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Fielding a team of players either new to a starting role or to varsity football altogether can be a challenge to the most experienced of head coaches, but for a first-year coach, it can seem completely confounding.

Second-year Keansburg head coach Chris Damian inherited such a task during his first season at the helm in 2013, with most of his starting lineup new to the varsity football landscape. While some, more fortunate first-time coaches begin their tenure by learning their new players, Damian’s focus was helping his new players learn the game.

During his first season, Damian drilled a new 3-4 defensive scheme into his team’s collective head and moved away from his original offensive scheme late in the season. This year’s defense will look to continue the progress it made over the course of last season, while the offense will continue to move away from a pistol-heavy package toward more of a Wing-T look – a process that began at the end of last season, according to Damian.

Junior Arkeyel Brown will shift from quarterback to receiver full-time this season for Keansburg. (Photo by Matt Manley)

The major fundamental change in the offense was a positional trade between two of the team’s talented underclassmen. Current junior Arkeyel Brown played quarterback during Keasnburg’s first eight games of the season before moving to wide receiver. Junior Ian Terry moved from out wide to under center and will pick up as the quarterback this season after gaining two games of experience running the offense.

At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Brown caught just one ball during his stint as a receiver, but took it for 50 yards and a touchdown. He also completed nearly 50 percent of his passes as a quarterback (34-for-70) while throwing for 430 yards. Terry attempted only 15 passes as a sophomore, completing four.

“We wanted to find different ways to get Arkeyel the ball, and we made the move to go with Ian at quarterback,” Damian said. “We liked what we saw from the offense, and the big thing is Ian has been putting in the work to become the quarterback. Watching the work he’s put in and the progress he’s made, it became obvious that this was the way we were going to go.”

Along with defensive lineman and offensive guard-turned-fullback Dan Baumann, Brown and Terry give the Titans a formidable junior trio that will have a significant impact on both sides of the ball, but a deep group of senior returnees has Damian and his staff most optimistic about this upcoming season.

Joe Rodriguez returns as the team’s second-leading rusher from a season ago, behind standout running back and defensive back Kason Preston. Rodriguez accounted for 886 total yards, including 342 rushing, 101 receiving, 83 passing and 360 return yards last year while serving as a sort of Preston-lite. He will have a chance to carry a heavier load on his end, but the Titans would prefer for Rodriguez to account for a smaller percentage of the Keansburg offense than Preston accounted for last year.

Junior Ian Terry makes a tackle during Keansburg's practice, but he will mostly try to avoid tacklers as the starting quarterback this year. (Photo by Matt Manley)

“I like everything we run, but what we were doing last year wasn’t working enough,” Rodriguez said. “I feel like whatever offense we run, I’ll be able do my part, so I’m just for running the offense that gives us the best chance to win, and we’re liking it so far.”

Fellow seniors Dylan Alt and Pat Sullivan are also returning starters who will be tasked with carrying out leadership roles. Alt led the team with 58 tackles last year, including two sacks, from the middle linebacker spot. Sullivan is back at safety after recording 33 tackles, recovering three fumbles and intercepting one pass.

Nose tackle Tony Demir, two-way lineman Tristen Miksca and offensive lineman John Corrigan round out the returning seniors with starting experience on the Titans. Sophomore Richie Squeo also returns on both the offensive and defensive lines after winning a starting job as a freshman.

Keansburg will not have to rely on inexperienced talent as much as it did last season, but the Titans will count on a handful of new starters who have impressed the coaching staff during camp. Seniors Joe Schadt and Tyrell Wilson have solidified key roles during camp, with Schadt slated for work in the offensive backfield and Wilson playing alongside Alt as an inside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme.

The Titans will likely be without senior defensive end Tyree Sutton, a standout wrestler preparing for a promising senior season after finishing sixth in the state in the 195-pound weight class. Damian said there is still a chance Sutton could join the team, but it is unlikely as he has not practiced yet.

Although the rebuilding process appears to be ready for a definitive step forward this season, the Class B Central division schedule will continue to provide a challenge to Keansburg and any other team looking to make a move toward the top. Shore and Point Pleasant Beach have been two of the top teams in the Central Jersey Group I bracket over the past several seasons, while Asbury Park is not far removed from a state championship and Mater Dei Prep enjoyed a breakout season of sorts last year.

Senior Dylan Alt will captain the Keansburg defense this season. (Matt Manley)

“This year, everything is positive,” Sullivan said. “We learned a lot as a team last year and we feel a lot more sure about what we’re doing.”

Damian is more concerned with how his team improved on the field rather than in the standings, but the seniors on the Titans have a clearly-defined goal in their final season, regardless of which teams are standing in their way.

“Our goal is to improve every single day,” Damian said. “We’ve seen that so far this preseason. Guys are improving every day, and we’re a better team than we were a year ago. I don’t know how many wins that’s going to result in, but I know that when we step out on the field, we’re going to be a better team.”


Head Coach: Chris Damian, second season

Career Record: 1-9

Assistant Coaches: Jason Wombough (OL/asst. head coach); John Bird (def. coord.); Jeff Papcun (spec. teams); Jon DeLiso (DB); Uriel Morfin (DL); Jesse Herbert (video and operations); Bill Bonney; Kelli Hudson (athletic trainer).

2013 Record: 1-9 (0-5)

Big Shoes to Fill: Joe Rodriguez, Sr., RB/DB

Rodriguez has already shown himself to be a versatile offensive player on the varsity field, so in that respect, he does not have too much to prove. On the flip side, the loss of senior jack-of-all-trades Kason Preston leaves a major void in production and athleticism and while it’s going to be a team effort to fill that hole, Rodriguez will be the one to handle most of the carries and fly around the secondary.

X-Factor: Ian Terry, Jr., QB/LB

Damian had always planned to move Arkeyel Brown from under center and get him out wide, so it was just a matter and finding the right player to take over at quarterback. Terry jumped into the position at the end of last season and his commitment to improving at the position and learning the offense has convinced his coaches that the change will be a permanent one. If Terry takes to the position, the Titans have the weapons to do some damage.

Glue Guy: Dylan Alt, Sr., LB/RB

A vocal leader on both sides of the ball, Alt was a rare returning starter on last year’s team, so when it comes to setting the pace at practice and in the locker room, he has walked the walk before.

Impact Newcomer: Julian Castell, Fr., DB

The freshman cornerback has impressed the coaching staff enough to earn an inside track at a starting job on a team with plenty of senior presence. The defense will have to take a big step forward for the Titans to make a push toward .500 and Castell has shown enough to earn a chance to help that cause.

Pivotal Game: Nov. 1 vs. Asbury Park

There are going to be seven games prior to the Nov. 1 showdown with the Blue Bishops that will determine whether or not this game will matter for playoff positioning, but if the Titans are going to be a playoff team in 2014, their best bet is going to be to set themselves up to get in with a win over Asbury Park in their eighth game of the season.