2015 Manchester Football Preview: Hawks Look To Take Flight
Coming into his first season as head coach of the Manchester football program, Bill Furlong knew there would be some growing pains in 2014, but with a core group of players returning he wasn’t expecting a one-win season. With a year under his belt and the players understanding what he expects from them, the Hawks look to rebound quickly this season get back to being a contender in Class B South.
Last season, Furlong was a late hire and spent most of the season teaching and learning on the fly. Even with a talented returning group of players, the Hawks were not able to muster any semblance of consistency and dropped their first nine games of the season. It wasn’t until the last game against Thanksgiving rival Donovan Catholic where they played a complete game, and the result was a 21-17 win.
This season the Hawks return only seven seniors: wide receiver/safety Roy Dudley, defensive back Daniel Hourigan, running back/cornerback Mike Rosario, cornerback/long-snapper Mike Sullivan, two-way lineman Phillip Pender, tight end/defensive end Israel Almestica and newcomer Isaiah Redd. This core of veterans has plenty of varsity snaps under their belts, and with a full year under coach Furlong’s system should be ready for the workload in front of them.
Offensively the Hawks started to come into their own late in the season, putting together productive drives, but just weren’t able to convert into points. This season behind the leadership of Dudley, who will be at wide receiver along with juniors Bobbie Hart, Alex Lunn and Tariq Ali, the Hawks are looking to stretch the field more to create more lanes in the running game. Almestica, a 6-foot-4 tight end, and junior Chris Blaine, will also be two other top targets in the passing game.
Last season as a freshman, quarterback Jerry Blackburn was thrown into fire early on and each week showed signs of promise. By season’s end he became one of the bright spots for the Hawks and will look to continue that momentum.
“Jerry is a hard-working kid and showed lots of promise for us last season,’’ Furlong said.
Defensively Manchester will look to make a big improvement after being in the bottom five in the Shore Conference in allowing 32.4 points per game last season. That will start with the veteran production of Pender and Almestica at defensive end, where junior Jsan Santos will also be in the rotation.
The Hawks will rely on the linebacker rotation of juniors Jahsir Cooper, Dylan Cervenak, Chris Blaine and sophomores Nick Nuccio, Kenny Burd and Khari Jenkins to create pressure in the opponent’s backfields and to shut down the running games that torched them a year ago. Hourigan and Ali will help anchor the secondary as the cornerbacks, with Dudley and Lunn as the safeties. Junior Josh Mercado will handle the kicking and punting.
Head coach: Bill Furlong, 2nd season (19th overall)
Career record: 71-72
Assistant coaches: Paul Raucci (asst. head coach); Joe Serratelli (def. coord./DB/WR); Karl Schaeffer (OL); Aamir Dew (RB); L.B. Robinson (DL); Nick Bricker (LB); Zach Brebner (QB); Cathi Yayac (athletic trainer).
2014 record: 1-9 (1-6)
Big Shoes to Fill: Roy Dudley, Sr., WR/S
Dudley will look to build on the production and leadership lost by graduated standout Rob Planter.
X-Factor: The passing game
The Hawks will look to sophomore quarterback Jerry Blackburn and the passing game to jumpstart the offense this season. With depth at wide receivers and tight end, the vertical game should be able to prolong drives as well as open some running lanes.
Glue Guy: Jerry Blackburn, So., QB
Only a sophomore, Blackburn already has plenty of varsity experience and will be counted on to lead the team in the huddle and continue his growth as a signal-caller while keeping turnovers to a minimum.
Impact Newcomer: Khari Jenkins, So., RB/LB
Jenkins will look to fill the void of the graduated Kwaku Owusu at linebacker and provide some additional production at fullback on the other side of the ball.
Pivotal Game: Sept. 11 at home vs. Barnegat
Manchester will open its season against the defending Class B South co-champs looking to turn the tables on last season’s 26-7 loss to the Bengals. A win over the team that has won the division multiple times in the last five years would send a clear message that the Hawks have made a dramatic improvement from last season.