2015 Toms River East Football Preview: One Day At A Time
Even experienced head coaches will tell you that sometimes you have to change your approach, and when you’ve suffered four straight losing seasons, change can be a welcome sight.
In his 10th season as head coach at Toms River East, Charlie Diskin has made some changes during the preseason that he hopes will make a difference come September.
“We used to practice hard Monday to Friday and we’d lift and we’d run, but now we make Fridays a beach workout and the kids seem to like it,’’ Diskin said. “They still condition but are having fun at the same time.”
Diskin said the motto this season will be to finish, which is something the Raiders did not not do last year. He wants the Raiders them to focus on trying to make each day a bit better than the one before as they try to return to their status as a perennial playoff team.
The only good day during a 1-9 season last year came in their NJSIAA consolation game, which the Raiders won 21-19 on the final play in overtime against winless Donovan Catholic.
“We’ll take a win any way we can, and at least it set a positive tone for the off season,’’ Diskin said.
While the win was welcomed by the players, senior co-captain Brandon Burdge knows it was not enough.
“We’re hungry, and we want to win,’’ Burdge said. “We all have the same mindset and that’s the key because it’s what gets us going. We want it this season.”
A total of six starters return on offense and nine on a defense that gave up more than 40 points four times, so that experience should help during the brutal Class A South schedule. Heading up that group is senior defensive back Nick Grande, the only Raider to earn All-Division honors last season.
Grande is also the leading returning running back, and the 5-foot-8, 160-pounder should get plenty of opportunities to carry the ball in the Raiders’ multiple wing attack. Diskin calls him the quickest player he has ever coached, and Grande will be joined in the backfield by 226-pound fullback Tommy Ferrante and a pair of newcomers in junior Dylan Rainieri and sophomore Louie Gallo. Avery Delvalle returns at wingback and versatile Michael Grasso will line up at the flanker spot.
Senior Dylan Savulich was the starting quarterback for much of last season and the 5-foot-9, 160-pounder is back and being challenged by a pair of underclassmen, 6-foot-2 sophomore Bradley Brush and junior Branden Laird. The Raiders have struggled in the passing game in recent years, but a welcome sight is senior wide receiver Bailey Engelhard, who has never played on the high school level before.
The 6-foot-6, 205-pound Engelhard is an impressive target for Savulich and company, and he leads the receiving corps along with senior Taylor Machnik and a pair of junior tight ends in Jake Gilligan and Jake Campbell.
The offensive line should be solid this season, bolstered by the return of three seniors who will be among the team leaders. Burdge (6-foot-1, 250) will start at one guard spot along with Kelly Conklin (5-10, 220), while Brendan Brush (6-2, 225) is the left tackle. Junior Landon Zagacki (6-2, 200) will handle the other tackle spot, and the starting center will be either senior Thomas Navarra or junior Nick Fairfield. Conklin knows the group has to step up because “the line is the base of the offense, and if we don’t do our jobs, the backs can’t do theirs.”
Second-year defensive coordinator Kyle Sandberg can only hope his group improves rapidly this fall, as last season they allowed 32.4 points per game, putting them in the bottom six teams in the Shore in points allowed.
The defensive ends in the 4-3 alignment will be Burdge and Lagacki, with the inside spots held down by Conklin, Brush and senior Hunter Gibbons. Ferrante, who played as a freshman last season, will be the starting middle linebacker and should be an impact player. Flanking him will be Delvalle and Gilligan, whose father Jim set school records in the shot put and discus in the mid-1980s.
The defensive backfield should be one of the team’s strengths with three-year starter Pat Saunders leading an experienced and talented group. Also back is Grande, who will start at safety, Grasso and senior Norion Davis, while Machnik will also be in the mix. Gibbons will likely handle all the kicking chores and sophomore Bradley Brush is the leading contender for the punting job.
The Raiders have quite a few players who go both ways, so staying healthy should be a key to improved success, which is one of the reasons why Diskin has lightened up the practice schedule and cut down on contact. He felt last year the team was ready for the season in June but not in September and wants to make sure his 70-man roster is fresh for their opener at Southern Regional on September 11. Brendan Brush didn’t pull any punches when he said the opener “sets the tone for the entire season and will tell us what we can and cannot do.”
What the Raiders hope to do is win their opener for the first time since 2011. It would match their victory total from last season and could be an indication that Toms River East is on the way back and the losing seasons will come to a halt.
Head Coach: Charlie Diskin, 10th season (11th overall)
Career Record: 49-53
Assistants: Kyle Sandberg (Defensive Coordinator/DB), TJ Tkac (LB/Special Teams), Tim Gilmartin (DL), Sam Iacobone (TE/OL), Matt Madeo (RB/Special Teams), Charlie Diskin Jr.(QB), Vinnie Arminio (WR), Mike Nemeth, Joey Arminio, Kevin Kanarkowski, Chris Byrnes, William Byrne (Freshman).
2014 Record: 1-9
Big Shoes to Fill: Nick Grande, Sr., RB/S
Grande is the most explosive player on the Raiders roster and their top offensive weapon.
With Jeff Wood having graduated he will need to fuel the running game while also shining at safety on the defensive side.
Glue Guy: Tommy Ferrante, Soph., FB/MLB
The 6’1, 226lb bruiser contributed as a freshman but is expected to shine as a sophomore.
Ferrante will provide the inside running attack and on defense will be responsible for helping to stop opposing running games.
X-Factor: The Defense
The Raiders have allowed more than 30 points per game in each of the last three seasons and that trend has to stop. There will be many new faces on the field up front, but the defensive backs are an experienced group and very athletic.
Impact newcomer: Bailey Engelhard, Sr., WR
He’s worn baseball and basketball uniforms as a Raider and now as a senior is playing football for the first time since Pop Warner days. At 6’6 he gives East quarterbacks a target they can’t miss and the coaches have been impressed with his pass-catching abilities.