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With three Division I recruits and a combined 14 returning starters from last season’s Shore Conference Class B South championship squad that also reached the program’s first sectional final, the expectations are pretty clear for Barnegat in 2014.

“Our expectations are very high, it’s right in our face,” said head coach Rob Davis. “Every drill we do and every rep in the weight room we remind them of that. We’re going to force the issue with them.”

The Bengals set a program record for wins last season in going 10-2 while reaching the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III title game, where they lost to Delsea, 31-7. Even though it was the program’s first state final in just its eighth season as a varsity program, the loss stung. It bothered senior Xavier Young enough that he went onto the bus that brought student fans to the game and apologized for the loss, telling them they wouldn't let them down next year. The time is now for Barnegat to finish the job behind a tremendous senior class.

“The approach to this season is just for everyone to step up a little more,” said senior Manny Bowen. “We need some players to show things they haven’t shown before, and we have a lot of kids ready to do that. Everyone is playing like they have a chip on their shoulder.”

“The extra work we put in last year was the main factor in how we got to (a sectional final),” said senior quarterback Cinjun Erskine. “Everyone on the team saw that, and it’s carried over.”

Erskine, who is committed to FCS program Bucknell, leads the Bengals multiple spread offense that averaged 29 points per game last season. As a junior, Erskine threw for 1,119 yards and 15 touchdowns and ran for an additional 651 yards and 6 touchdowns. He’ll enter his third year as the Bengals’ starting quarterback.

Senior quarterback Cinjun Erskine accounted for nearly 1,800 yards and 21 total touchdowns last season, and enters his third year as Barnegat's starting quarterback. (Photo by Bob Badders).

“I feel like I’m mentally much better this year,” Erskine said. “I’ve been reading defenses much easier, and I feel like I’ve progressed as much mentally as I have physically.”

“He’s doing what we ask him to do, and he’s focused and highly motivated,” Davis said. “We’ve put a lot on his plate the last two years, and now the game is coming a little easier to him.”

Behind Erskine at running back will be senior Tyler McGuinness and junior Paul Wickwire. McGuinness became the starter after A.J. Opre was lost for the season with a knee injury after just four games, and ran for 633 yards and three touchdowns. Wickwire added 462 yards and three touchdowns. The fullback is also a returning starter in senior Kevin Hoffman, but he will be out until mid season with a hand injury. Senior Tyler Podinker will take his place.

“We have over 2,000 yards rushing coming back, so we feel pretty comfortable there,” Davis said.

Three of the four starting pass catchers are returning starters, beginning with Bowen, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound Penn State recruit. He played all over the field last season and finished with 25 receptions for 479 yards and 8 touchdowns while also running for a pair of touchdowns. Senior Ricky Gerena is also a returning starter at wide receiver, as is 6-foot-4 senior tight end Kyle Morris. Ken Bass, who saw action last season, will be the third starting wide receiver.

“We have so many athletes that it’s going to be hard for teams to key on one player,” Erskine said. “If you want to key on Manny we have other guys that will make plays.”

Penn State commit Manny Bowen will play a variety of different positions for Barnegat after posting 10 total touchdowns and making 78 tackles on defense. (Photo by Bob Badders).

“We can spread you out sideline to sideline, and with the running game intact we feel like we’ll be pretty tough to defend,” Davis said.

Two starters return along the offensive line, which averages 272 pounds. Skewing that number a bit is three-year starter Sam Madden, a 6-foot-7, 360-pound behemoth who is committed to Wisconsin. He is the starting left tackle while Young, a 6-foot-1, 270-pound senior, is a returning starter at right guard. Junior Kyle Rodmell is the right tackle, senior Mason Schultz is the center and senior Adam Ricci is the left guard.

Barnegat returns six starters in its 4-3 multiple defense that allowed 14.8 points per game in 2013. Young returns as the lone starter along the defensive line at defensive tackle, although Madden, who started as sophomore but played sparingly on defense last season, is back as the other tackle. The defensive ends are senior John Doles and junior Danny Dugan.

At 6-foot-7 and 360 pounds, Wisconsin commit Sam Madden gives the Bengals a beast on the offensive line and two-gap occupier at defensive tackle. (Photo by Bob Badders).

The Bengals linebacking unit is its defensive strength, as it returns all three players. Hoffman will be out until the middle of the season, so Podinker will also take his spot on defense as the middle linebacker. Bowen and McGuinness are the outside linebackers. As a junior, Bowen made 78 tackles with 18 hits for a loss, 2.5 sacks and 22 quarterback pressures.

“We’re pretty athletic and we’re going to get pressure on the quarterback,” Davis said.

The secondary has two returning starters in senior strong safety Mike Christensen and Gerena at cornerback. Gerena had five interceptions last season, which tied for fourth best in the Shore Conference. Junior Nick Camarato is the free safety and Wickwire is the corner opposite Gerena.

Sophomore Connor Lustenberger steps in as the team’s kicker while Young returns as the starting punter after averaging 36 yards per punt with eight landing inside the 20. Gerena is the holder.

Barnegat enters the season as the favorite in B South and a contender for the South Jersey Group II title after being realigned into a new bracket. The expectations have never been higher for the Bengals.

“We know no matter what we do the camera is always on us,” Bowen said. “People are expecting a lot, and we have to step up to the plate. But it’s still just football. We're working on getting ourselves in the best position to succeed.”

 

Head coach: Rob Davis, 9th season

Career record: 45-39

Assistant coaches: Kevin Smith (def. coord.); Chris Clerico (run game coord.); Dave Smith (WR/DB); Mike Burke (RB/LB); Mike Leone (OL); Greg Oravets (DL); Mike D’Ambrosio (QB); Steve Fence (RB); Paul Covine, Brian Fitzpatrick (freshman); Wayne Wedderman (athletic trainer).

2013 record: 10-2 (6-1).

Big Shoes to Fill: Tyler Podinker, Sr., FB/LB

Podinker will start at least half the season on both sides of the ball while senior Kevin Hoffman mends from a hand injury sustained in the offseason.

X-Factor: Staying healthy

The Bengals have the talent and experience to win a state championship, but injuries to their key players would be a major blow.

Glue Guy: Xavier Young, Sr., OL/DL/P

A vocal leader who plays three different positions for the Bengals.

Impact newcomer: Josh Bowen, Jr., TE

Manny Bowen’s younger brother Josh comes in at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, and gives the Bengals another option in the passing game.

Pivotal Game: Oct. 31 vs. Lakewood

Lakewood handed the Bengals their only divisional loss last season and should be Barnegat’s main opposition to the B South title.