All On the Line: 2018 Wall Football Preview
Joe Fardella was part of an inexperienced offensive line in 2017 that had some very big shoes – both literally and figuratively – to fill after the Wall football team rode its powerful front to an NJSIAA South Jersey Group 3 championship in 2016.
The benefit of a young offensive line is it won’t be young for long, and Wall will once again have an experienced offensive line that has the confidence of head coach Tony Grandinetti. Although he was not the head coach in 2016, Grandinetti was the offensive line coach on that state championship team and this year’s team will look to absorb the personality of its line like it did during its title run.
“You look back at last year and we had some skill guys coming back from that championship team but our line was brand new,” Grandinetti said. “To expect those guys to pick up where the group before them left off was not a reasonable expectation, so we knew we were going to have to be a little patient with them.
“This year is totally different. Those guys learned a lot and got better during the course of the year and now it’s a very experienced group. Last year it was kind of a question mark and this year, it’s probably our greatest strength, which is the kind of team we want to be.”
Fardella returns to left tackle this year and senior teammates Ian Ackerman and Brady Scott are back with him. Ackerman will again play right guard while Scott is making the move from center to right tackle. Wall does have two new starters on the line in sophomore left guard Grant Puharic and senior center KeyShawn Reevey.
“It’s the same feel as when we won a state championship,” Fardella said. “Those guys never went down and came at us hard in practice, and it showed us what it takes to be a champion. Although we never got to step on the field because our offensive line was so strong it taught us everything we needed to know. This year we have a really good sense of what we need to do.”
Returning senior tight end Tanner Powers will add to both the power up front and the prowess in the passing game. Of all the returning skill-position players, Powers is the most entrenched in his role.
“If you watch all of our games last year, it was a one-or-two-score game at halftime and we just didn’t make the plays toward the end of the game that the other team was making,” Powers said. “I think that was largely due to the inexperience we had: five new starters on the line. Now we’re returning those guys and we know what plays have to be made.”
Wall has a handful of other experienced players who will touch the ball, many of whom will be playing more prominent roles this year. The most notable adjustment is the move of senior Dylan Richey from wide receiver to quarterback, which will come with a change to the offensive approach. Richey’s athleticism will make Wall a more run-oriented a team, as it was in 2016.
“Dylan’s going to add a new dimension to our offense with his athleticism and his ability to run the ball,” Grandinetti said. “He’s not afraid of contact and while we don’t necessarily want him taking too many hits, running the ball is one of his many strengths, so that’s one more thing to defend.”
“I played quarterback coming up, but with Eddie Scott here I played receiver because that’s what the team needed and that’s what got me on the field,” Richey said. “I’m a different quarterback than Eddie but I still feel really comfortable in the offense because I was running it in practice and studying it last year.”
Senior Matt DeSarno and sophomore Casey Larkin will be the running back tandem, one Grandinetti sees more as having two interchangeable backs rather than complimentary runners.
“Both guys are very fast and tough,” Grandinetti said. “They run inside, they both can get to the outside. Larkin is probably more of the speed back, by DeSarno is fast too so we don’t have to change what we do depending on who is on the field.”
Junior Teddy Sharkey and senior Mike Galos are the top returning receivers and will be Richey’s top targets now that he is not a target himself.
The defensive line is not quite as settled as the offensive line only because the nose guard will be a rotation. Ackerman and senior Connor Molloy will be the two defensive ends in Wall’s three-man front.
Senior Tommy Schneider is one of the middle linebackers and will be tasked with leading the corps now that standout Tim McKernan has graduated. Kamaal Cofer and Powers are two more seniors who will figure prominently into the picture at linebacker.
While the offensive line is Wall’s likely strength on offense, the secondary might win that distinction on defense. Richey and Sharkey will be the top two cornerbacks while the backfield duo of DeSarno and Larkin will be the safeties.
“Last year we had some guys in the front seven, like Tim, who made a lot of plays for us,” Richey said. “There’s probably a little less experience up there this year but I feel like we’ll be able to make even more plays. As a secondary, we’re just trying to push everybody and encourage everybody.”
Like every other team in the Shore Conference, Wall’s new schedule is likely to alter its outlook to some degree. Considering the Crimson Knights are leaving a relentless Class B North division to join the new Constitution division, that outlook could benefit the Crimson Knights. There is no easy game among the new field – which includes Jackson Memorial, Lakewood, Lacey, Marlboro, and Southern – but Wall no longer has to overcome the likes of Red Bank Catholic, Middletown South, Middletown North, Long Branch and Manasquan.
“We have Lakewood coming in on September 7 and we’re going to have to do our studying,” Gradinetti said. “It’s new teams, it’s new styles, different matchups, so that’s definitely going to be a different dynamic over the course of the year, but it’s different for just about every team in the Shore. Before we worry about who we’re playing, we have to get Wall ready to play.”
At a Glance
Head coach: Tony Grandinetti, second season
Career record: 5-6
2017 record: 5-6 (1-5 in B North)
Offense: Power Spread
Coaching staff: Jeremy Balina (Def. Coordinator); Mike Cerminero (QB); Bob Grace (RB); Freddie Sprengal Jr. (WR); Derek Gardner (TE); Brian Duffy (OL); Timmy Heaney (DL); James Cadigan (DL); Kyle Watson (LB); Joe Laferlita (DB); Victor Rivera, Mike Galos, Matt McDonough, Dan Shine (freshmen); Brendan McDermott (athletic trainer).
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Tommy Schneider, Sr., LB
Tim McKernan was among the leading tacklers in the Shore last season and Schneider will step in to fill the void left at his middle linebacker spot. Not only was McKernan an impact performer last year, he was also an integral part of Wall’s 2016 South Jersey Group 3 championship team. It is a spot that comes with leadership responsibility and Grandinetti expects Schneider to be up to the task.
X-FACTOR: Dylan Richey, Sr., QB/CB
Richey moves from receiver to quarterback and will give the Crimson Knights a different dynamic than they have had in each of the past two seasons. He will also be a key part of a secondary that’s a little shorter on experience as compared with the front seven.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Casey Larkin, So., RB/DB
Wall projects to ride a two-headed running back monster and Larkin is the burner of the duo. He is also the younger brother of Sean Larkin, who carried the rushing load in 2016 for the South Jersey Group 3 championship team.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 14 at Jackson Memorial
A trip to the jungle in Jackson will provide an early look at what might be possible this year for the Crimson Knights. The Jaguars always boast a strong team, and if Wall is up to the challenge against a Group 5 opponent there are a lot of power points to be had.