Point Beach has been a model of consistency over the last seven seasons as a program that rose from the ashes of mediocrity to become an annual state championship contender. Hall of Fame head coach John Wagner took over the program in 2010 and promptly led the Garnet Gulls to more wins than in their previous four seasons combined. The Point Beach that used to labor through 2-8 and 3-7 seasons is a distant memory.

The program underwent an overhaul in the offseason, however, as Wagner stepped down and a large and impactful senior class moved on via graduation. New head coach Frank Papalia and the Gulls’ host of first-year starters are out to keep the train moving while beginning to forge their own legacy.

“It’s definitely important to us,” said senior two-way lineman Tristan White. “Everyone wants it this year and has put in a lot of work. We definitely want to keep that winning culture.”

Papalia jumps back into the head-coaching ranks after four seasons as an assistant at Rumson-Fair Haven where he helped the Bulldogs win three NJSIAA sectional championships and make four finals appearances.

Papalia played high school football at Central Regional under Dan Duddy and got his first coaching job at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Md. under current Keyport head coach Andy Carlstrom. Papalia then came back to New Jersey and was an assistant under Duddy at Central for three seasons. He then moved on to Holmdel where he was the defensive coordinator under Carlstrom for three years, including the 2007 season when the Hornets went 10-1 to set the program record for wins in a season. Papalia succeeded Carlstrom in 2009 and was Holmdel’s head coach for five seasons before going to Rumson.

“I wanted to be a head coach again but I didn’t want to do it just anywhere,” Papalia said. “The academics here are phenomenal, the culture is phenomenal, the administration is strong and the kids are great kids, so it has been such an easy transition. You come here with these kids and they shake your hand, they look you in the eye; it’s all the old school things that you want out of a football team. I’m having a really good time here.”

While the foundation is strong at Point Beach, the immediate task for Papalia is a big one considering the circumstances. He is taking over for Wagner, a New Jersey Football Coaches Association Hall of Famer, who won state championships at Roselle Park before coming to Point Beach. He guided the Gulls to immediate success and led the program to the 2013 NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 1 championship, Point Beach’s first state title since the playoff system was implemented in 1974.

Point Beach's Tristan White (53), Connor Smith (51), Jason Sherlock (2), Liam Buday (7) and Matt VanSchoick (56). Photo by Steve Meyer/Townsquare Media NJ

Following a legend is never easy, and on top of that, the Garnet Gulls have only one returning starter on each side of the ball.

“The good thing is the kids themselves have said it’s a new year and it has nothing to do with last year,” Papalia said. “The kids have pushed each other. Everybody says it’s a process and we’re big on that. You have to worry about one play at a time and not worry about the outside stuff, and the kids have really bought into that.”

Even though basically the entire team will be first-year starters, many of them have on-field experience whether it be in mop-up duty or on special teams. Getting sophomores and freshman on the field as much as possible was one of Wagner’s core principles to make sure they can be as ready as possible when their time comes.

“Some of the kids were able to get in here or there or on special teams, and that helps a bit,” Papalia said. “That experience with what coach Wagner did, you can see it has worked over time. We have to continue that with the younger kids and coach them up really hard.”

Point Beach will run the flexbone triple option this season, using the same offense as the United States Naval Academy. White (6-4, 250) is the only returning starter and will be at left guard. Sophomore Jack Shamy is the center while senior Matt VanSchoick, who saw time last season, is at right guard. Senior Connor Smith (6-2, 230) is the right tackle while junior Noah Ramos and sophomore Josh Ramos are battling for the starting left tackle spot.

Working in at quarterback to take over for four-year starter Luke Frauenheim will be either sophomore Jeff Wall or junior Jason Sherlock, who have both been running the offense in training camp. Juniors Liam Buday and Matt Vinsko will play fullback while junior Aidan Conway, who saw time last season, and sophomore Mike Grauso are slated to be the slot backs.

Working in at wide receiver will be a trio of juniors: Lance White, Matt Van Brunt and Kieran Nagle.

“A lot of people are stepping up and it’s become more of a competition since the spots are more open,” Sherlock said.

The Garnet Gulls 4-3 defense features Smith, the unit’s lone returning starter, at middle linebacker. He’ll be flanked by Buday at one outside linebacker spot while Wall, junior George Kaifas and sophomore Brandon Castronovo are in the mix for the other starting outside linebacker position.

The secondary has Lance White and Nagle as the cornerbacks, Sherlock as the strong safety and Conway at free safety.

Up front, VanSchoick and Vinsko are the defensive ends with Tristan White at one defensive tackle spot. The other defensive tackle position will be manned by either Noah or Josh Ramos, Shamy or junior Anthony Luongo.

On special teams, Kaifas will be the kicker and either he or Wall will handle the punting duties.

Divisional realignment has Point Beach in the National Division with old Class B Central rivals Asbury Park, Keansburg and Keyport. They also play Shore in a nondivisional game while also facing a pair of Group 3 schools – Holmdel and Manchester – while also taking on Donovan Catholic.

“Right now, our goal is to work toward our end goal, and that’s the playoffs,” Vinsko said. “But it’s not about that right now. It’s about putting in the work we have to in order to achieve it.”

At a Glance

Head coach: Frank Papalia, first season (sixth overall).

Career record: 14-36-1

2017 record: 7-5 (3-2 in B Central)

Coaching staff: Paul Barna (off. coordinator); Jeff Bower (special teams, RB/DB); Joe Zaccone (RB/DL, strength and conditioning); Mike Pellicane (WR/DB, JV head coach); Tyler Walsh (volunteer); Kevin Lutz (video coordinator); Cali Whedon (athletic trainer).

Offense: Flexbone

Defense: 4-3

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Jeff Wall, So., QB/LB and Jason Sherlock, Jr., QB/DB

Whether it be Wall or Sherlock who gets the start at quarterback, they will be taking over for Luke Frauenheim, who was a four-year starter and an All-Shore player during his career. Frauenheim was also the Class B Central Defensive Player of the Year as a linebacker, which is where Wall will play.

X-FACTOR: Staying healthy

It’s cliché to say a small school needs to avoid injuries but Point Beach is already breaking in a bunch of new starters and can not afford to lose any player who steps forward and emerges as a key contributor.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Matt Vinsko, Jr., RB/DE

This could be any number of players but given the offense Point Beach will run, Vinsko should be right in the thick of the action as a fullback. As a defensive end he’ll step into a role previously held by four-year starter John Nista, who led the Shore Conference in sacks last season.

PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 8 at Keyport

The first game of the season is one that will give a decent indication as to which way each team is trending. Keyport is coming off a 1-9 season and has a new head coach, Andy Carlstrom, whom Papalia has coached with in Maryland and at Holmdel.

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.

 

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