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In the course of a year, Neptune has gone from a team breaking in 20 new starters to one with a veteran cast that looks to make a deep playoff run after a first-round exit last season.

Neptune’s primary weakness last year, inexperience, led to a bumpy 5-5 season and a first-round loss in the Central Jersey Group IV playoffs, but the Scarlet Fliers have the firepower to get back to the finish line after reaching consecutive state finals in 2011 and 2012. Former assistant Rodney Taylor takes over as head coach for Mark Ciccotelli, who led them to a state title in 2011 and left the cupboard far from bare when he moved on to take the head job at St. John Vianney this past offseason.

New head coach Rodney Taylor inherits a veteran Neptune team looking to get back to the state finals after two trips in the last three seasons. (Photo by Scott Stump)

“To be honest, the transition was easy,’’ said Taylor, a Neptune graduate who played under legendary coach John Amabile. “I’ve been here for nine years, and the kids are used to me. That was a key – to keep everything as close to what we were doing. We’re going to modify our schemes a little bit to fit our personnel, but the terminology and a lot of things will be the same because we want to go right into the season with no problems.”

“There’s been no real adjustment because (Taylor) coached us all through high school, so he knows our strengths and weaknesses,’’ said three-year starting defensive back Savior King. “We’ve got a lot of starters back from last year, and we’ve got a lot to prove.”

Seven starters are back on offense and five return on defense along with a host of others who saw time last year, plus the Scarlet Fliers added standout quarterback/defensive back Royal Moore, a senior who transferred in after starring for Class B North rival Ocean last season.

Senior Royal Moore, a transfer from Ocean, looks to be an impact player on offense and in the secondary for Neptune. (Photo by Scott Stump)

“Royal is a tremendous athlete,’’ Taylor said. “Coaching against him last year was a headache. It feels great to have him on our side. We want the ball in his hands. He also has been a tremendous leader. I can’t wait to see what he does for us this year.”

The Scarlet Fliers will be running the spread option under Taylor, similar to the option attack employed during Ciccotelli’s tenure. Moore and senior Ralph McLean are in competition to start at quarterback, and they return senior Jaree Parrish in the backfield.

Ralph McLean is in the running to be Neptune's new starting quarterback this fall. (Photo by Scott Stump)

 

Parrish ran for 703 yards and three touchdowns on an average of nearly seven yards per carry, and he did the bulk of his damage toward the end of the season, including a 189-yard rushing effort in a playoff loss to Colts Neck. He has missed time with a minor knee injury in the preseason but looks to return to the lineup before the end of the scrimmages.

“Once Parrish gets healthy and matures to where we want him to be, Parrish can be an outstanding running back,’’ Taylor said.

“We think he can be even better and be a 1,000-yard rusher,’’ senior wide receiver Diondre Dunn said.

Neptune was fairly one-dimensional in averaging 17.5 points per game last year, which allowed teams to load up against the run game, but that should change this year with either Moore or McLean under center and a group of tall wideouts as threats. Six-foot-six junior Marcque Ellington and 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior Oshane Curate are both returning starters at wide receiver, and 6-foot-6 junior Isaiah Calhoun is back out for the team after missing last season. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Dunn, who will also play some tight end in certain packages, is yet another big target.

“We expect to open up the offense,’’ Taylor said. “We’ve got a lot of weapons to utilize.”

“The offense here is not that different (from Ocean),’’ Moore said. “We just use more weapons here. At Ocean, it was just me and Tyler (Thompson), but here we depend on more people.”

The offensive line returns three starters, led by senior captain Keysan Johnson at center. Senior Jarrone Perry is a returning starter at guard, and senior Andrew Samuels is back at tackle. Seniors Anderson Provence and Marquise Dove are competing for the other guard spot, and senior Anthony Jenkins and junior Dayvon Lawrence are in the mix at the other tackle spot.

“We grew last year,’’ Johnson said. “We know what we’ve got to do now. We’re smarter, and it helps to have that year of experience under us.”

The Scarlet Fliers also return a major special teams weapon in Hunter Daly, a senior kicker/punter who earned second-team All-Shore honors from Shore Sports Network after going 20-for-22 on extra points, finishing third in the Shore with seven field goals, and averaging 41 yards per punt.

On the defensive side, the Scarlet Fliers will still be running the 3-3-5 stack they have used to great success in the last three years. The defense will be run by new coordinator Jeremy Balina, a former Neptune star, and he inherits a unit that allowed 16 points per game last year.

“Our secondary is strong, and we’re just preaching high intensity,’’ Taylor said. “Having Balina over here, who’s used to the stack, has been key.”

Senior Brodale McCleave will be at noseguard, and he will be flanked by Samuels, a returning starter at defensive end, and senior Nasir Perry. Jarrone Perry is also a talented defensive lineman and will see some time up front but primarily will be used on offense. Senior Mi’Jaut Berry is a returning starter at middle linebacker, senior Marquel Green returns at strongside linebacker, and Dunn steps in at weakside linebacker, where he has become a playmaker and leader.

“The defense looks strong, and we’ve just go to keep improving and keep this program moving forward,’’ Dunn said.

Curate has gone from starting at defensive end last season to moving back into the secondary, where he will be a hard-hitting, 200-pound strong safety. Senior Cameron Calderon, who saw time last season, will be at the other hybrid safety/linebacker spot. Moore, who was a second-team All-Shore selection as a defensive back last season, will be at one cornerback spot, with senior Zaire Alston, who saw time last season, manning the other cornerback position. King is a three-year starter at free safety who returns to round out a talented group.

The Scarlet Fliers face a challenging Class B North schedule that now includes No. 1 Red Bank Catholic, and they also face perennial power Middletown South outside the division. The season opens with a bang against Moore’s former team, Ocean, which is the defending division champion.

“I feel like we’re a contender too this year, so those teams have got something to worry about, too,’’ King said.

“It’s a game every week,’’ Tayor said. “I told them Day One, the stage is set, the lights are on, and now it’s just time to go out and perform.”

 

Head coach: Rodney Taylor, first season

Career record: 0-0

Assistant coaches: Jeremy Balina (def. coord./LB); Vincent Iachetta (co-def. coord./DL); Frank Iachetta (OL/DL); Brian Duffy (off. coord./OL); Daivon Mora (DB); Mike Seber (off. coord./QB); Rocco Manfre, Netanis Bean (freshman); Sean Hicks (video coord.); Anais Mixson (athletic trainer).

2012 record: 5-5 (3-3)

Big Shoes to Fill: Royal Moore, Sr., QB/DB

After transferring over from Ocean, Moore inherits the cornerback spot vacated by the graduated Michael Dove, who led the team in interceptions and earned All-Class B North honors. Moore should be up to the challenge given that he was one of the top five defensive backs in the Shore last season.

X-factor: The passing game.

If Moore or McLean can take advantage of that group of trees at wide receiver in the passing game, this could be a formidable offensive team with Parrish coming out of the backfield and the quarterback also serving as a running threat.

Glue Guy: Savior King, Sr., RB/DB

A three-year starter in the secondary, King has become a team leader who patrols the back of the defense at safety. He also should see some carries out of the backfield this year.

Impact Newcomer: Royal Moore, Sr., QB/DB

An All-Shore defensive back, Moore also was the starter at quarterback for a 10-win Ocean team last year before transferring to Neptune. An athletic dual threat, he instantly adds another weapon offensively in addition to being one of the top cornerbacks in the Shore on defense.

Pivotal Game: Sept. 12 at Ocean

If the Scarlet Fliers want to make a statement right away, the season opener is the place to do it while facing the defending division champions. Besides the subplot with the transfer of Moore, this game will be crucial in the power-points department and in giving Neptune immediate confidence. Also, with tough games against Middletown South and Red Bank Catholic following in the next two weeks after Ocean, the Scarlet Fliers will want to build momentum right away and avoid an 0-3 start that would put them behind the eight-ball when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs.