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After three straight playoff appearances and a division title, Donovan Catholic will be going back to the drawing board this year with a host of new players on each side of the ball as it tries to stay near the top of Class B South.

The Griffins were a senior-heavy team last season when they went 5-5 to finish tied for second in the division. With only a few starters returning, Donovan is facing an uphill battle as it moves forward into 2014.

“We are so young, and that’s the challenge,” said head coach Dan Duddy.

Among the Griffins’ losses to graduation were quarterback Vinny Grasso, running back Joey Fields and receiver Kyle Carrington, all three of whom were FCS recruits. Those three accounted for over 2,000 yards and 28 touchdowns, and helped the Griffins average 25 points per game, so there is clearly a big void when it comes to offensive production.

Taking over at quarterback in Donovan’s Navy option is junior David Calderon, who started at slot back last season. The fullbacks are seniors Joe Rozell and Austin Koziol. Junior Alex Rosario is the starter at one slotback position with junior Dezmund Hunter and senior Andrew O’Donnell working at the other slot position. The two starting wide receivers are senior Matt Puleo and 6-foot-4 junior Taylor McShea, who transferred from Pemberton. Junior Marcus Rosario will also see time at receiver.

Junior David Calderon takes over at quarterback in Donovan Catholic's Navy option. (Photo by Bill Normile).

“David has truly come into his own by bringing strong character into the locker room,” Duddy said of his quarterback. “He’s a tremendous athlete, but what I like most at this point is that he’s taken on a leadership role.”

With three returning starters, the line should be the strength of the Griffins’ offense. Junior Zach Crosio returns as the starting left tackle and 230-pound junior Dillon Paprota is back as the center. Senior Nyeem Calhoun returns at right guard. At left guard will be 225-pound senior Dale Barlet, and at right tackle will be either sophomore Jared Knoeller or sophomore David Novakowski.

“The offensive line gives us some sanity,” Duddy said. “They know what they’re doing, and they’ve been asked to take a leadership role. They’re definitely our strength”

“We have a lot of young kids, so me and the rest of the captains are trying to get them to understand what we’re trying to do,” Calhoun said. “We lost so many seniors from last year, but we have to accept the challenge. If everyone does their jobs we’ll be fine."

Defensively, the Griffins will employ a 4-3 base that has three returning starters. The defensive tackles are Paprota, Barlet and 290-pound senior Shane McGrath in a rotation. Calhoun and junior Kyle Schremmer return as starters at defensive end, while McShea, who was a starting 5-technique for Pemberton last season, will also play defensive end.

Senior two-way lineman Nyeem Calhoun returns as a starter on both sides of the ball. (Photo by Bill Normile).

Koziol is a returning starter at outside linebacker with Crosio starting on the other side. The middle linebacker is Rozell. In the secondary, Calderon and Puleo are the cornerbacks, Rosario is the the strong safety and O’Donnell is the free safety.

“The defensive line will have to be disruptive, but we also have aggressive linebackers,” Calhoun said.

“To me, defense is all about confidence,” Duddy said. “It enables a player to fly downhill and make contact, and that is where the challenge of youth manifests itself. It’s always more challenging on the defensive side of the ball with a very young team, because they don’t have confidence yet.”

Sophomore Giancarlo Stigliano, who transferred from Christian Brothers Academy, where he played soccer, will be the kicker and punter.

Barnegat and Lakewood figure to be the top two teams in B South, but after that it could be fairly wide open. The Griffins have several holes to fill, but if their young players can come together quickly they have a chance to be competitive throughout the season.

“It’s really just a time issue. We’re kind of all strangers to each other, for lack of a better term,” Duddy said. “We’re just trying to get to the point where we need to be for kickoff versus Pinelands.”

 

Head coach: Dan Duddy, 9th season

Career record: 34-46

Assistant coaches: Gerard O’Donnell (RB); Danny Sicala (WR); Vito Steriti (QB); Chris Wynn (OL); Adam Sacco (DL); Jimmy Papalia (co-def. coord./LB); Chad Dougherty (co-def. coord./DB); Greg Hyslop (spec. teams/strength and conditioning); Mark Deppen (strength and conditioning); Bob DiStefano (athletic trainer).

2013 record: 5-5 (5-2)

Big Shoes to Fill: David Calderon, Jr., QB/DB

Vinny Grasso accounted for over 1,300 yards last season as the Griffin’s main offensive weapon, so Calderon will have to be the same type of go-to player for Donovan.

X-Factor: Progression of first-year starters

As with any young team with a lot of first-year starters, how quickly they develop will determine what kind of year the Griffins have.

Glue Guy: Nyeem Calhoun, Sr., OL/DL

The veteran leader of the offensive line is also a strong locker room presence.

Impact Newcomer: Taylor McShea, Jr., WR/DE

A transfer from Pemberton where he started on defense last season for a playoff team, McShea brings great size (6-foot-4) and experience to a team that needs both.

Pivotal Game: Sept. 5 vs. Pinelands

With so many new starters the Griffins would probably rather not play a Week Zero game, but their matchup with Pinelands will give the team a good gauge of what they need to work on.