Here are some more camp reports brought to you by our own Bob Badders, followed by some alumni links, updates and other notes.
The current group of Lions’ seniors is the first group to attend Jackson Liberty for all four years of high school rather than having been moved from Jackson Memorial when Jackson Liberty opened, which should add to the school solidarity under coach Tim Osborn. This is now the Lions’ third varsity season as a program after going 2-8 last year.
The offense has changed from the spread to the pro-I that Osborn engineered during a successful tenure as offensive coordinator under Bob Nani at Toms River North, so it’s more back to the bread and butter for Osborn. Dylan Wright and Steve Oborn are competing to replace Chris Castronuova at quarterback, and Mike Patterson looks to be the primary running back after starting on defense last year.
A key returner up front is center/inside linebacker Brendan Kahle, a name that instantly rang a bell because Kahle tied Middletown South lineman Travis Sodon as the winner of the essay contest at the first annual Donald Brown Player-to-Player Leadership Conference in April. Conducted by Indianapolis Colts rookie running back Donald Brown, a Red Bank Catholic graduate, the conference involved players writing 250-word essays about leadership, who they consider a leader, and what it means to them. Kahle’s reward for his prize-winning essay is an all-expenses paid trip to a Colts game this season. Who knows, maybe it will be the Colts’ home game on Dec. 13, after the high school season has ended, when the Denver Broncos and running back Knowshon Moreno come to town.
Senior Matt Tracy is another important returner up front at right tackle/defensive end, and a newcomer to watch with good size who has come out for the team this year is senior defensive tackle Miles Whitney. A big emphasis for the Lions has been putting forth a full 48-minute effort because in a lot of their games against high-profile opponents, they hung right with them for a half only to watch the game get away from them after the break.
Bob was at the scrimmage the other day between Brick Memorial and Ocean, which he said was 14-14 when the two teams had their varsity players in the game. Senior fullback Vinnie Sabba ran for a pair of touchdowns of about 25 and 15 yards for the Mustangs, who are the defending Central Jersey Group IV champions.
Senior running back Glenn McGinnis has added plenty of size and appears ready to have a big season along with Sabba in the backfield of the Mustangs’ triple option offense. However, he has been battling a nagging hamstring injury that he suffered during an offseason combine that kept him out of the scrimmage the other day. He looks to be ready for the team’s season opener and also is a good linebacker.
In the “Big Shoes to Fill” Department, junior Mike Diguilmi takes over for graduated star Brian Staub at quarterback, and against Ocean he showed good poise and athleticisim and made some good reads. With McGinnis and Sabba back there plus another talented back, senior Jared Aksdal, Diguilmi doesn’t have to put everything on his shoulders, he just needs to keep the ship running smoothly. What’s also helping is that Brick Memorial has Rob Orrok as its new quarterbacks coach. Orrok ran the triple option under Mustangs head coach Walt Currie when the two were at Point Boro, so he knows it inside and out, and Currie said his addition has been huge.
The Mustangs have three starters back on the O-line as well as several promising newcomers, so they should be fine up front as well.
Senior Billy Miller, who is also a talented wrestler, looked outstanding up front defensively in Memorial’s 3-4 set, as he has slimmed down from 250 pounds 220 and was in Ocean’s backfield several times.
All signs point to this team contending for the American Division title and reaching the postseason to defend its state sectional title. A big key will be getting over the hump against two-time defending division champion Toms River North, which has had Memorial’s number for the past few years, outscoring the Mustangs 59-10 in their last two meetings.
A player who jumped out immediately for coach Don Klein‘s crew at the scrimmage and should be a major playmaker for the Spartans this year is Brandon Robinson, who had a touchdown run and a touchdown catch against Brick Memorial. He lined up all over the field, from the backfield to splitting out wide, and looks like he will be a real weapon for them this season who is a threat to go the distance on any play.
Christian Bailoni returns at quarterback after rotating with the now-graduated Rhett Cowley last year, and sophomore Greg Moore is a promising newcomer who is another good athlete in the backfield along with Robinson.
Senior R.J. D’Apolito is one of the Shore’s better returning linebackers and also is back at fullback. He should be a team leader this season along with senior two-way tackle George Sofield, who has attracted some Ivy League interest. The Spartans also now have guard/defensive tackle Shaun Florke, a transfer from Long Branch who saw plenty of time with the Green Wave last year.
The goals are like they always are at Ocean – make a run at the Liberty Division title and try to get deeper into the playoffs after losing to Middletown South in the Central Jersey Group III semifinals last year. It looks like their offense should be more explosive after sputtering at times last year. The defense loses studs like defensive tackle Ricky Lyster, Cowley at safety and more, so we’ll see if it can approximate last year’s physical unit, which did not give up a point in any of the Spartans’ home games and only allowed 6.8 points per game.
As for some notes from Saturday, Asbury Park did well in a scrimmage that featured New Brunswick and Morristown, as senior RB George Stephens ran for multiple touchdowns and Lamar Davenport had two nice catches, according to Blue Bishops coach Don Sofilkanich. Davenport appears ready to take over where Derrell Bell left off last year. Stephens has received interest from several Division I-A schools in the Mid-American Conference but no offers yet, according to Sofilkanich. Sofilkanich also noted that New Brunswick, where he used to be an assistant, is huge up front, in the 290-pound range. That should make for some good battles as it faces Freehold and Middletown South this year and is also part of the rugged Central Jersey Group II bracket.
I also caught a glimpse of Manalapan as it faced off against defending South Jersey Group IV champion Mainland on Friday in the pouring rain and the Braves looked solid against a program that is perennially in the playoffs no matter who graduates. Junior quarterback Mike Bimonte has added about 25 pounds and refined his throwing motion, and the next beast of a running back to replace Jimmy Gilburn appears to be junior Josh Firkser, who saw time last year. Just like Gilburn, he has moved from tight end to tailback and has good size and speed. Speedy senior Kevin Cruz looks like he also should be able to make some plays down the field at wideout. The Braves also have a very strong sophomore class that should help make this team a real force over the next three years, including one running back/linebacker whose name I don’t want to butcher until I get the official spelling. I didn’t get to see much of the defense, so I can’t give a great read on that, but defensive end Johnny Dokouslis looked good and there appeared to be some good speed at linebacker.
And now finally, a few quick updates on some alumni:
–Linebacker Kevin Malast (Manchester/Rutgers) looks to continue a strong preseason camp on Sunday against the Broncos as he tries to make the Bears roster as an undrafted free agent.
–Kicker Pete Czech (Keyport) most likely won’t unseat one of the NFL’s best kickers, Pittsburgh’s Jeff Reed, but hopefully he has showcased himself enough in Reed’s absence in the preseason to get a good look from another NFL team.
—There has been a little bit of a learning curve for highly-regarded Cincinnati Reds prospect Todd Frazier (Toms River South/Rutgers) since his recent promotion to Triple A.
—Frazier is one of four former Shore players currently in Triple A as we near the September call-up period when major-league rosters expand. Frazier’s older brother, Jeff Frazier (Toms River South/Rutgers), is in Triple A for the Detroit Tigers and having a solid season. Also, right-handed pitcher Jeff Sues (Red Bank Catholic) was recently promoted to Indianapolis, which is the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A team. Catcher Lou Santangelo (Christian Brothers Academy) is currently hitting .194 with the Round Rock Express, the Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros.