*2015 Shore Conference Preview Homepage*

Coming off their second consecutive trip the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV playoffs, Middletown North is looking to take the next step and make a run at a state title in a new bracket this fall.

The Lions have been realigned into North II Group IV, where they hope to challenge for their first state championship since 1996 under third-year coach Steve Bush.

They will be led by senior captain Chad Freshnock, a two-way standout who is headed to Bucknell. A two-time, 1,000-yard rusher, he enters the season with 2,340 yards rushing and 30 touchdowns in his career. Also a standout linebacker, he is coming off a season in which he made 43 tackles and three sacks.

“Freshnock has gotten stronger and smarter over his high school career, and his leadership with the underclassmen adds to his importance to this team,’’ Bush said.

Along with Freshnock, junior quarterback Donald Glenn also returns for his third varsity season to give the Lions great offensive balance.  Last season Glenn finished with a 58 percent completion rate, throwing for 1,326 yards, 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Bush is looking for him to be more efficient and cut down on turnovers in his third season running the spread offense.

“Don works as hard, if not harder, than anyone on and off the field, and from Day One as a freshman, he has gotten better and smarter at his reads with every snap,’’ Bush said.

Looking to replace the production of graduated standout Jordan Pitts, receivers Brendan Kube and Nick Kish look to be two of Glenn’s primary targets on an offense that ranked in the top 10 in the Shore Conference last season at 27 points per game.

Defensively, the Lions will have the biggest holes to fill after graduating standouts Vincent Pianoforte and Troy Thompson, who combined for 160 tackles last season on a unit that allowed 17.5 points per game. Bush is stressing for the defense to create more turnovers, as no one besides Pitts had more than one interception last season, and getting after the quarterback after no one registered more than three sacks last year.

Another key to making noise this season will be finding a way to stop opposing run games. Last season they were shredded by Middletown South, Manalapan and Freehold Boro, all of which are back on Middletown North’s schedule this season.  The coaching staff has high hopes that Josh Gomez, Matt Dombrowski, Dwight Wilkerson, Nick Kish and Dan Benoit can take their year of experience as starters and translate that into success on the front line.  They will also have the additional talents at defensive tackle of Cory Baliatico, who Bush feels can get the extra pressure needed to free some gaps for Wilkerson and Gomez to pressure the quarterback and penetrate the running lanes.

“We have high expectations this season, but we need to create turnovers and take care of the ball on offense. We do this, and we will win the games we should win and set ourselves up for a chance in the big games.”

Head Coach: Steven Bush (3rd Season)

Career Record 9-11

Coaching Staff:          

Geoff Massimini (Def. Coord./LB/TE), George Kostas (OL/DL), Randy Kalman (Spec. Teams/WR/DB), Jason Pino (RB/OLB), Larry McKnight (OL/DL) Danielle Kanski (athletic trainer).

2014 Record: 6-4 (3-3)

Big Shoes to fill: Brendan Kube, Sr., WR/LB

With the graduation of Jordan Pitts as the team’s top wide receiver last season with 49 receptions, 498 yards and 4 touchdowns, Kube will look to continue the top production the Lions have gotten over the past couple of seasons from Pitts and 2014 graduate Jake Betkowski.

X-Factor:  Defense

Last season the Lions ranked in the middle of the Shore Conference with 17.5 ppg allowed and will need to improve on that to make a deeper postseason run.

Glue Guy: Chad Freshnock, Sr., RB/LB

An impact player on both sides of the ball, the senior captain also will be counted on as a leader this fall.

Impact Newcomer: Cory Baliatico, Sr., DL

At 6-foot-1 and 293 pounds, Baliatico has already impressed the coaches in camp and looks to be a disruptive force up front at defensive tackle.

Pivotal Game:  Home vs. Manalapan, Oct. 2.

If the Lions have any designs of making a run at the Class A North title, they will have to go through five-time defending champion Manalapan, which beat them 56-34 last year.