Silver said. “Neither of us have to carry a full load so we’re always fresh back there.
“And we’re always supportive of each other, too … earlier this year against Cherokee I didn’t have the best game but it was Nah’mere’s night and he went out there and got three touchdowns and I didn’t complain about that one bit, I couldn’t have been happier for him.”
Looking at last year, Silver thinks that the potential was there for last year’s team to do something similar to what it’s doing this year, if the Minutemen had the opportunity to play more than four games, but is at least grateful they have the chance to show what they can do before graduating from Washington Township.
“Our culture really changed last year and I think we had the ability to do something similar then to what we’re doing now if not for COVID,” Silver said. “But I’m proud to be able to say that I was a part of the grind and struggle that brought the team back together in this way.”