Before I get to the stuff from today, just wanted to clarify something on the transfer of running back Devonte Thomas from Asbury Park to Monmouth Regional. He reportedly has moved to Eatontown with his family, so with that valid address, he should be eligible and not have to sit out at all once all the paperwork is finalized.
Now, as for today, the reports are below with some quotes from the day at the bottom. Bob Badders has also been visiting camps for us, so I will get some reports from him as well as the week goes on. Obviously, we will get much more in depth in our upcoming team previews, so if someone isn’t mentioned in these quick reports, don’t take it personally. We’ll get to everybody in the previews.
This is the year that the Red Raiders have been building toward for two seasons, as they have a large senior class that features a host of two- and three-year starters. This is the best team they have had since the Cattouse-Bedle era early in this decade.
Leading the way is senior two-way lineman Bryan Thomson, who has moved to center from guard and is still at defensive tackle after being voted the 2008 Patriot Division Defensive Player of the Year by the coaches. Head coach Mike Ciccotelli, who is entering his 32nd season and has 200 career wins and six state sectional titles, said Thomson may be the best defensive player he has ever coached.
He battled Rumson’s Taylor Brown for post-season honors last season, and now there is a chance that he and Thomson could be teammates. Thomson, who is also an excellent student, said that the two main schools that he has may be choosing from are Holy Cross and the University of Pennsylvania. Brown is currently a freshman at UPenn. Ciccotelli noted how even when he was a freshman, Thomson was a student of the game who was always watching extra film and always was one step ahead of everyone on the field because of his film study. That also made it easier to transition him to center from guard because he already knows where everyone is supposed to be on every play. It also was because that in the Patriot Division, several teams play three man fronts in which they line up someone directly over the center to try and disrupt plays and flood the middle with linebackers, but putting Thomson there helps negate that tactic.
The Red Raiders have a ton of size and can match up physically with a Group III school on the line. All five of their linemen are returning starters on offense, so this team is just going to try to physically bludgeon opponents at the point of attack in the Wing T with junior Yusuf Francis serving as a primary threat at fullback. One of the returning linemen, senior Dan Quinn, is currently working through a back injury but should return within a week. The new quarterback is senior Jimmy Maguire, who was a wideout last year and is a small, elusive type.
Defensively, the Red Raiders return all four starting linebackers, the entire secondary, and three out of four D-linemen.
They were moved up from Central Jersey Group I to CJ II this year after having been in CJ I for eons, and the reason is because the enrollment of Henry Hudson was added to their enrollment because of the cooperative program that allows Henry Hudson kids to play football at Keyport because the Admirals do not have a football program. It used to be that just a percentage of Henry Hudson’s enrollment counted toward Keyport’s total, but now it’s the whole thing. There are currently five Henry Hudson students who play football for the Red Raiders. They missed the cutoff for Group I by having one more student than Spotswood when the NJSIAA did its latest realignment, and now they must deal with the likes of Rahway, Carteret, defending CJ II champ Manasquan, Raritan, Long Branch, Matawan, Rumson and New Brunswick in CJ II. The best-case scenario for this team might be taking down Asbury Park and winning the Patriot Division title and then taking their chances if they qualify for that brutal CJ II bracket. Their game against Asbury Park should be a great contrast between Keyport’s brute strength and the Blue Bishops’ ability to hit the explosive play.
The Titans quietly have 23 seniors this year, one season after most of those same players experienced their first real varsity action following the graduation of the class that included the Laguna brothers and quarterback Anthony Valle. Leading the way is senior QB Frank Soleo, who quietly had 1,900 combined yards of offense last year between rushing and passing. He was cleared earlier this month to start playing again after suffering a bad injury to his left (non-throwing) hand and forearm during basketball season.
Keansburg looks like it will be fairly physical up front for the Patriot Division, and the Titans have three starters back on the offensive line. A newcomer to keep an eye on is senior wideout James Stanback, who is about 6-3 and is a big target for Soleo. Defensively, the Titans are usually solid as head coach Brian Kmak is more of a defensive-minded coach and leaves the offense to coordinator Tom O’Keefe. That usually leads to some fun battles in practice as Kmak’s defense goes against O’Keefe’s offense in drills. Defensively, the linebacking group looks like it will be the standout group right now.
Former Keansburg offensive lineman Jason Wombough, who starred at Montclair State and flirted with the NFL after graduation, has returned as an assistant O-line coach and hopes to make another run at getting invited to an NFL camp next spring. Former Raritan assistant Bobby Devlin is also now with the Titans as the running backs/defensive backs coach.
The Titans definitely look like a darkhorse in the Patriot Division and have a good chance to make the state playoffs on the heels of a 3-7 season.
I would also like to note that the pork roll eating in Da Burg has already begun as after practice I promptly went to Stark’s United in the middle of town and sawed through a pair of pork roll sandwiches that were outstanding. Going into Stark’s is like going back in time. It’s definitely old school, with stools right at the counter and some old-timers getting to work on their scratch-off lottery tickets. I felt like Marty McFly getting out of the DeLorean into 1955, but for a well-cooked, thinly-sliced pork roll sandwich (or two), it was well worth it. I know this is blasphemy, but they might have been better than the ones they serve at the Titan Cafe at Keansburg home games.
This team is loaded and ultimately wants to make a run at its second Central Jersey Group II title in school history in what will be a stacked bracket. Their offense features two big names in wideout Bennett Jackson and tailback Jesse Raymond, both of whom have added muscle during the offseason. Jackson, who has verbally committed to Notre Dame, looked outstanding at practice on Tuesday and should be a major handful for opponents with his downfield speed. As he showed last year, he also is a threat while running the ball on jet sweeps and has a good arm to throw the ball on gadget plays, plus he is a dynamo on special teams as a returner and as the team’s kicker. I know there are those out there (including some opposing coaches) who privately raised an eyebrow to me when Jackson received a bunch of offers from big-time schools and chose the Fighting Irish, but he certainly has the ability to silence the doubters who question his talent.
Senior Joe Pensebene looked solid throwing the ball on Tuesday, as he steps into the starting QB role to replace the graduated Mark Stancati. He has experience, as he started a handful of games as a sophomore because of injuries to the two quarterbacks ahead of him. I think a big key to the offense could be Tim Pizanie, a talented wideout who can hurt opponents who try to gang up on Jackson. He also showed last year that he can be counted on at crunch time and in big games, as he had a big play down the field that set up a touchdown in a huge regular-season win over Manasquan. I still think Raymond is the biggest key. His ability to establish the run game frees Jackson and the others up to make plays vertically when teams cheat toward the line of scrimmage.
The offensive line features several newcomers but has good size, including junior Christian Marchena, a promising player who missed all of last season with a knee injury. Senior Dan Gibson is one of the key returners on that unit.
The vocal leader of the team is clearly senior linebacker Marc Cogliano, who really has embraced the leadership role. He looks like he’s ready to make a run at a first-team All Shore Media spot this year. For some reason, every year a Raritan linebacker seems to be one of the main leaders of the team, like Jerome Dean was last year and Chris Mooney was before him. Cogliano’s brother Wayne, who everyone calls by his nickname, Sonny, has moved from the secondary to outside linebacker this season, and others to watch are defensive lineman Carlo Caponetta, who has a high motor, and safety T.J. Murray. In the random fact department, the Coglianos are the cousins of Keansburg head coach Brian Kmak.
This team is in an interesting position in that Raritan usually thrives as the underdog, but this year the expectations are very high so it will not be in that spot this season. Veteran Rockets coach Bob Generelli is the king of making his team seem like the Little Team that Could and an 0-9 opponent seeming like 1985 Chicago Bears, but that is hard to do when you have the talent that is returning on this roster on the heels of a strong season.
The Rockets are expected to challenge for the National Division title after sharing it with Point Boro and Manasquan last year, and they are expected to make a run in CJ II. However, it’s not an unfamiliar spot for Generelli and his staff, who dealt with the same expectations on the Andrew Mandeville-led teams that reached two straight state finals in 2004 and 2005, winning the school’s only title and going 12-0 in 2004.
The Rockets play at Manasquan on Halloween this year, which is a game you want to circle on the calendar now.
A lot of new faces out there for the Bulldogs this season, and this team has a chance to make a darkhorse run at a state playoff spot in Central Jersey Group II. Most of the remnants from the team that reached the CJ II final in 2007 have graduated, including stud two-way lineman Taylor Brown, so it’s up to this year’s group to continue the winning in Bulldog-land. The words “rebuilding year” are not allowed to be uttered at Rumson.
Senior Sean Burke returns at QB and will start, but junior Mike Villapiano, the son of former Oakland Raiders great Phil Villapiano, should also see plenty of time. Burke is a steady performer who saw significant time last season and is a mobile quarterback who is accurate. Villapiano had a strong offseason and has done everything the coaches have asked of him, according to RFH head coach Shane Fallon, and should also be a solid weapon who allows them to throw some different wrinkles into their attack. Another offensive weapon is kicker Tucker Smith, who should challenge for first-team All Shore Media honors as he has a very strong leg and is a great combination kicker/punter.
The backfield has experience with John Riley and Michael Guzman, and tight end/linebacker Paul Michael Barrows is a Division I-AA prospect who has received interest from Delaware and others. The offensive line is a little undersized and has three newcomers in the starting unit, so that is an area to keep an eye on. Senior Quentin (OK, deep breath and I hope I’m spelling this right…) Gierlatowicz is a key returner on the line.
Defensively, the Bulldogs are tall but a little undersized up front, but should have a solid group of linebackers, led by Barrow and Michael Huttner. A newcomer to watch on the defense is hard-hitting sophomore Brian Truex. The secondary is all new.
This team will rely heavily on precise execution and doing the little things right like minimizing penalties and hitting big plays when they are there because there are no dynamo playmakers, just a bunch of solid guys. Their status in the Patriot Division race will be determined during a rugged stretch in which they play Asbury Park, Shore Regional and Keyport in succession in October. Fallon said that he has been notified that the Asbury Park game is MSG Network’s Game of the Week for that week, so it will be televised. There also is a new scoreboard at Borden Stadium this year.
Finally, I leave you with a few quotes from the day.
“Cogs, what would you have done to that ballcarrier had he (another linebacker) done his job on that play and forced him back inside?’‘ – Raritan defensive coordinator Anthony Petruzzi to senior LB Marc Cogliano.
“Oh, it would’ve been on SportsCenter.” – Cogliano’s reply.
“Coach, you look great for 100 years old. Tell us about living through the Great Depression.” – The Keyport peanut gallery during a water break, messing with veteran defensive coordinator Ed Ryscavage, who lives in Nevada during the rest of the year but comes back to New Jersey to coach at Keyport during the fall.