Today kicked off the first day of my camp odyssey for the preseason, as I try to see as many teams as possible to get our preseason previews rolling.
As for the first day, here are some extras from the camps I visited – Red Bank Regional, Red Bank Catholic (at left), Monmouth Regional and Asbury Park.
RED BANK REGIONAL
There was definitely a palpable enthusiasm in the Bucs’ camp under new coach Nick Giglio as RBR tries to dig itself out of a hole in which it has gone 3-27 the last three seasons, including 0-10 last year under former coach Jeff Mauro. As senior Brendan Piha noted, “Coach Giglio is the best possible coach they could’ve gotten to take over this program.” Several seniors also noted how athletic director Del Dal Pra has really done everything he can to support the team and boost the program.
The main attribute of this team is speed, as it is very undersized, particularly on the line. They also are running their third different offensive system in three years. New offensive coordinator Joe Passo, who was an assistant at Colts Neck last year and formerly a head coach at Marlboro, has installed the Wing T. In the last three years, these players have run the flexbone, the spread and now the Wing T, so they definitely have experience in adapting to new things. Passo called it more of a “multiple wing” and given the fact that his previous offenses at Colts Neck and Rumson have gone to the air a decent amount, I’m sure he will throw in plenty of wrinkles. The Bucs also have another former head coach, former Mater Dei head man Nick Varanelli, working with the offensive line.
Tyler Lesbirel looks like he can be a solid Wing T fullback for the Bucs, and senior wingback Jehmeil Rock is undersized but has 4.5 speed. Right now there is a quarterback battle between Colin Lang and Mike Reardon.
Giglio is also serving as the defensive coordinator and will run a 3-4 base defense. There is some inexperience up front in the middle, but the linebacking group looks solid with Lesbirel, Pat Quinn and Jeff McDermott.
Giglio has harped on the little things like cutting down on penalties and even the clothes that the team wears. Lang, a senior, noted that it’s a rule that even in the weight room or in any team function, the players have to wear RBR stuff. He said that last year players sometimes wore clothes with RBC, Christian Brothers Academy or other schools on it, but this year the focus is on really taking pride in the RBR program.
The Bucs are also focused on continuing to fight every week. Last year their season opener was built up a lot because it was the first night game in Red Bank’s long history, and when they fell to St. John Vianney after leading at halftime, the season got away from them early on. Red Bank opens up with Spotswood this year under the crossover schedule with the Greater Middlesex Conference, so there is certainly the chance to get a win and gain some early confidence before facing Matawan and Red Bank Catholic back-to-back.
RED BANK CATHOLIC
An RBC player had shirts made that said “Reloaded” so you know that the Caseys feel that even though they lost one of the best senior classes in school history to graduation, there is plenty more talent just waiting for its chance to play after a 9-1 season. Having seen them, I don’t think that’s a crazy assessment, as they have a lot more size than in recent seasons. We’ll see if the success of the freshman and jayvee teams from last year, which combined for only one loss, translates to the varsity.
The main returners with experience are fullback/linebacker Kevin Whitlock, wide receiver/defensive back Tucker Hawley, mammoth defensive tackle Lorenzo Coscarelli, running back Steven Compitello, and defensive back/wideout Jake Flaherty. Coscarelli, a 330-pound immovable object, is the clubhouse leader in the “most tattered practice jersey” category thus far in the preseason. Ripped down both sides, it basically looked like a piece of cloth that had a hole poked into it for a head. Coscarelli is a well-spoken kid in interviews and moves quicker than you would think for a player of his size.
The new quarterback replacing Connor O’Leary is senior Taylor Erdman, while junior Andrew Casten will join Compitello at tailback in a Caseys’ West Coast offense that usually spreads the ball around to multiple backs.
Some newcomers to watch out for are sophomore Doug Whitlock, Kevin Whitlock’s younger brother, who has good size and will be in the rotation at tight end, which looks like it will be a strong position, and at linebacker. Also, defying the recent trend of players transferring out of parochial schools to public schools, the Caseys are excited about junior transfer Jack Tabb, whose family moved to New Jersey from Indianapolis, according to RBC coach Jim Portela. Tabb is 6-4 and 240 and will be at linebacker and tight end. Another to watch is sophomore Joe Coscarelli, Lorenzo’s 240-pound younger brother, who should see time at defensive tackle and guard.
The transition from former coach Frank Edgerly to Portela seems to have been fairly seamless thus far and Portela brings a lot of energy and intensity to practice. Matt Ahearn, who was formerly the offensive line coach, is taking over the offensive coordinator duties previously held by Edgerly, who is now an advance scout for the New England Patriots. RBC’s offense has perennially been ranked in the top five or top 10 in the Shore Conference in yards per game and points for the last six or seven years.
After having four different coaches in four years, this is now the third year under coach Sal Spampanato, and the players certainly appreciate the stability. There is more refining in practice rather than installing systems because of the continuity of the coaching staff, and the players are more committed. Several seniors said that last season during two-a-days, they lost several players who couldn’t hack it and quit, but this year everyone has stuck with it.
While Monmouth lost big names like QB Anthony Fruncillo and WR Davaughn Norfleet, the Falcons return four starters on the offensive line as well an experienced backfield and senior quarterback Justin Argyelan, who saw significant time last year.
The bad news is that junior running back Shayne Henderson, who really came on late last season and looked like he would be a real weapon this year, tore his ACL during a non-contact drill in a team camp at West Chester in June and is out for the season, according to Spampanato. However, Asbury Park running back Devonte Thomas, who started on the Blue Bishops’ state championship team last year, has transferred to Monmouth after his family moved to Eatontown. He is not eligible as of now, but he could help the Falcons down the line. If he has a valid address in the Monmouth sending district and lives with at least one parent, he should be eligible once all the paperwork is finalized and not have to sit.
Another interesting player is three-year starter Fernando Salazar. His family moved from Mexico when he was 12 and he had never played American football before, but his friends talked him into trying out as a freshman and he fell in love with the game despite having grown up playing soccer. He is about 6 feet tall and 260, and he joked, “I got the soccer game, but obviously I don’t have the soccer body.” He won one of the team awards last year for the Falcons and he said it has been a real source of pride in his family, which includes plenty of football converts now.
Spampanato has established a solid program there, so now the next challenge is to become a perennial playoff team that can get 6-8 wins a year or more, which is never easy in the ultra-competitive Shore Conference.
The Blue Bishops still have plenty of talent left in the cupboard despite the graduation of several big names. Their line looks a little undersized on both sides of the ball, but their skill players are as good as ever. Their new QB, senior Jamar Smalls, has a cannon arm and was rifling passes around the field on Tuesday. George Stephens is back and primed for a big season as a running back/linebacker, and junior Marquise Johnson, another explosive back, moves into the starting lineup. They lost a little depth in the backfield with Devonte Thomas’s departure to Monmouth Regional, but still have some top players for such a small school.
Watch out for senior wideout Lamar Davenport to step into the shoes of Derrell Bell as a dangerous threat down the field. He was overshadowed by Bell last year but is eager to show what he can do this season. I remember Davenport getting frustrated last year when not too many passes were sent his way, so now is his chance.
Head coach Don Sofilkanich is still trying to establish who the leaders are on this team, the guys who rally their teammates rather than point fingers, but the talent is certainly there although the line is going to have to get up to speed quickly with several new faces. Four-year starter Kraig Johnson, Marquise Johnson’s older brother, is the main returning lineman with experience.
The bottom line is that this team has the chance to put itself in a higher category with three straight Central Jersey Group I titles. The word “dynasty” was tossed around by a few of the seniors. A big obstacle to that title was removed when Keyport, which also is geared up for a big season and should be one of the Blue Bishops’ main competitors in the Patriot Division, was moved up to Central Jersey Group II this year. Asbury Park has the dreaded Week One bye before it opens up with a tough game against divisional foe Shore Regional.