Camp Reports on Jax Liberty, Brick Mem. and Ocean/Alumni Updates and More…

August 30, 2009

Here are some more camp reports brought to you by our own Bob Badders, followed by some alumni links, updates and other notes.

JACKSON LIBERTY

The current group of Lions’ seniors is the first group to attend Jackson Liberty for all four years of high school rather than having been moved from Jackson Memorial when Jackson Liberty opened, which should add to the school solidarity under coach Tim Osborn. This is now the Lions’ third varsity season as a program after going 2-8 last year.

The offense has changed from the spread to the pro-I that Osborn engineered during a successful tenure as offensive coordinator under Bob Nani at Toms River North, so it’s more back to the bread and butter for Osborn. Dylan Wright and Steve Oborn are competing to replace Chris Castronuova at quarterback, and Mike Patterson looks to be the primary running back after starting on defense last year.

A key returner up front is center/inside linebacker Brendan Kahle, a name that instantly rang a bell because Kahle tied Middletown South lineman Travis Sodon as the winner of the essay contest at the first annual Donald Brown Player-to-Player Leadership Conference in April. Conducted by Indianapolis Colts rookie running back Donald Brown, a Red Bank Catholic graduate, the conference involved players writing 250-word essays about leadership, who they consider a leader, and what it means to them. Kahle’s reward for his prize-winning essay is an all-expenses paid trip to a Colts game this season. Who knows, maybe it will be the Colts’ home game on Dec. 13, after the high school season has ended, when the Denver Broncos and running back Knowshon Moreno come to town.

Senior Matt Tracy is another important returner up front at right tackle/defensive end, and a newcomer to watch with good size who has come out for the team this year is senior defensive tackle Miles Whitney. A big emphasis for the Lions has been putting forth a full 48-minute effort because in a lot of their games against high-profile opponents, they hung right with them for a half only to watch the game get away from them after the break.

BRICK MEMORIAL

Bob was at the scrimmage the other day between Brick Memorial and Ocean, which he said was 14-14 when the two teams had their varsity players in the game. Senior fullback Vinnie Sabba ran for a pair of touchdowns of about 25 and 15 yards for the Mustangs, who are the defending Central Jersey Group IV champions.

Senior running back Glenn McGinnis has added plenty of size and appears ready to have a big season along with Sabba in the backfield of the Mustangs’ triple option offense. However, he has been battling a nagging hamstring injury that he suffered during an offseason combine that kept him out of the scrimmage the other day. He looks to be ready for the team’s season opener and also is a good linebacker.

In the “Big Shoes to Fill” Department, junior Mike Diguilmi takes over for graduated star Brian Staub at quarterback, and against Ocean he showed good poise and athleticisim and made some good reads. With McGinnis and Sabba back there plus another talented back, senior Jared Aksdal, Diguilmi doesn’t have to put everything on his shoulders, he just needs to keep the ship running smoothly. What’s also helping is that Brick Memorial has Rob Orrok as its new quarterbacks coach. Orrok ran the triple option under Mustangs head coach Walt Currie when the two were at Point Boro, so he knows it inside and out, and Currie said his addition has been huge.

The Mustangs have three starters back on the O-line as well as several promising newcomers, so they should be fine up front as well.

Senior Billy Miller, who is also a talented wrestler, looked outstanding up front defensively in Memorial’s 3-4 set, as he has slimmed down from 250 pounds 220 and was in Ocean’s backfield several times.

All signs point to this team contending for the American Division title and reaching the postseason to defend its state sectional title. A big key will be getting over the hump against two-time defending division champion Toms River North, which has had Memorial’s number for the past few years, outscoring the Mustangs 59-10 in their last two meetings.

OCEAN

A player who jumped out immediately for coach Don Klein‘s crew at the scrimmage and should be a major playmaker for the Spartans this year is Brandon Robinson, who had a touchdown run and a touchdown catch against Brick Memorial. He lined up all over the field, from the backfield to splitting out wide, and looks like he will be a real weapon for them this season who is a threat to go the distance on any play.

Christian Bailoni returns at quarterback after rotating with the now-graduated Rhett Cowley last year, and sophomore Greg Moore is a promising newcomer who is another good athlete in the backfield along with Robinson.

Senior R.J. D’Apolito is one of the Shore’s better returning linebackers and also is back at fullback. He should be a team leader this season along with senior two-way tackle George Sofield, who has attracted some Ivy League interest. The Spartans also now have guard/defensive tackle Shaun Florke, a transfer from Long Branch who saw plenty of time with the Green Wave last year.

The goals are like they always are at Ocean – make a run at the Liberty Division title and try to get deeper into the playoffs after losing to Middletown South in the Central Jersey Group III semifinals last year. It looks like their offense should be more explosive after sputtering at times last year. The defense loses studs like defensive tackle Ricky Lyster, Cowley at safety and more, so we’ll see if it can approximate last year’s physical unit, which did not give up a point in any of the Spartans’ home games and only allowed 6.8 points per game.

As for some notes from Saturday, Asbury Park did well in a scrimmage that featured New Brunswick and Morristown, as senior RB George Stephens ran for multiple touchdowns and Lamar Davenport had two nice catches, according to Blue Bishops coach Don Sofilkanich. Davenport appears ready to take over where Derrell Bell left off last year. Stephens has received interest from several Division I-A schools in the Mid-American Conference but no offers yet, according to Sofilkanich. Sofilkanich also noted that New Brunswick, where he used to be an assistant, is huge up front, in the 290-pound range. That should make for some good battles as it faces Freehold and Middletown South this year and is also part of the rugged Central Jersey Group II bracket.

I also caught a glimpse of Manalapan as it faced off against defending South Jersey Group IV champion Mainland on Friday in the pouring rain and the Braves looked solid against a program that is perennially in the playoffs no matter who graduates. Junior quarterback Mike Bimonte has added about 25 pounds and refined his throwing motion, and the next beast of a running back to replace Jimmy Gilburn appears to be junior Josh Firkser, who saw time last year. Just like Gilburn, he has moved from tight end to tailback and has good size and speed. Speedy senior Kevin Cruz looks like he also should be able to make some plays down the field at wideout. The Braves also have a very strong sophomore class that should help make this team a real force over the next three years, including one running back/linebacker whose name I don’t want to butcher until I get the official spelling. I didn’t get to see much of the defense, so I can’t give a great read on that, but defensive end Johnny Dokouslis looked good and there appeared to be some good speed at linebacker.

And now finally, a few quick updates on some alumni:

–Linebacker Kevin Malast (Manchester/Rutgers) looks to continue a strong preseason camp on Sunday against the Broncos as he tries to make the Bears roster as an undrafted free agent.

–Kicker Pete Czech (Keyport) most likely won’t unseat one of the NFL’s best kickers, Pittsburgh’s Jeff Reed, but hopefully he has showcased himself enough in Reed’s absence in the preseason to get a good look from another NFL team.

—There has been a little bit of  a learning curve for highly-regarded Cincinnati Reds prospect Todd Frazier (Toms River South/Rutgers) since his recent promotion to Triple A.

—Frazier is one of four former Shore players currently in Triple A as we near the September call-up period when major-league rosters expand. Frazier’s older brother, Jeff Frazier (Toms River South/Rutgers), is in Triple A for the Detroit Tigers and having a solid season. Also, right-handed pitcher Jeff Sues (Red Bank Catholic) was recently promoted to Indianapolis, which is the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A team. Catcher Lou Santangelo (Christian Brothers Academy) is currently hitting .194 with the Round Rock Express, the Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros.

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Van Pelt Named New Manasquan Baseball Coach/A Look at the Competition and More…

August 29, 2009

The Manasquan Board of Education has approved Dennis Van Pelt as the new head baseball coach to replace Art Gordon, who stepped down for personal reasons this spring after 10 seasons at the helm.

Van Pelt was an assistant at Long Branch last year and was a former star for the Green Wave in the early 1990s. Van Pelt went on to play at Radford and was a 25th-round pick of the Anaheim Angels in 1994.

A host of team members and parents came to the Board of Education meeting on Aug. 26 to show their support for two other main candidates for the job, Brian Lee and Rob Maida, who were assistants under Gordon, but were ultimately disappointed as Van Pelt was approved. Lee, a Manasquan graduate, had been an assistant for the past few seasons while Maida came aboard before the 2008 season and  helped the Warriors win a share of the Class A Central public title this spring. It sounds like the parents and players were more pro-Lee/Maida than anti-Van Pelt, so we’ll see if that has any effect team chemistry-wise or anything like that.

Another high-profile opening that has yet to be filled is at Raritan, where head coach Bobby Devlin has stepped down after two seasons. He is currently a football assistant at Keansburg. The strongest candidate mentioned has been former Rockets coach T.J. O’Donnell returning for another stint after helping lead Raritan to a Group II title and regular playoff appearances during his tenure, but no one has been approved for the position as of now. O’Donnell was the head coach before stepping down to spend time with his family after the 2007 season.

Now, as for some football stuff, there are some good places to read up on teams that the Shore Conference may be running into come playoff time.

The Trenton Times has previews on the Mercer County teams that usually mainly make up part of the brackets in Central Jersey Group III and IV. The last Mercer County public team to win a state title was Ewing in 1985, with a resounding 3-0 win over Colonia in CJ III.

Click here for the Courier-Post’s look at some South Jersey powers and click here for some more on several of those teams from the Press of Atlantic City’s Mike McGarry.

Finally, some quick links on some Shore alumni.

Tight end Garrett Graham (Brick Memorial) has been named an offensive captain for Wisconsin this season.

Looks like Nick Macaluso (Middletown South) will be a back-up linebacker for Stanford this year after starting some games last season.

Outfielder Ryan Kalish (Red Bank Catholic) has been selected to play in the Arizona Fall League with some of the Red Sox’ other top prospects after having a solid season for the Class AA Portland Sea Dogs.

Nationals’ pitcher Jason Bergmann (Manalapan) joined a not-so-exclusive group when he was victimized by Albert Pujols for a game-winning homer last night.


B/G Hoops – New CN Girls/Marlboro Boys Coaches Up for Approval

August 28, 2009

Two rumored coaching hires seem to be going forth as expected as former Columbia University assistant Andrew Theokas is on the agenda to be approved as the new Marlboro boys basketball coach and Jeanene Healy is up to be approved as the new girls basketball coach at Colts Neck, according to the agenda for the Freehold Regional District Board of Education meeting scheduled for Monday.

Obviously, Healy is the more high-profile hire just given the fact that Colts Neck returns its entire lineup from a team that won the NJSIAA Group IV title and was the Tournament of Champions runner-up this past winter. An assistant at Howell under Bill Gallacher last season, she is the latest coach with AAU ties to get a head job in the Shore, as she is a coach for the Jersey Sting AAU team that is coached by Don Hampton, the father of star guard Brooke Hampton, a West Virginia recruit. Healy got the job over candidates like former Rumson boys head coach Jay Lagomarsino, who was a Manalapan boys assistant last season, former Marlboro assistant and college assistant Corey Cohen, and Colts Neck volleyball coach Glenn Jansen. She obviously has ties to Hampton, so you wonder if that put her over the top.

I guess the main question is whether Healy plans on sticking around for more than this season, as the Cougars will be starting from scratch after this group graduates.With the AAU pipeline, however, talent could always be quickly replenished with another young group of stars, which I suppose is also a possible scenario.

This team obviously has the potential to go back to the TOC after being led there by coach John Truhan, who stepped down and then took the head job at Central. I’ve heard plenty about this team being split into different factions among players and parents, so Healy’s biggest job may just be maintaining harmony on and off the court on a team loaded with talent and high expectations.

As for the Marlboro boys job, Theokas lives in New Jersey and formerly coached at Ocean County College, so he is familiar with this area and should be a good pick-up for the Mustangs. Unfortunately it didn’t get done until now so he didn’t really have the summer to work with his new team, but grabbing a college coach from an Ivy League program certainly should help. He has his work cut out for him as Class A North will be tough as usual with the likes of Christian Brothers Academy, Colts Neck, and Middletown South looking to be among the Top 5 in the Shore this coming season and a perennially winning program at Freehold Township that has to replace its top players. Marlboro has a good group of guards coming back, led by high-scoring swingman Andrew Goldstein.


Camp Reports – Mater Dei, SJV, Pinelands, Lacey, Southern, Manchester

August 28, 2009

Here are some more camp reports from the past few days. On Monday, Aug. 31, we will begin our previews with the

SJV RB Anthony Corona takes a handoff from QB Joe Carlucci

SJV RB Anthony Corona takes a handoff from QB Joe Carlucci

Patriot Division and then work our way up through the National Division, Liberty Division, Federal Division, Constitution Division and end with the American Division, so be on the lookout for those. Also, in this entry, the Lacey, Southern and Pinelands were fashioned by All Shore Media’s Bob Badders, who has been an invaluable help in getting around to all of the programs.

MATER DEI

There is certainly renewed enthusiasm under new head coach Ron Raymond for a team that has not won a game since going 4-6 in 2006. Raymond also has experience building up programs that have been mired in losing situations with low participation numbers at places like Spotswood and Cardinal McCarrick. He also was allowed to bring in his own staff, which includes veterans like defensive coordinator Mike Veth, which I think will make a difference. It also helps that Raymond is familiar with the Greater Middlesex Conference because the Seraphs have games against Cardinal McCarrick and Dunellen this year as part of the GMC-Shore Conference crossover schedule. It also can’t hurt that those teams replace the likes of Red Bank Catholic and Point Boro and give Mater Dei opponents it can be competitive against.

The Seraphs have 25 players total from freshmen to varsity, so once again depth is a factor, but it’s a factor with a lot of teams in the Patriot Division, so Raymond is not using it as an excuse. The good news is that they have eight starters back on both sides of the ball, so at least there is plenty of experience returning. Raymond also isn’t one of those “if we just show progress even if we got blown out by 40 points” moral victory-type of guys. He wants wins.

They will be running the triple option offense and a 4-4 base defense. While the triple option can be difficult for quarterbacks to pick up quickly because of the precise footwork and fakes, it certainly helps that Mater Dei just picked up Old Bridge transfer Jesse Meyer, a sophomore quarterback who became eligible a few days ago once all the paperwork was completed. He ran the same system while playing with Old Bridge and already is versed in all of the footwork it requires. He is competing with A.J. Knutsen for the starting QB spot, and the one who doesn’t win it will most likely play wingback.

A player that Mater Dei has high hopes for is right tackle/defensive end James Ferber, particularly at defensive end, so he is one to keep an eye on. Junior linebacker Kevin Quinn is another to watch along with wingback/outside linebacker Bart DeMattina.

Raymond has instituted a no-nonsense approach, particularly with the younger players as he builds toward the future. In a situation that I have only heard of when it involves teams that have been consistently stuck in losing situations, some players over the years and this season have missed preseason camp for a week or more because of vacation, which would be hard to fathom at a place like Middletown South or Manasquan. As Raymond put it,  “If you want to go on vacation, stay on vacation.” Also, little things like if a player is going to miss practice or be late, he wants to the player specifically to call him and be accountable instead of having his mother or father call.

Also, one other note – this preseason is turning into a contest of “The Biggest Loser” as far as coaches slimming down and shedding weight. In two years, I think Middletown South line coach Joe O’Connor has shed about 90 pounds thanks to a bet he had with some of his fellow teachers at Holmdel (the only way he could’ve lost that bet is if Paris Hilton is now teaching there) and during the offseason Middletown North offensive line coach Nick Trezza dropped about 30 pounds. However, the runaway leader by far is Mater Dei offensive/defensive line coach Shannon Hoadley, who has dropped 200 (!) pounds after weighing over 460 pounds. He had the stomach staple surgery and has been working out hard on a regular basis doing MMA training and more. I know Shannon from his days as an assistant with Mike Ciccotelli during the Cattouse-Bedle glory years at Keyport, and I didn’t even recognize him at first. It can’t hurt to set a good example for the players on the O-line, especially when you read so many stories about former linemen who have had a hard time controlling their weight after their playing days are over because they are so used to consuming a ton of calories to bulk up for football.

ST. JOHN VIANNEY

Talk about night and day with the atmosphere at practice over in Lancer-land from last year to this year, as St. John Vianney makes the transition from former coach John Amabile to new head coach Skip Edwards. First off, there were about 25 kids at practice when I went last year, and this season the varsity has 59 players. The freshman team was also practicing at the other end of the turf field at St. John Vianney, so there were about 100 players out on the field.

Talking to the players, they feel that team chemistry has also been greatly improved, so maybe it was for the best that top players like Charles Davis (Neptune), Jazzmar Clax (Freehold) and Julian Mayo (Long Branch) all transferred after Amabile decided to step down. He is now the head coach at Allentown.

I think this team could be an under-the-radar threat in a loaded National Division that includes buzzed-about teams like Manasquan, Raritan, Point Boro and Barnegat. After having to fight for carries in a crowded backfield the past few years, senior Anthony Corona is entrenched at tailback this year. I thought he had a good burst at the line of scrimmage and was one of the more underrated backs I’ve seen in the past few years. I felt he just needed more touches, so we’ll see what he can do now that he is the main guy back there.

Senior Joe Carlucci is also the main quarterback after rotating at that spot the past few years, so we’ll see if that stability also helps. He is experienced and could be one of the more surprise QBs around this year. Also, speedy Ralph Joseph, who was a wide receiver for his first three years at SJV, will also now get some carries in the backfield in order to use his speed on the edge in Edwards’s multipe-I offense. Senior fullback Gill Keough is another experienced player back there, and Kevin Mercurio should be a prime target at wideout along with Joseph.

One player to definitely keep an eye on is potential Division I-A talent Ryan Gille, a junior tight end/defensive end who is 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, runs a 4.8 40-yard dash and has good hands. He missed all of last season with torn ligaments in his left ankle, but certainly could be an impact player for the Lancers this year.

As previously mentioned in an early blog entry, former Matawan legend Ken Mandeville is now an assistant with the Lancers and will coach the running backs and linebackers.

Finally, one of the most underrated rivalries in the Shore is St. John Vianney vs. Raritan. The players on these teams absolutely hate one another, and there are a lot of Hazlet kids that attend SJV. Raritan is the team St. John Vianney opens up with after a Week One bye. I’m all for a great rivalry, as long as the off-the-field nonsense like vandalism and fights after the game doesn’t occur because it has no place in a legit rivalry. Believe me, SJV is looking forward to that game, and adding an extra wrinkle is that Mandeville’s son, Andrew, who is now at Monmouth University, is the greatest quarterback in Raritan history, a four-year starter who was twice named first-team Associated Press All-State.

I think a lot of the success of this SJV team will come down to how good it is up front, because the Lancers seem to have solid skill position talent, and if they can stop teams in the fourth quarter defensively.

MANCHESTER

On the surface, it looks like this team lost a lost because it had 22 seniors last year, but quietly not many of them started, so there is plenty returning for the Hawks to be a sleeper team in the Liberty Division. They have six starters back offensively and plenty of others who saw time, and five back defensively. Where they were hit hardest was in their linebacking corps, which is pretty much all new.

They have to replace standout tailback D’Andre McFadden, but he missed about 2 1/2 games with injury last year and Ron Spicer filled in to get experience. The Hawks like what they have in Spicer as McFadden’s replacement, and senior Jeff Hurley is a three-year starter at QB, although he is being pushed hard for that spot by junior Nate Nickens, who has a strong downfield arm. Hurley will also be playing linebacker this year as well.

Another player to watch offensively is junior wideout Monwell Brown, who looks to be a vertical threat. He also has an obvious nickname – “Money.” Nickens should also be at wideout if he doesn’t win the QB job.

The Hawks also have plenty of size up front on both sides thanks to tandem of seniors Jimmy Lawson and Josh Siemanowicz. Lawson is 290 pounds right now and Siemanowicz looks like he’s about a solid 300, so those two should be blowing open some holes offensively. Manchester coach Gerard O’Donnell said that Siemanowicz has done a great job of working hard in the weight room over the years to really transform his body from his freshman season.

Defensively, Lawson also will be lining up over opposing centers this year in an attempt to crush teams at the point of attack and force them to run wide. As for whether Lawson will be a wrestler or a football player in college, it looks like he is taking a wait-and-see approach. A two-time NJSIAA heavyweight champion, he already has wrestling offers from Rutgers, Ohio State and Virginia Tech, but he said he wants to play out this football season and see what football offers he might be able to bring in before making his decision. If he is dominant from the outset, we’ll see if he gets his wish of a Division I-A football offer or two and overcomes the stigma of being under 6 feet tall that hurts many defensive line recruits looking for a I-A ride.

The Hawks are in a similar position to Monmouth Regional in that they have become a solid team that can routinely be in the 4-to-6 win range, so the next obstacle is taking that step to make the state playoffs, which requires beating an established Monmouth County power in their division like Red Bank Catholic, Ocean or Long Branch. We’ll see if they can do it this year.

They definitely have gotten more support for this program over the years, and it showed on Thursday during their annual blue-and-gold intrasquad scrimmage, which had parents making food for everyone and a festive atmosphere. Former coach Rob Paneque got the ball rolling a few years ago before moving on to become an an administrator at Wall, and then O’Donnell, who is good friends with Paneque and grew up right down the street from him in Jackson, has continued that work. They got lights for their home field two years ago thanks to the fund-raising efforts of Mike Leppert, the father of former linebacker Craig Leppert, and they want to continue to grow the enthusiasm for a place that has generally been off the football map in its existence.

Also, perhaps most importantly, they got an early leg up in my snackbar standings with some good hot dogs on Thursday.

LACEY

The Lions will be operating primarily out of the shotgun this year, as they showed in a recent scrimmage against Toms River North. Now that I remember correctly, they started doing that toward the end of last season, so it’s not something entirely new, it’s just more expanded, with more responsibility on the shoulders of junior quarterback Craig Cicardo. Still, it’s definitely new to see a team that made its name on punishing opponents with a relentless I-formation running assault over the years, but times change, and the Lions are doing what they feel gives them the best chance to be effective.

Head coach Lou Vircillo called the offense the “multiple gun” so Cicardo will be back there in a Tim Tebow-style Florida offense coordinated by his father, also named Craig. The running game will be mainly by committee, although junior Jarrod Molzon is one to watch. Another junior who was a solid player last year as a sophomore is wideout/defensive back Zack Terrill, a ballhawk in the secondary and a threat as a wideout.

The junior class is the backbone of the program right now, as there are only five seniors. One of them is Mike Stuppiello, one of the top returning pass rushers in the Shore Conference. He will be a linebacker/defensive end who sometimes has his hand in the ground and other times will be at linebacker. His best attribute is getting to quarterbacks in key situations on third down, so he will have to be accounted for no matter where he lines up.

The schedule-makers did the Lions no favors, either. In addition to competing in the Constitution Division and their usual Thanksgiving game against Central, their two nondivisional games are against Middletown South (the season opener) and Freehold (Nov. 7). Those are only expected to be two of the Shore’s best teams and contenders for the Central Jersey Group III title that Freehold won a year ago. Knowing Lacey, though, there is no whining or excuses. They will buckle it up and play ball against anyone, and should once again be a Top 10-caliber team and a threat for division and state titles.

PINELANDS

Just like Lacey, Pinelands has a big junior class that forms the core of the program right now. One of those juniors is Michael Keller, who was slated to be the starting quarterback last year as a sophomore before being sidelined by a broken collarbone. He is back and competing for the starting spot with the QB who filled in during his absence, Jeremy Hartman, who is 6-3 and 215 pounds. Hartman will be at wideout if Keller gets the QB job and he also should be a force at defensive end.

Junior fullback Mike Michaelson (great name) returns and will also be at safety. Another player who will be relied on heavily and should be one of the division’s best is senior guard/defensive tackle Tim Lamezec.

Perhaps the player with the most potential in a year that seems to be packed with talented tight end/defensive ends in the Shore is junior Bobby Schwarzenberger. He is 6-3 and 215 pounds and runs a 4.6 40-yard dash, so we’ll see if he can make an impact this year for head coach Sean DeRosa and the Wildcats.

This team won four of its last five games last year, so we’ll see if they can carry that momentum into this season and establish some consistent winning in the program.

SOUTHERN

From talking to coaches who have scouted them in the preseason to reports from Badders, the Rams look like they could have a promising offense this season in a year where most of their starting lineup left via graduation after the best year in school history.

Chuck Donohue Sr.’s team has two promising quarterbacks battling it out in senior Mike Bush, a shifty, athletic runner who started at safety last year, and senior Mike Balik, a 6-foot-4 dropback passer who also has looked good in the preseason. Unlike the smashmouth offense of last year behind Glenn Carson, Anthony Stroffolino and Co., this is a more athletic and speed-oriented unit.

Only Bush and linebackers Brian Abbey and Brett Cox return with any significant experience from one of the Shore’s top defenses last year. There most likely will be a dropoff defensively because any high school program short of the Don Boscos and St. Peter’s Preps of the world would have a big dropoff if it lost talent like Carson (Penn State), Stroffolino (UPenn), LB Steve Sibona (Sacred Heart), safety John Binford (Sacred Heart), DT George West (Castleton State) and talented DB Erich Steuer and linebacker Mike Bonsky.

Sibona, by the way, may be the biggest loss of them all because he made all the defensive calls and was a vocal leader who is now challenging for a starting spot as a true freshman at Sacred Heart.

This is a big program year for the Rams, as they try to prove that they can reload and still be a competitive team that will make a run for a state playoff berth. If they can weather the loss of the best senior class in school history and still make the postseason in a tough South Jersey Group IV bracket, that would be a strong statement that they are here to stay no matter who graduates.


Camp Reports – TR North, Neptune

August 26, 2009

I’ve got reports from two more camps as we try to get all of our camp visits wrapped up by this weekend/early next week.

TOMS RIVER NORTH

The Mariners are coming off a season that ended in the first round of the South Jersey Group IV playoffs at the hands of Southern and look to get back to the final after winning it all in 2007. A big key is going to be junior Demetri Davis, who has moved from running back to quarterback. Davis is a threat to break a long run at any time and also has a strong throwing arm, so he will be a central figure in the offense because there is no one running back that the Mariners will lean on. It will be more of a running back-by-committee approach this year after Jon Daniels was the feature back last season. Seniors Steve Barrosso and John Brennan, who got carries last year, return as more physical options. Junior Cody Groves, the younger brother of former Toms River East standout linebacker Tyler Groves, will also get carries and has good speed. The good thing is that they will be running behind an experienced line that returns four starters.

Senior Drew Kollman, an All Shore Media first-teamer at defensive back last year, will also be one of the wideouts. The most intriguing weapon is 6-foot-3 senior John Hafner, who played his freshman year, didn’t play the next two years, and has now come back. He is a good athlete and a big target who looks to help compensate for the loss of junior Anthony Carrington, a vertical threat who has transferred to Lakewood.

Defensively, the Mariners return experience up front, at linebacker and in the secondary. Rob Cassidy is a three-year starter up front, Barrosso should be one of the Shore’s top linebackers while Brennan is also an experienced returner. Groves is another potential standout at LB. Kollman retruns at safety and Davis will also play safety, although he may not be there full time because of his quarterback duties. Nick Saglimbene is also a returning starter at corner.

This team certainly has the talent to make it three straight American Division championships and another trip to the state playoffs. Davis, who hasn’t played QB since about fifth grade, is going to be a huge key offensively. A big year from him and another solid defensive performance and the Mariners will go far.

Another issue is depth. For the past few years, this has been a two-platoon team, but this year there will be several players playing both ways. It also affects how they practice in that each side of the ball could just concentrate on what they wanted to get done, but now they have players shuttling back and forth between offense or defense or they end up having longer practices because they can really only work on one thing at a time.

Also, a quick update on a Mariners’ alumnus – former star linebacker Zach Kane has reportedly suffered a season-ending knee injury at Temple, according to TRN coach Chip LaBarca Jr. Kane had a scholarship to Miami but never made it because of an off-the-field incident, went to Milford Academy for a prep season and then landed at Temple this past winter under head coach Al Golden, a Red Bank Catholic graduate. Speaking of the Owls, it looks like junior Darius Morris (Long Branch) has a shot at challenging for a starting spot at guard after redshirting last year.

NEPTUNE

The Scarlet Fliers graduated nearly their entire offense but still have plenty to worth with this season, including St. John Vianney transfer Charles Davis, a junior who has already been offered by Rutgers.

Senior Jamaal Hubbard will be the rare defensive end/quarterback combo this season. He lost out on the QB competition to Lem Walker the last two years but will assume the starting role this year. He has a strong downfield arm that should help Neptune stretch the field this year. What also helps is that former Neptune star Danny Gonzalez is on the coaching staff this year to work with Hubbard. Gonzalez played QB at East Carolina in the late 1990s along with former Fliers star Scott Harley and also briefly played in the NFL with the Cowboys and Dolphins.

Senior David Newbey, a talented fullback/linebacker, returns in the backfield. Davis will technically be in the slot receiver spot, but Neptune coach John Fiore will have him in the backfield and all over the field to force defenses to account for him. Davis also played QB at SJV as a freshman, so he is capable of going under center as well. Phil Craddock is the main returning wideout with experience. Two starters return on an offensive line that is a work in progress after losing a lot of experience. One newcomer includes senior Brian Bradforth, who is 6-6 and 300 pounds. How well this team blocks will be a huge determining factor in its success because its skill players are very dangerous.

Hubbard should also be a leader of the defense along with Newbey. Sophomore Ike Calderon, better known as a freshman standout on the school’s vaunted basketball team, will be at the outside linebacker/strong safety hybrid position. The secondary should be a real strength on this team with Davis and Warren Mello at corner and hard-hitting Jason Woods at safety. Neptune scrimmages Raritan on Friday morning at 10 in Hazlet, where there could potentially be a match-up on the outside between Raritan senior and Notre Dame recruit Bennett Jackson at wideout and Davis at cornerback that could be fun to watch between two Division I-A athletes.

This program was one game away from a state final last year, so this is the hardest step to take. It will be the usual suspects that it will have to go through because Central Jersey Group III is essentially the Federal Division Tournament. Freehold is the defending champ and perennial power Middletown South is the runner-up, so Neptune will have to go through them to make that final leap after three years of steady improvement.


Camp Reports Galore

August 25, 2009

OK, a ton of stuff to get to for today, so I won’t waste too much time in getting to these reports. Bob Badders provided the info for Point Boro, Barnegat and Shore Regional, and then there are some alumni updates at the end. This is a loong blog, so at least it should kill some time if you are trapped in a cubicle or between double sessions.

I would take the scrimmage stuff with a grain of salt – I

Freehold's Derrick Bender

Freehold's Derrick Bender

don’t put a ton of stock in them, especially the first ones. Just recently I was talking to a Long Branch assistant who said to me, “In 2007, when we made the state final, if you came to our first scrimmage you would’ve thought we weren’t going to win three games, so take that for what it’s worth.”

A quick recruiting update – Neptune coach John Fiore said junior running back Charles Davis, who has been offered by Rutgers so far, has also received interest from Maryland, Temple and now Tennessee, although none of them have offered him yet because they want to see more once the season starts.

JACKSON MEMORIAL

Took a trip to Jaguar-land on Tuesday morning and once again, this team is going to be huge up front. However, head coach Mike Smith stressed getting more quality play to go with that size than what they got last year in an uncharacteristic 3-7 season. The line is big this year, but also very athletic-looking. He has also been running this team to death with conditioning because Jackson lost several close games in the fourth quarter last year.

Garrett Dorsey returns as the quarterback after combining for close to 1,200 yards of offense last year. With him a little more comfortable back there, it allows them to throw the ball a little more to keep people honest in their multiple-I attack. The Jags have had a 1,000-yard rusher every year since 1995, and this year’s candidates are Drew Murphy and Larry Cella, and they also have some speed backs who should make a big difference as well. Speed was a major point of emphasis in the offseason because Smith felt they did not have enough guys to take it the distance last year and the wideouts were not getting enough separation so many of the skill players worked hard on getting faster to add more of an explosive element to what was a grind-it-out offense last year.

Their strength is going to be up front on both sides of the ball as they have three starting O-linemen and the starting tight end back. They also have three of four starters back up front in their 4-3 defense, and all of them are going to be hard to move. Division I-A prospect Dimitrius Smith, a junior, returns at defensive tackle along with defensive end Terrence Brown, the younger brother of former Jackson standout DL Ray Brown, who played at Vanderbilt and is now an assistant at Albright College. Travis Daidone is also back at defensive end and the other tackle, James Mentuck, gives Jackson a pair of experienced 280-pounders in the middle.

All of Jackson’s starting linebackers return as well, so the defense should be very solid as usual. The Jags have the dreaded first-week bye, which no head coach likes. An interesting game on Jackson’s schedule is at East Brunswick on Oct. 23. It’s the first meeting between the two teams since East Brunswick upset the Jaguars, 17-14, to win the Central Jersey Group IV championship at Rutgers Stadium in 2004. I think this team could be one of the big comeback teams of 2009 and can make a run at division and state titles.

One last note on the Jags – former All-State linebacker Nick Castellano has returned to coach Jackson’s linebackers. While all-world talents like Knowshon Moreno and Donnie Brown are some of the best I have seen during my 10 years covering the Shore, Castellano might have been the best pure all-around high school football player I have covered. He was an excellent linebacker, a 1,000-yard rusher who routinely leaped over defenders and made spectacular plays, and a great leader who helped the Jags win consecutive state titles in 2000 and 2001 on one of the best Shore Conference teams of the last 20 years. He is definitely one of those guys whose name sticks out when thinking about some of the top players of the last decade. His kamikaze style led to a lot of injuries during his career at Monmouth University, but he still was an impact player for the Hawks.

FREEHOLD

I took in the Colonials’ scrimmage against Old Bridge on Tuesday and they showed flashes of explosiveness as well as some breakdowns, which is to be expected for the first scrimmage. Old Bridge scored twice against their starting defense during the time I was there, but Freehold also moved the ball well against Old Bridge when the Colonials weren’t amassing a lot of penalties.

One player whose name you should get to know is junior Derrick Bender. He could be the next Brandon Brown-type player for Freehold. He broke off about a 70-yard TD run and had some other nice runs, and he is athletic enough that he can be split wide as a receiver, too. It’s also clear that Nick Tyson’s graduation left a major void to fill at QB. Martin Corso, who started in the secondary last year, is working hard to grow into the leadership role. He is shifty in that flexbone offense and may have more breakaway speed than Tyson, so the main question mark is his passing ability. How well he forces teams to respect the threat of the deep ball could determine much of this offense’s success.

It also comes down to who he will be throwing the ball to, as the three top receivers are all new as well. I’m sure teams will stack the box against them early in the year and force the passing game to burn them before backing up, so it will be on the offensive line to produce as it returns several experienced players, including standout senior Darrin Love. Freehold may have the deepest backfield of any team in the Shore, so running the ball will be a strength. Tezzy Thorpe (a 1,000-yard rusher who sat out Tuesday with a minor injury), Willie Thomas, Bender, sophomore Dashawn Perry and junior Joe Ferrara are all capable backs.

Defensively, the Colonials return plenty of standouts, including three out of four starters up front in their 4-4 set as well as inside linebacker Rakim Thorpe. They were dealt a blow when senior linebacker Cody Olmo quit the team, but the addition of St. John Vianney transfer Jazzmar Clax, a sophomore, at least helped the depth at linebacker. Another starter from last year, defensive back Damar Bivins, who had interceptions in both of the wins over Middletown South, has moved to South Carolina.

Talking to some of the players, the main obstacle right now seems to be complacency. They noted that the hunger that was there in practice the last few years hasn’t been there thus far, so that is a point of emphasis right now – getting back that fire to defend the first state sectional title in school history and the Federal Division title, which they have won for two straight years. All in all, the talent is there, so it’s filling the void left by Tyson and Brown to give the offense balance, and then maintaining that same hunger that fueled their rise the last two years.

BARNEGAT

Junior quarterback Nick San Giacomo is ready to become an elite quarterback after having a nice statistical season as a sophomore that also featured some growing pains against top teams. He has looked very sharp in the preseason and should be one of the Shore’s top quarterbacks. What also helps is that he will have some tall receivers to work with, including 6-foot-3 junior Mike DeTroia and Southern Regional transfer Kyle Maurer, who is also 6-3. Senior Scott Hardy is a smaller, speedier option, and, of course, there is the major target of Division I-A talent Jarrett Darmstatter at tight end.

Three starters are back on the offensive line, and there is some good size and height up front, so this is an offense that should be very dangerous and put Barnegat in the thick of a stocked National Division race.

Defensively, the linebacking group looks strong in Barnegat’s 3-4 set as all four returners either have started or were supposed to start last year. Darmstatter returns and senior Matt Krauchick, who was slated to start last year before suffering a season-ending injury, is now back healthy at linebacker. To me, the biggest question is how well the Barnegat D-line will do up front defensively. Teams are going to try to grind them out on the ground to keep that offense off the field, and when the Bengals have struggled, it usually has been because they can’t stop physical running attacks. If they can do that this year, they have a chance to really challenge for division and state titles.

They also have a kicker from the soccer team, Ed Siciliano, challenging for a starting spot, and he boomed a 55-yarder in practice recently.

POINT BORO

The Panthers have a pair of QBs vying to be the replacement to All Shore Media first-teamer Shane O’Connor in junior Jimmy DiOrio and sophomore John Dunbar. Both are very solid athletes, and their main target could be a breakout player in the Shore this year – 6-foot-5 junior Ryan Malleck. This team has put it into the air more frequently in the last two years under Calvin Thompson, and Malleck is a match-up nightmare who is also a vicious blocker on the edge in Point Boro’s option offense. The ‘A’ back spot vacated by Ty Hughes, which has been a glamour position at Point Boro, looks to be manned by senior Chase Carter with several others working in as well, including Jack Vitale.

Defensively, senior linebacker Zach Hayden returns as the anchor, but he may be shedding more blocks and seeing more double teams this year as the Panthers have to replace one of the best defensive lines in the Shore after all three of them graduated, including standout Jeff Keffer, who is now as Sacred Heart.

Some good news is that Point Boro’s four toughest games (at least on paper) will all be at Al Saner Field – Long Branch, Barnegat, Manasquan and Raritan. Also, Ryan Canary, a former star lineman who just finished up a great career at the University of Maine, is now back in the fold as an assistant coach.

No matter who graduates, this team is always dangerous, so despite losing the stellar names, the Panthers still will be a tough opponent for anyone. They scrimmaged Willingboro on Tuesday, who is now coached by former Jackson Memorial head man Reggie Lawrence, who was Castellano’s coach during the glory years of the early millennium before moving on to Pennsauken and now Willingboro.

SHORE REGIONAL

I’ll believe it when I see it, but the Blue Devils, who have always been a run-heavy Wing-T team, are planning on throwing the ball 15-18 times a game this year, Badders reports.

Senior Chris Riley is a three-year starter at quarterback, and he has a target who is going to be a handful for most Patriot Division defensive backs in three-year starter Rich Vivian, a basketball player who is 6-4. That’s a guy who can win plenty of jumpballs.

There are also plenty of fullbacks vying for carries, including Red Bank Catholic transfer Matt Cooney, Keith White, who started at middle linebacker last year, and speedy halfback P.J. Ermides.

The Blue Devils will have to replace several solid linemen, including leader Jason Reid. Defensively, they always seem to be solid no matter who graduates, so once again they should be in the thick of the Patriot Division race. They also will have a game under their belt against South River before they face defending champion Asbury Park in Week Two, while the Blue Bishops have a first-week bye.

MANASQUAN

This has the makings of yet another championship team for the Warriors, as they have a very good core of returners from last year’s Central Jersey Group II champs and some newcomers who should help them.

One player who has to be replaced is QB Mike LaSala, who threw for more than 1,400 yards last year. Senior C.J. Davis, his back-up from last year, and promising sophomore Tyler Saito, who missed his freshman season with an injury, are vying for that starting spot. Saito is a good all-around athlete who also is a great baseball talent, while Davis is steady and has some experience.

Senior tailback Lorenzo Venable returns after a 1,000-yard season, and senior James Stovall is a solid fullback. The wideouts are also experienced in Neal Sterling and Ryland McTighe. There are seven guys gunning for five spots on the O-line, which returns three starters. Senior Rob Forst has already been offered by Division I-AA power Delaware, according to head coach Pete Cahill. Forst is the younger brother of Rutgers sophomore starter Art Forst, and he may have his heart set on going to Rutgers and trying to make it as a walk-on depending on what further offers come in. That may be similar to the route taken by former Middletown South standout Howard Barbieri, who turned down scholarship money to an NEC school to take a shot as a walk-on at Rutgers, where he has become a valuable back-up on the line and at other positions.

Squan’s defensive line should be fierce, as Monmouth University recruit Dan Sullivan is back at defensive end, and junior Tariq Turner is at the other end. Forst will see time at DT along with returner Steve Shauger in what should be a deep group of linemen. There also is a group of six linebackers with talent, so that position has plenty of depth despite the fact that senior Bryan Colligan, a starter last year, has quit the team, according to Cahill. Stovall is a Swiss Army knife player who can be used at linebacker and in the secondary.

Senior Kevin Callahan and Sterling return to anchor the secondary. Sterling has received Division I-AA interest, but the main question right now is what position he plays at the next level. He could be a linebacker, a tight end, a safety, who knows. Monmouth University has also shown interest in him, which is no shock considering Callahan is the son of Monmouth University head coach Kevin Callahan so it would make sense for there to be a direct Squan pipeline.

The Warriors also are bringing up a sophomore class that went undefeated as freshmen and should eventually produce numerous impact players. In addition to Saito, there are linebackers Adam Iatesta and Zack Vasilenko and cornerback/running back Kodie McNamara among a talented group.

One interesting fact about Squan – whenever they have won a title after not having won one the year before, they have followed it with another one. In other words, their titles come in pairs (1990-91, 2005-06), or in Shore Conference-record quintuplets (1998-2002).  They didn’t win one in 1992, won one in 1993, and didn’t win one in 1994, which is the only time they didn’t have that follow-up title. So that certainly bodes well for this year’s team as it tries to repeat in a brutal CJ II bracket. Also, coaching-wise, the Warriors welcomed back former assistant P.J. Gibbs, who did a solid job as the defensive coordinator of one of the Shore’s most underrated defenses last season at Matawan.

MIDDLETOWN SOUTH

The Eagles return their entire offensive line, although a few of the starters are nicked up right now, led by senior Steve Coluccio at right tackle. The skill players are all new in the flexbone offense, including quarterback Scott Meeker. They have high hopes for sophomore fullback Tim McArdle, and also return speedy wingback Andrew Suarez among a deep group of slotbacks. They don’t necessarily have that physical, bang-it-up-the-middle fullback like Matt Martino from last year, although Nick Bricker could be that guy, but they seem to have a little more speed than last year.

Defensively, three of four starters return up front in their 4-4 set, led by Bricker at defensive end. Three starters are also back at linebacker, led by three-year starter Sean Campbell on the inside. Two starters are also back in the secondary, so that’s eight starters in all on what should be one of the Shore’s top defensive units.

If the skill players get up to speed quickly, this has all the makings of a team that can end the two-year drought of championships, which is an eternity in Eagle-land. They have a picture hanging in the locker room from last year’s state final in which they are close to the goal line, and it reads “Six Yards.” That is how far away South was from potentially tying the game late in the fourth quarter in its 21-14 loss to Freehold in the CJ III final. It’s not so much a reminder of what has become a great rivalry with the Colonials as it’s a reminder about finishing what they have started. When you get close, you have to bring it home. They were six yards from the goal line before a fumbled pitch caused a large loss that all but ended their hopes. These South seniors have not won a title of any kind since they have been on the varsity, so that’s a big motivating factor this year. The ingredients are certainly there to make it happen, but a tough schedule awaits, including nemesis Freehold.

And finally, if you actually made it this far, a few quick links:

–It looks like Clark Harris (Southern/Rutgers) has added a skill, long-snapping, that has helped him stick with the Houston Texans after having starred as a tight end for his whole career.

–The Cowboys may not be throwing deep a lot so far in the preseason, but WR Miles Austin (Monmouth University) is not sweating it.

–Eagles DL Dan Klecko (Marlboro) keeps fighting the “undersized” tag and now is fighting to remain among Philly’s D-line rotation.

Kade Weston (Red Bank Regional) may not be a starter for Georgia’s D-line this year, but he plans on making an impact nonetheless.

Here’s a preview of the Monmouth University quarterback group, which includes Andrew Mandeville (Raritan) and Craig Peterson (Manalapan).

–On the baseball side, right-handed pitcher Brad Brach (Freehold Twp./Monmouth U) was named to the low Class A Midwest League Post-Season All-Star team thanks to a dominating season in which he has registered 31 saves and a 1.36 ERA for the Fort Wayne TinCaps (San Diego Padres affiliate).


Extras From Monday/The Best Running Back in the Shore…

August 24, 2009

I’m back on the camp odyssey on Tuesday, and I will get stuff from Barnegat, Point Boro, Shore Regional and others from Bob Badders after I’m done with Tuesday’s stuff. Before that, here’s a few things from Monday.

Toms River North and Lacey played to a 14-14 tie in their annual scrimmage. Demetri Davis, the Mariners’ new quarterback, threw for one touchdown and ran for another. He has the makings of a breakout player in the Shore this year as a junior quarterback after moving over from running back. He is kind of an Andrew Mandeville-type who is always a threat to make a play with his legs off a broken play, but also has a rifle arm.

As for Lacey, some info that had been mentioned to me earlier by Bob Badders was true as the Lions came out in a spread formation, running a Tim Tebow-style Florida offense under junior quarterback Craig Cicardo. That is a pretty radical departure from the usual power-I running game of the Lions, who lost leading rusher Tom Rickmers to graduation. Junior Jarrod Molzon could be the next standout running back in a long and proud tradition for Lacey, but it looks like the Lions may be putting more in the hands of Cicardo, the son of offensive coordinator Craig Cicardo, now that he is more comfortable after seeing significant time last year as a sophomore.

In other notes, Jackson Memorial coach Mike Smith said that junior defensive tackle Dimitrius Smith has received interest from Rutgers, Boston College, Temple, Syracuse and Penn State. Schools are not allowed to offer him until Sept. 1, but many have been in to see Smith in person. The way it works is that coaches from these schools can’t speak to Smith at this point, so they dropped by school during his sophomore year to get a look at him in person without actually speaking to him. The same thing has gone on with Middletown North junior tight end Shilique Calhoun, who has drawn interest from Rutgers and Boston College. Essentially the coaches want to see if the player passes the “look test” while also showing that their school is very interested. The class of 2011 is shaping up to be very strong in the Shore and throughout New Jersey compared to the class of 2010, which only has two players ranked by Rivals in the Top 100 and one ranked in the Scout.com Top 100 in the nation, including the future teammate of Raritan WR Bennett Jackson, Hun School defensive end Chris Martin, who has also verbally committed to Notre Dame. Jackson, by the way, reportedly looked outstanding in a scrimmage against Monmouth Regional on Monday.

As for another highly-regarded defensive lineman, Manchester senior defensive tackle Jimmy Lawson will have to choose between a wrestling career and a football career. He has already been offered wrestling scholarships to Rutgers, Ohio State and Virginia Tech, while attracting mainly Division I-AA interest for football. Monmouth University is reportedly very interested in Lawson, who has had a hard time passing the “look test” himself because he is “only” 5-foot-10 and about 285 pounds. Anyone who has seen him on a wrestling mat knows he is a tremendous athlete and very agile for his size. He has a chance to make state history this winter as the first three-time NJSIAA heavyweight champion, so we’ll see which way he is leaning. I’m sure Scott Goodale and Rutgers have gone after him hard on the wrestling mat because Goodale has had great success recruiting the Shore Conference and to snare someone like Lawson this early would only help their recruiting efforts this year. As far as Greg Schiano and the football side go, it’s unclear how interested he is in Lawson. I’ll be stopping by Manchester this week, so we’ll see what Jimmy has to say.

Finally, as I analyze all the running backs in the Shore, there is one who stands out and would be the biggest star of them all – if only he played in the Shore Conference. Jackson resident Savon Huggins, who would’ve attended Jackson Memorial, has become one of the nation’s top recruits in the class of 2011 as a running back for St. Peter’s Prep. Oklahoma, Florida, Notre Dame, Rutgers you name it – they are all hot on Huggins’s trail. Rutgers has already offered him verbally, just like it did with Neptune junior RB Charles Davis. The head coach of St. Peter’s, Rich Hansen, is a Freehold Township resident whose daughter attends Red Bank Catholic, so he certainly has Shore ties and routinely procures talent from this area. Still, you wonder what kind of video game numbers Huggins could have put up with four years in Jackson’s power-I running game, which has produced a 1,000-yard rusher every year since 1995.