Here are some more camp reports from the past few days. On Monday, Aug. 31, we will begin our previews with the
Patriot Division and then work our way up through the National Division, Liberty Division, Federal Division, Constitution Division and end with the American Division, so be on the lookout for those. Also, in this entry, the Lacey, Southern and Pinelands were fashioned by All Shore Media’s Bob Badders, who has been an invaluable help in getting around to all of the programs.
There is certainly renewed enthusiasm under new head coach Ron Raymond for a team that has not won a game since going 4-6 in 2006. Raymond also has experience building up programs that have been mired in losing situations with low participation numbers at places like Spotswood and Cardinal McCarrick. He also was allowed to bring in his own staff, which includes veterans like defensive coordinator Mike Veth, which I think will make a difference. It also helps that Raymond is familiar with the Greater Middlesex Conference because the Seraphs have games against Cardinal McCarrick and Dunellen this year as part of the GMC-Shore Conference crossover schedule. It also can’t hurt that those teams replace the likes of Red Bank Catholic and Point Boro and give Mater Dei opponents it can be competitive against.
The Seraphs have 25 players total from freshmen to varsity, so once again depth is a factor, but it’s a factor with a lot of teams in the Patriot Division, so Raymond is not using it as an excuse. The good news is that they have eight starters back on both sides of the ball, so at least there is plenty of experience returning. Raymond also isn’t one of those “if we just show progress even if we got blown out by 40 points” moral victory-type of guys. He wants wins.
They will be running the triple option offense and a 4-4 base defense. While the triple option can be difficult for quarterbacks to pick up quickly because of the precise footwork and fakes, it certainly helps that Mater Dei just picked up Old Bridge transfer Jesse Meyer, a sophomore quarterback who became eligible a few days ago once all the paperwork was completed. He ran the same system while playing with Old Bridge and already is versed in all of the footwork it requires. He is competing with A.J. Knutsen for the starting QB spot, and the one who doesn’t win it will most likely play wingback.
A player that Mater Dei has high hopes for is right tackle/defensive end James Ferber, particularly at defensive end, so he is one to keep an eye on. Junior linebacker Kevin Quinn is another to watch along with wingback/outside linebacker Bart DeMattina.
Raymond has instituted a no-nonsense approach, particularly with the younger players as he builds toward the future. In a situation that I have only heard of when it involves teams that have been consistently stuck in losing situations, some players over the years and this season have missed preseason camp for a week or more because of vacation, which would be hard to fathom at a place like Middletown South or Manasquan. As Raymond put it, “If you want to go on vacation, stay on vacation.” Also, little things like if a player is going to miss practice or be late, he wants to the player specifically to call him and be accountable instead of having his mother or father call.
Also, one other note – this preseason is turning into a contest of “The Biggest Loser” as far as coaches slimming down and shedding weight. In two years, I think Middletown South line coach Joe O’Connor has shed about 90 pounds thanks to a bet he had with some of his fellow teachers at Holmdel (the only way he could’ve lost that bet is if Paris Hilton is now teaching there) and during the offseason Middletown North offensive line coach Nick Trezza dropped about 30 pounds. However, the runaway leader by far is Mater Dei offensive/defensive line coach Shannon Hoadley, who has dropped 200 (!) pounds after weighing over 460 pounds. He had the stomach staple surgery and has been working out hard on a regular basis doing MMA training and more. I know Shannon from his days as an assistant with Mike Ciccotelli during the Cattouse-Bedle glory years at Keyport, and I didn’t even recognize him at first. It can’t hurt to set a good example for the players on the O-line, especially when you read so many stories about former linemen who have had a hard time controlling their weight after their playing days are over because they are so used to consuming a ton of calories to bulk up for football.
ST. JOHN VIANNEY
Talk about night and day with the atmosphere at practice over in Lancer-land from last year to this year, as St. John Vianney makes the transition from former coach John Amabile to new head coach Skip Edwards. First off, there were about 25 kids at practice when I went last year, and this season the varsity has 59 players. The freshman team was also practicing at the other end of the turf field at St. John Vianney, so there were about 100 players out on the field.
Talking to the players, they feel that team chemistry has also been greatly improved, so maybe it was for the best that top players like Charles Davis (Neptune), Jazzmar Clax (Freehold) and Julian Mayo (Long Branch) all transferred after Amabile decided to step down. He is now the head coach at Allentown.
I think this team could be an under-the-radar threat in a loaded National Division that includes buzzed-about teams like Manasquan, Raritan, Point Boro and Barnegat. After having to fight for carries in a crowded backfield the past few years, senior Anthony Corona is entrenched at tailback this year. I thought he had a good burst at the line of scrimmage and was one of the more underrated backs I’ve seen in the past few years. I felt he just needed more touches, so we’ll see what he can do now that he is the main guy back there.
Senior Joe Carlucci is also the main quarterback after rotating at that spot the past few years, so we’ll see if that stability also helps. He is experienced and could be one of the more surprise QBs around this year. Also, speedy Ralph Joseph, who was a wide receiver for his first three years at SJV, will also now get some carries in the backfield in order to use his speed on the edge in Edwards’s multipe-I offense. Senior fullback Gill Keough is another experienced player back there, and Kevin Mercurio should be a prime target at wideout along with Joseph.
One player to definitely keep an eye on is potential Division I-A talent Ryan Gille, a junior tight end/defensive end who is 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, runs a 4.8 40-yard dash and has good hands. He missed all of last season with torn ligaments in his left ankle, but certainly could be an impact player for the Lancers this year.
As previously mentioned in an early blog entry, former Matawan legend Ken Mandeville is now an assistant with the Lancers and will coach the running backs and linebackers.
Finally, one of the most underrated rivalries in the Shore is St. John Vianney vs. Raritan. The players on these teams absolutely hate one another, and there are a lot of Hazlet kids that attend SJV. Raritan is the team St. John Vianney opens up with after a Week One bye. I’m all for a great rivalry, as long as the off-the-field nonsense like vandalism and fights after the game doesn’t occur because it has no place in a legit rivalry. Believe me, SJV is looking forward to that game, and adding an extra wrinkle is that Mandeville’s son, Andrew, who is now at Monmouth University, is the greatest quarterback in Raritan history, a four-year starter who was twice named first-team Associated Press All-State.
I think a lot of the success of this SJV team will come down to how good it is up front, because the Lancers seem to have solid skill position talent, and if they can stop teams in the fourth quarter defensively.
On the surface, it looks like this team lost a lost because it had 22 seniors last year, but quietly not many of them started, so there is plenty returning for the Hawks to be a sleeper team in the Liberty Division. They have six starters back offensively and plenty of others who saw time, and five back defensively. Where they were hit hardest was in their linebacking corps, which is pretty much all new.
They have to replace standout tailback D’Andre McFadden, but he missed about 2 1/2 games with injury last year and Ron Spicer filled in to get experience. The Hawks like what they have in Spicer as McFadden’s replacement, and senior Jeff Hurley is a three-year starter at QB, although he is being pushed hard for that spot by junior Nate Nickens, who has a strong downfield arm. Hurley will also be playing linebacker this year as well.
Another player to watch offensively is junior wideout Monwell Brown, who looks to be a vertical threat. He also has an obvious nickname – “Money.” Nickens should also be at wideout if he doesn’t win the QB job.
The Hawks also have plenty of size up front on both sides thanks to tandem of seniors Jimmy Lawson and Josh Siemanowicz. Lawson is 290 pounds right now and Siemanowicz looks like he’s about a solid 300, so those two should be blowing open some holes offensively. Manchester coach Gerard O’Donnell said that Siemanowicz has done a great job of working hard in the weight room over the years to really transform his body from his freshman season.
Defensively, Lawson also will be lining up over opposing centers this year in an attempt to crush teams at the point of attack and force them to run wide. As for whether Lawson will be a wrestler or a football player in college, it looks like he is taking a wait-and-see approach. A two-time NJSIAA heavyweight champion, he already has wrestling offers from Rutgers, Ohio State and Virginia Tech, but he said he wants to play out this football season and see what football offers he might be able to bring in before making his decision. If he is dominant from the outset, we’ll see if he gets his wish of a Division I-A football offer or two and overcomes the stigma of being under 6 feet tall that hurts many defensive line recruits looking for a I-A ride.
The Hawks are in a similar position to Monmouth Regional in that they have become a solid team that can routinely be in the 4-to-6 win range, so the next obstacle is taking that step to make the state playoffs, which requires beating an established Monmouth County power in their division like Red Bank Catholic, Ocean or Long Branch. We’ll see if they can do it this year.
They definitely have gotten more support for this program over the years, and it showed on Thursday during their annual blue-and-gold intrasquad scrimmage, which had parents making food for everyone and a festive atmosphere. Former coach Rob Paneque got the ball rolling a few years ago before moving on to become an an administrator at Wall, and then O’Donnell, who is good friends with Paneque and grew up right down the street from him in Jackson, has continued that work. They got lights for their home field two years ago thanks to the fund-raising efforts of Mike Leppert, the father of former linebacker Craig Leppert, and they want to continue to grow the enthusiasm for a place that has generally been off the football map in its existence.
Also, perhaps most importantly, they got an early leg up in my snackbar standings with some good hot dogs on Thursday.
The Lions will be operating primarily out of the shotgun this year, as they showed in a recent scrimmage against Toms River North. Now that I remember correctly, they started doing that toward the end of last season, so it’s not something entirely new, it’s just more expanded, with more responsibility on the shoulders of junior quarterback Craig Cicardo. Still, it’s definitely new to see a team that made its name on punishing opponents with a relentless I-formation running assault over the years, but times change, and the Lions are doing what they feel gives them the best chance to be effective.
Head coach Lou Vircillo called the offense the “multiple gun” so Cicardo will be back there in a Tim Tebow-style Florida offense coordinated by his father, also named Craig. The running game will be mainly by committee, although junior Jarrod Molzon is one to watch. Another junior who was a solid player last year as a sophomore is wideout/defensive back Zack Terrill, a ballhawk in the secondary and a threat as a wideout.
The junior class is the backbone of the program right now, as there are only five seniors. One of them is Mike Stuppiello, one of the top returning pass rushers in the Shore Conference. He will be a linebacker/defensive end who sometimes has his hand in the ground and other times will be at linebacker. His best attribute is getting to quarterbacks in key situations on third down, so he will have to be accounted for no matter where he lines up.
The schedule-makers did the Lions no favors, either. In addition to competing in the Constitution Division and their usual Thanksgiving game against Central, their two nondivisional games are against Middletown South (the season opener) and Freehold (Nov. 7). Those are only expected to be two of the Shore’s best teams and contenders for the Central Jersey Group III title that Freehold won a year ago. Knowing Lacey, though, there is no whining or excuses. They will buckle it up and play ball against anyone, and should once again be a Top 10-caliber team and a threat for division and state titles.
Just like Lacey, Pinelands has a big junior class that forms the core of the program right now. One of those juniors is Michael Keller, who was slated to be the starting quarterback last year as a sophomore before being sidelined by a broken collarbone. He is back and competing for the starting spot with the QB who filled in during his absence, Jeremy Hartman, who is 6-3 and 215 pounds. Hartman will be at wideout if Keller gets the QB job and he also should be a force at defensive end.
Junior fullback Mike Michaelson (great name) returns and will also be at safety. Another player who will be relied on heavily and should be one of the division’s best is senior guard/defensive tackle Tim Lamezec.
Perhaps the player with the most potential in a year that seems to be packed with talented tight end/defensive ends in the Shore is junior Bobby Schwarzenberger. He is 6-3 and 215 pounds and runs a 4.6 40-yard dash, so we’ll see if he can make an impact this year for head coach Sean DeRosa and the Wildcats.
This team won four of its last five games last year, so we’ll see if they can carry that momentum into this season and establish some consistent winning in the program.
From talking to coaches who have scouted them in the preseason to reports from Badders, the Rams look like they could have a promising offense this season in a year where most of their starting lineup left via graduation after the best year in school history.
Chuck Donohue Sr.’s team has two promising quarterbacks battling it out in senior Mike Bush, a shifty, athletic runner who started at safety last year, and senior Mike Balik, a 6-foot-4 dropback passer who also has looked good in the preseason. Unlike the smashmouth offense of last year behind Glenn Carson, Anthony Stroffolino and Co., this is a more athletic and speed-oriented unit.
Only Bush and linebackers Brian Abbey and Brett Cox return with any significant experience from one of the Shore’s top defenses last year. There most likely will be a dropoff defensively because any high school program short of the Don Boscos and St. Peter’s Preps of the world would have a big dropoff if it lost talent like Carson (Penn State), Stroffolino (UPenn), LB Steve Sibona (Sacred Heart), safety John Binford (Sacred Heart), DT George West (Castleton State) and talented DB Erich Steuer and linebacker Mike Bonsky.
Sibona, by the way, may be the biggest loss of them all because he made all the defensive calls and was a vocal leader who is now challenging for a starting spot as a true freshman at Sacred Heart.
This is a big program year for the Rams, as they try to prove that they can reload and still be a competitive team that will make a run for a state playoff berth. If they can weather the loss of the best senior class in school history and still make the postseason in a tough South Jersey Group IV bracket, that would be a strong statement that they are here to stay no matter who graduates.