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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).