I got to 1 1/2 camps today, I guess you would say, as I was dodging the lightning bolts at Wall and then went to watch Long Branch’s intrasquad scrimmage. Instead I watched along with everyone else from the locker room as the sheets of rain came down. The game ended up being postponed to Saturday at 9:30 a.m. because of the bad weather. Bob Badders also visited Shore Regional and Barnegat on Friday, so I will get those reports from him tomorrow.
Before I get to that, it was great to hear that Pete Czech (Keyport/Wagner) is getting a shot as a kicker for the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Czech was in the Ravens’ training camp last year before being released by now is on the preseason rosters for the Steelers. If there is anybody who has the leg to kick in the terrible weather in Pittsburgh, it’s Czech. Jeff Reed is the incumbent, but here’s hoping that Czech can find a way to stick or at least generate enough interest from another team looking for a kicker to sign Czech. At least he has endeared himself to his teammates as he recently booted a 52-yarder that ended practice early on a 90-degree day.
Monmouth University had its first scrimmage of the fall on Friday, with several former Shore Conference players making an impact.
The College Sporting News has named Villanova defensive end Tim Kukucka (Wall) and Lafayette defensive end Andrew Poulson (Middletown South) as preseason honorable mention All-Americans for the Football Championship Subdivision (Division I-AA). The best name on the list? New Hampshire tight end Scott Sicko. He’s a guy I would want blocking for me. Monmouth University star running back Dave Sinisi was also named as a third-team All-American on the list.
Now, on to a quick report from Wall camp and some Long Branch notes as we get ready to roll out our full previews next week.
With All Shore Media first-team running back Blaze Caponegro having moved on to Temple, the Crimson Knights are flying a little bit under the radar this year. They look to have a solid senior core as well as some promising sophomores. If the young guys can get up to speed quickly, the Crimson Knights could be back in the state playoffs after a one-year absence.
Senior Maurice Washington and junior Will Avon are now the feature running backs that will have to fill Caponegro’s shoes after he led the Shore in rushing last year. Sophomore Steve Cluley and senior Erik Doherty are in competition for the starting QB spot, and having gotten a glimpse of Cluley, he could be one of the more promising quarterbacks Wall has had since the days of Brett Burke and Chris Malleo and appears to have a bright future. I would think he will win the job, but nothing is in stone right now. His main targets look to be seniors Fred Sprengel and Matt Mancino, as well as another intriguing prospect, senior Javon Richardson. Richardson was wearing No. 5 at practice and in a uniform he is a doppelganger of former star Tim Wright, who is now at Rutgers. He has battled injuries during his career, but if he becomes another downfield weapon, this could be a much different offensive team than last year.
They certainly should be more balanced compared to last year, when they rode Caponegro as far as he would take them and rarely went to the air. A player to keep an eye on is sophomore tight end Derek Gardner, who is 6-4 and 220 pounds. He is part of a freshman team that went 7-2 last year, losing only to Neptune and Manasquan. Another sophomore to watch is lineman Matt Pisarchik, whose last name might ring a bell, as he is a relative of former New York Giants quarterback Joe Pisarchik. The leader of the line looks to be senior Pat Kilmurray.
The Caponegro well isn’t empty, either, as junior Connor Caponegro returns to help anchor the linebacking corps. The secondary should be a strength of this team as everyone returns, although Avon has moved from the secondary to weakside linebacker in Wall’s 4-3 defense.
This season will come down to how much the sophomores can contribute immediately and if Wall can pick off Neptune, Middletown South, or Freehold in the Federal Division while taking care of business in its other games, including nonconference games against South Plainfield and Colonia. One thing is for sure – this team badly wants to get back into the state playoffs after failing to qualify last year for the second time in three years. Kilmurray called it “disgraceful” that the Crimson Knights missed out on the postseason last year, which shows you the standard that has been set at Wall.
I didn’t get to see anybody on the field because the intrasquad scrimmage was nuked because of the lightning and rain, so it will be on Saturday morning. I did catch up with Green Wave coach Dan George, so here are a few tidbits.
First of all, George usually downplays his teams, but he could not hide his excitement for this group, noting that their offseason dedication was some of the best he has seen in his 10-year tenure and that this is one of the most coachable groups he has had.
This team has some stud skill players, including junior quarterback Miles Shuler and wideouts Ezra Kelly and Devron Clark. Shuler showed flashes of his explosive running ability last season and George said he has worked very hard to refine his passing ability. If Long Branch is good up front this year, Shuler has a chance to make a run at an All Shore Media first-team spot. George said that “if we asked Miles to do 10 drills, he did 11. Whatever we asked him to do, he did it.” Plus, Shuler is also an excellent student who boasts a high-90 average, according to George.
Kelly and Clark are both dangerous, meaning that if teams decide to double one of them, the other could really hurt them. Three-year starter Billy George, Dan George’s nephew, returns as a running back/linebacker and will be joined in the backfield by the experienced Elijah White, who came on strong toward the end of last year.
The key to this whole team is the line, on both sides of the ball. They have to be better against the run defensively, and the more holes they open up for an outstanding group of skill players, the more this offense can be like the one that helped the Green Wave reach the Central Jersey Group III championship game in 2007. A promising newcomer to watch on the line, which returns three players who saw time last year, is sophomore Ryan Brody, who is 6-5 and 255 pounds and a possible star in the making if he continues to work hard and progress.
It also helps to have St. John Vianney transfer Julian Mayo, a tight end/linebacker who will step in and start both ways. George said Mayo and his family have moved to Long Branch and all the paperwork has been finalized, so he will be eligible from Day One.
Five starters are back on defense, led by George at linebacker and a very experienced secondary that includes junior Koran Hair, who is a speed burner who can also stretch the field at wideout. All in all, this team has what it takes to challenge for a state championship in the rugged Central Jersey Group II bracket and make a run at the Liberty Division title. It will all come down to the line play on both sides because opposing offenses will try to run the ball and grind Long Branch down in order to keep Shuler and Co. off the field. The Green Wave seem to have a little bit more depth than the other CJ II contenders in the Shore Conference, so we’ll see if that pays off come playoff time.