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In the gauntlet that is the Shore Conference’s Class A South division, it was Jackson Memorial, a team few would have picked to win the division, that came out on top in front of four other playoff teams last year. Despite graduating a 1,400-yard rusher and a pair of tackling machines at linebacker, the Jaguars see no reasons why they shouldn’t be right back in championship contention in 2014.

“Every year our goal is to compete for the A South title, so the expectations are set at a certain place,” said head coach Walt Krystopik. “The burden to come out and prove themselves is there for the guys coming up.”

Gone are star running back Khani Glover and All-Shore linebacker Ken Bradley from last season’s championship squad, but the Jaguars return several starters, including three offensive linemen and quarterback Joe DeMaio, as they set out to defend their title in arguably the Shore’s toughest division. They also have several underclassmen joining the varsity squad from freshman and junior varsity teams that each went undefeated last season.

DeMaio, who helped the Jaguars baseball team capture the NJSIAA Group IV title in the spring, returns for his third year as the team’s starting quarterback after throwing for 705 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior. He is the only player from Jackson’s standout backfield to return, and he’ll be counted on to lead its multiple-I offense.

Senior quarterback Joe DeMaio returns for his third year as Jackson Memorial's starting quarterback. He threw for 705 yards and seven touchdowns last season. (Photo by Bob Badders).

“The quarterback is always a leader, but now as a senior and with those guys gone I have to take charge more and handle more responsibility,” DeMaio said.

“Last year it was his job to not make any mistakes and turn around and hand the ball off,” Krystopik said. “Now it’s his turn to step up and be that vocal leader and to lead by example.”

In front of DeMaio is a sizable and experienced offensive line that is expected to fuel Jackson’s power running attack. Brad Greenway, a 280-pound senior, returns as the starter at left tackle with 225-pound senior Tyler Rauch back as the left guard. Senior Glenn Kipila, a 6-foot-4, 260-pounder, is the group’s other returning starter at right guard. At center is 6-foot-1, 245-pound senior Ryan Frasier and at right tackle is 6-foot-3, 265-pound junior Dylan Smith. Further bolstering the blocking unit is senior tight end Brody Graham, who comes in at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds.

“It’s a very solid group of guys working together,” Krystopik said. “They have to be able to push people around and set the tempo for the team.”

“You’re not going anywhere without driving people off the ball, and we have the guys that can do that,” Graham said.

The tailback spot will be filled by junior Vinny Lee and sophomore Mike Gawlik, while senior Zach Tetro is the fullback. Cole Collins, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound senior, and 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior Adante Davis have also been working at fullback. At wide receiver, the Jags return senior Aaron Curet and junior Kyle Johnson. They will also have Jackson Liberty transfer Matt Castronuova at receiver, but whether or not he will have to sit out 30 days for transferring has yet to be determined.

Junior running back Vinny Lee is one of the players Jackson Memorial is counting on to replace the production of 1,400-yard rusher Khani Glover. (Photo by Bob Badders).

“He’s a quality football player and we’re going to have to see where he fits on both sides of the football for us,” Krystopik said of Castronuova.

Defensively, the Jaguars will continue to employ a 3-4 odd front. Graham and 230-pound junior Austin Ostrander will be the defensive ends with Kipila and Greenway rotating as the nose tackle. All four defensive linemen were returning starters last season.

Linebacker is where Jackson has the most work to do in replacing Bradley and Vinny Celidonio, who combined for 262 tackles last season. Tetro returns as a starter at outside linebacker after making 69 tackles and five sacks last season, while the other outside linebacker spot has senior Connor Bohringer and juniors Connor Testa and Tyler Towns competing for the starting spot. Collins saw time at linebacker last season and will be the starting strongside linebacker. The inside linebacker is sophomore Zach Lubertazzi with Davis also vying for playing time.

Senior two-way lineman Brody Graham is one of several big and experienced linemen Jackson will lean on this season. (Photo by Bob Badders).

“Those guys (Bradley and Celidonio) paved the road for me the past two years taking me under their wing, and that’s made it easy for me as a senior,” Tetro said. “There’s big shoes to fill, but we have plenty of guys to fill those holes.”

“Last year between him and Mike Petrizzo we couldn’t get them off the field,” Krystopik said. “When we had all four of them out there our defense really picked up. He’s one of those kids that are the leaders on our team, and he’s a tough, hard-nosed kid.”

In the secondary, DeMaio and Curet are the cornerbacks with Johnson, who had four interceptions last season, and junior Jared Calhoun as the safeties. Castronuova, an all-division defensive back in B-South the last two seasons, will likely start at one of the safety positions once he is eligible to play. Junior Kyle Lona and Gawlik will also see time in the defensive backfield.

Calhoun returns as the team’s kicker and punter.

The race for the A South title should once again be a battle to the bitter end, and with some production from a young backfield and a bigger year from DeMaio, the Jaguars believe they have the goods to retain the title.

“There’s a lot of competition, and just like last year we’ll be picked as an underdog,” Tetro said. “But we’ll be there.”

“We want to play the best and that’s what we’re going to have to do,” Graham said.

 

Head coach: Walt Krystopik, 4th season.

Career record: 19-12.

Assistant coaches: Jeff Brown (OL); Tony Compitello (WR); Keith Anderson (RB); Corey Lavin (off. coord./QB); Tom Bradley (DL); Chris Rash (OLB); Mike Smith (ILB); Vincent Mistretta (DB); Nicole Figaro (athletic trainer).

2013 record: 8-3 (6-1).

Big Shoes to Fill: Vinny Lee, Jr., RB and Mike Gawlik, So., RB.

Khani Glover was sixth in the Shore Conference is rushing last season with over 1,400 yards, so the Jaguars' new running back tandem has a lot on their plate.

X-Factor: Running backs

Again, on a team that wants to pound the ball time after time behind a big offensive line, Jackson needs its young running backs to have success for the offense to keep up with the rest of the division.

Glue Guy: Joe DeMaio, Sr., QB/DB

As a third-year starting quarterback, DeMaio is the player who will have more responsibility on his shoulders and be counted upon to be a leader. His teammates have noticed. As linebacker Zach Tetro said, “He has a knack for leadership.”

Impact Newcomer: Dylan Smith, Jr., OL

The coaches have high expectations for the 6-foot-3, 265-pound right tackle, who adds another massive body to an already strong unit. Jackson Liberty transfer Matt Castronuova is another obvious addition who will make an impact.

Pivotal Game: Oct. 4 vs. Brick Township

The Jaguars won last year’s meeting, 9-7, to clinch the division title. Brick went on to win the Central Jersey Group IV title and is loaded with returners as the division favorite.