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.
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.