*2015 Shore Conference Preview Homepage*

(Photo by Scott Stump)

Not many teams enter a season with high expectations after returning just three starters, but the feeling at Neptune is that the next wave of talent is ready to keep the wins coming.

A successful debut under head coach Rodney Taylor ended with an eight-win season and a trip to the Central Jersey Group IV semifinals last year before bowing to nemesis Middletown South..

Taylor made no bones about the fact that his team is young and inexperienced this season, but feels the ingredients are there for success this fall.

“We may be young, but there is not better group of young men that are hungry to get at it and win,’’ Taylor said.

After a 1-2 start last season, the Scarlet Fliers outscored their opponents 151-28 during a six-game winning streak to reach the semifinals before their second loss of the season to Middletown South. This year, Neptune’s biggest weakness this season will be the lack of experience on both sides of the ball. Returning starter Isaiah Calhoun will lead the way as a standout two-way player at wide receiver and cornerback.

Taking over at quarterback in Neptune’s spread option for the graduated tandem of Ralph McLean and Royal Moore will be senior Rasheed Martin.  The backfield is also all new with junior running backs Isaiah Mooney and Marvin Morgan getting the bulk of the carries. Sophomore Council Karon and seniors Banir Worthy and David Mclean should also get some touches to give depth to the backfield.   Senior tight ends King Pugh and Shane Nolan also should be weapons on offense.

The offensive line took the biggest hit from graduation and will be looking to replace all five starters.  Seniors Dayvon Lawrence and James Roberts are the lone players who saw any time last season. However, Taylor feels the experience that players like the junior trio of Kendrick Knowles, Ben Morales and Gary Hoover got in last season’s playoff run will carry over as the new group steps in up front. Taylor expects the offense to be productive despite the heavy graduation losses.

“Last season we had a lot of senior leadership, and this season we are young, but we expect the same results or better,’’ Taylor said. “The guys competing in practice are making each other work to get better, and that’s a positive start.”

Defensively, Neptune will once again be running the 3-3-5 stack, which proved to be one of the better run defenses in the Shore Conference last season.  The defensive line is solid up front with experience in Pugh, Roberts, Lawrence and junior Naji Jordan.  The linebackers have been a work in progress, as Nolan and Worthy are the only returners with any experience. Morales, Mooney and sophomore Elijah Owens look to step up and provide the physicality and athleticism needed to make plays for the Scarlet Fliers. Calhoun returns to anchor the secondary after finishing tied for fourth in the Shore Conference with four interceptions last season.

“Our secondary and defensive line our very fast and strong and will need to come up big early on until our linebackers get up to speed,’’ Taylor said.

Neptune faces another deep schedule playing in Class B North, as well as a nondivisional schedule that includes Middletown South and a strong Toms River North team. Just like last season, they will once face three perennial powers in the first three weeks in Ocean, Middletown South and Red Bank Catholic, which looks to be a stern challenge for a team breaking in so many new starters.

“We are a young team that is going to experience some ups and downs early on, but we are going to have to stick together if we want to get to our goals at the end of the season,’’ Taylor said.

Head coach: Rodney Taylor, 2nd Season

Career record: 8-3

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).

2014 record: 8-3 (5-1)

Big Shoes to Fill: Rasheed Martin, Sr., QB

Martin picks up an offense depleted by graduation and looks to use his strong arm and mobility to carry the Fliers’ offense this season.

X-factor: Secondary

With a prominently young linebacking corps this season, the Neptune secondary will need to step up and continue their aggressive play to help shoulder the load in the early going.

Glue Guy: Isaiah Calhoun, Sr., WR/DB

A three-year starter at wide receiver and cornerback, Calhoun is one of three returning starters who will need to become team leaders on and off the field. On the field, Calhoun is one of the top two-way players in the Shore.

Impact Newcomer: Elijah Owens, So., RB/LB

With Neptune losing its lineback group to graduation, it will be counting on Owens to pick up and run with the position quickly this season.

Pivotal Game: Sept. 18 at Middletown South

Middletown South has beaten Neptune 11 straight times, including nine straight in the regular season. A win over another loaded Eagles squad would give them a huge win toward state playoff positioning. This will be their only meeting of the season, as the Eagles have been realigned into the North Jersey II, Group IV bracket from Central Jersey Group IV this fall.