Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

W. Milford Keeps It All in Family

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

W. Milford Keeps It All in Family

Article excerpt

WEST MILFORD - It's a family-first environment this season for the West Milford High School football team.

A year after finishing with a 1-8 record and posting a seventh-straight sub .500 campaign, the Highlanders are banding together as a team and preaching more of a "we" rather than a "me" attitude in an effort to get back on track.

"We really didn't have a great family environment the last few years and I think that was an issue," said West Milford senior captain AJ Bakunas. "This preseason we've done a good job preaching the family mentality. It's important we play together and work towards a common goal."

Bakunas leads a West Milford family that returns a handful of seniors this fall with varsity experience as well as a strong junior class that is expected to fill some holes left behind by graduation.

On offense, junior quarterback Zack Milko is back after getting the starting nod midway through the 2016 season. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Milko did a good job keeping the Highlanders within striking distance the last half of the season, which included the team's only victory in a Week 7 home matchup against Vernon in which West Milford pulled out a 27-21 victory.

Joining Milko in the backfield is versatile senior running back Tristan Bakalian, a two-year starter and three-year letterwinner who was used at several skill positions last season.

Junior returning starter Ryan Coyle is the feature wide receiver and junior tight end Dan DiMinno is back after starting towards the end of the 2016 season.

Bakunas anchors the offensive line from his center position and will work beside senior front men Anthony Derin and Dylan Purdy, who are healthy after missing significant time last season with injuries.

"We lost Dylan for almost the entire season last year and Anthony was with us for a while before a concussion sidelined him late in the season," said veteran head coach Don Dougherty, who is in his sixth season at West Milford. "Our line play is going to be a big part of our game and it's great to have some leadership up front."

Junior newcomer Noah Walker is the starting guard and is coming off an impressive offseason according to Dougherty. …

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