Football: 2014 Preseason Blog
All during preseason camps leading up to the beginning of the season in early September, Shore Sports Network will be rolling out full previews for all 43 teams as well as updating this blog with extra tidbits, videos, and more from our reporters, so make sure to check back regularly.
Wednesday, Aug. 27, 12:10 p.m.
Just a reminder that you can find links to all of our previews as they are posted on our preview homepage in case you miss any as we look to wrap them all up by this weekend.
Now, on to a few quick notes about Manalapan and Toms River East, capped off by Brick's Ray Fattaruso trucking a defender in a scrimmage.
I saw Manalapan over the weekend in its scrimmage against Monroe, who should once again be a solid team this year. The Braves may have graduated some big names, but they still have a lot of depth at important positions. Senior tailback Imamu Mayfield ripped off an 80-yard touchdown run the first time he touched the ball once they went into the down-and-distance segment of the scrimmage. He should have a big season because Manalapan's offensive line is always solid, and this year it's led by junior Joe Sellmeyer, one of the Shore's top returning linemen.
Senior quarterback Dan Anerella looks like he has improved his arm strength heading into his second year as the starter. He whistled a few throws into tight coverage, including one that set up a touchdown. Senior wideout Tyson Plummer, who head coach Ed Gurrieri said caught the eye of Rutgers during the 7-on-7 up there this summer, looks to be a weapon. No one is going to replace Saeed Blacknall, who looks like he will see time as a true freshman for Penn State this fall, but the Braves should have enough to still keep defenses honest.
Defensively, they are solid at all three levels with FCS-level talents on the line, at linebacker and in the secondary. If someone is going to take that Class A North crown from them after a four-year reign, they are going to have to earn it because I don't see any sort of significant drop-off happening because they graduated some All-Shore talent. Their special teams should also once again be among the Shore's best, led by senior kicker/punter Mike Caggiano, and that unit has been huge in wins over Middletown South and others the past few years.
I was only able to stop by Toms River East's practice for about a half hour before I had to run to Monroe, but it struck me how many sophomores they started playing, particularly on defense, toward the end of last year. I thought they didn't have many experienced players coming back because of that big senior class last year that had been on varsity for three years, but there's a good amount of experience returning.
Senior Jeff Wood is undersized, but plays much bigger than he is at linebacker. He also looks to be their featured running back in the multiple wing this year and has already shown what he can do in the scrimmages.
A name to remember for the Raiders is Tommy Ferrante, who is going to start at inside linebacker as a freshman and should see some carries out of the backfield. He is already 6-1 and 215 as a freshman, so he should be one to watch in the coming years. Junior two-way lineman Brandon Burdge should also make more of an impact after starting on defense as a sophomore last year.
The Raiders have been snakebit with injuries the past few seasons and it's reared its head again this year. Senior Jay Venezia, who is right in the mix to start at quarterback, is out with a concussion, while junior Dan Gilligan, who should be a factor at running back and outside linebacker, had to have his appendix removed and has been sidelined.
Finally, here's a quick highlight from Brick's scrimmage against Jackson Liberty over the weekend, courtesy of @njSportsScene. You don't want to get in the way of Ray Fattaruso when he's heading for the end zone.
Sunday, Aug. 24, 9:42 a.m.
Stopped by Point Beach yesterday to get a look at the defending Central Jersey Group I champion Garnet Gulls. Point Beach will be shifting in some new players along the offensive line, but that isn't anything new for a small school. The trio of RB/LB Joe Wegrzyniak, QB/CB Jake Fioretti and RB/CB Michael Fraunheim will lead the way for a team that should once again be in the championship picture.
From the 'only at this school' department, Point Beach will be without starting two-way lineman Forrest Gardner for a couple more weeks. The junior suffered an arm injury, but head coach John Wagner says the team hopes to have him back for the season opener against Asbury Park, but that he would be back either way very early in the season. Gardner, of course, was injured in a skateboarding accident.
Friday, Aug. 22, 5:08 p.m.
First, in case you missed it, Middletown South had a surprise guest at practice on Thursday.
I stopped by practice for Neptune and Wall the last two days, so here are some things of note for each.
The first thing you notice about Neptune is its receiving corps, which is like a group of trees that have come alive like in "Lord of the Rings." Every one of them is at least 6-foot-3. The Scarlet Fliers were a one-dimensional offensive team that struggled in the passing game last year, but that could change in a big way under new head coach Rodney Taylor.
Six-foot-3 senior Oshane Curate and 6-foot-5 junior Marcque Ellington both return at wideout, and 6-foot-6 junior Isaiah Calhoun, who missed last year, joins 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior DeAndre Dunn as even more weapons at receiver. With Ocean transfer Royal Moore and senior Ralph McLean in competition at quarterback, they certainly have the ingredients to boost the passing game to complement standout Jaree Parrish in the backfield. They will still be running the spread option similar to what they ran under former coach Mark Ciccotelli, with Taylor adding his own wrinkles.
Parrish has been out with a minor knee issue and missed their scrimmage against Paterson Eastside, but he is expected to return soon, according to Taylor. They also have three starters back on the offensive line, so this offense should be improved after having to field almost an entirely new lineup last year. Also, don't forget they have one of the Shore Conference's best kickers in senior Hunter Daly.
The bulk of the defense returns, although some guys are in new spots. Curate is so athletic that he played defensive end last year and now has moved all the way back to strong safety this season in Neptune's 3-3-5 stack. Their linebackers look to be a strength with senior Mi'Jaut Berry and senior Marquel Green returning and Dunn, who Taylor said has emerged as a team leader, stepping in at weakside linebacker. They have a new defensive coordinator in former Neptune star Jeremy Balina, who has come over from the staff at Freehold Boro.
As for Wall, I thought the Crimson Knights had one of the more underrated defenses in the Shore last year. It kept them right in games despite being on the field for extensive stretches when the offense sputtered. The engineer of that defense, Dan Curcione, is now the head coach.
Wall should once again be solid defensively, although it has to replace some top seniors who graduated. Last year there were so growing pains as they transitioned to Curcione's 3-4 scheme after playing the 4-3 for eons, so with a year under their belt in the 3-4 scheme, they should be better. Senior Rich Eknoian returns at outside linebacker, senior Tim McGevna is back at inside linebacker and 265-pound senior Jim Onulak is back at the noseguard spot so there is some experience to work with.
The Crimson Knights are going from a long-time multiple-I team to running the spread this year under new coordinator Mike Cerminaro, mainly to take advantage of the athleticism of new quarterback Matt Cluley, a dual threat junior who is the younger brother of former star QB Steve Cluley, who is now at William & Mary. If this unit can make a big improvement, Wall will definitely surprise some people this fall because last year their inability to come up with big points and first downs in the fourth quarters of games led to some frustrating close losses to quality teams.
On paper, this team could surprise this year but looks about a year away because it has an outstanding sophomore class coming up. Wideout/defensive back R.J. Janeczek is a potential playmaker, but hasn't been able to get back on the field yet. During a routine physical, a heart issue was discovered, so he may have to get a certain procedure done and has to be cleared by his cardiologist to play, which will most likely all be taken care of during this preseason, according to Curcione. He is one of multiple sophomores who should log heavy minutes this season.
Wednesday, Aug. 20, 6:20 p.m.
Stopped by the Long Branch-Middletown North scrimmage and checked in on the Toms River North practice today, so here are a few quick notes on each.
Long Branch is a little banged up right now. Starting quarterback Jordan Rodriguez tore his ACL in February and has been cleared to practice but not has been cleared for contact. He will be cleared by the season opener, but he won't have game action during the preseason. Senior tailback/defensive back Dahmiere Willis, another standout, also sat out the scrimmage after banging up his hand, but will be back by the next scrimmage.
Senior Hunter Baillie, a three-year varsity starter, has moved from defensive end to the position he projects at in college, strongside linebacker. He said his biggest adjustment has been pass coverage because his main mission for the last two years was to get after the quarterback from the edge. Towson University, Delaware and Monmouth University have all shown interest, but no offers yet as they want to see film on him playing his natural position in the first three or four games this season.
Long Branch has one of the more challenging schedules in the Shore between a competitive Class B North slate that now includes No. 1 Red Bank Catholic and returning sectional finalist Colts Neck, and then nondivisional games against Carteret, which beat the Green Wave in the first round of the Central Jersey Group III playoffs last year, defending Central Jersey Group II champion Rumson-Fair Haven, and a strong Matawan team coming off a seven-win season. The players have jokingly referred to it as an "SEC schedule."
One player to keep an eye on is 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior defensive end John Mimes. He was saying hello to his old classmates on Wednesday because he was at Middletown North last year and transferred to Long Branch in the middle of the season. He should be a force on the edge and also will be at tight end. He has scholarship potential with a big season.
Top players sitting out with injuries was the theme of the scrimmage, unfortunately, as returning 1,000-yard rusher Chad Freshnock, a junior, watched from the sideline. He had surgery this summer on his right knee after suffering a torn meniscus at the Rutgers 7-on-7 tournament. He is expected to be back and ready to go for the season opener in Week Zero against Freehold Boro.
Sophomore quarterback Donald Glenn, who is the top returning passer in the Shore Conference yardage-wise, looked sharp and ready to take it up another notch after an impressive freshman season. He looks much more comfortable in his second season under coach Steve Bush after being thrown into the fire last year.
Returning receiver Jordan Pitts looks to be one of the Shore's best, and senior tight end Troy Thompson is an athletic weapon who can line up in the slot and split wide. This team should have an explosive offense if the line does the job, which should be the case even though only one starter returns, senior captain Vincent Pianforte.
The linebackers, led by Thompson and captain Dylan Hallard, look to be the strength of a defense that has to improve in order to make the leap from a playoff qualifier to a serious threat to win a title.
Down in Ocean County, Toms River North certainly has the ingredients to make a major improvement after going 1-9 last year. Things are much more settled this year compared to this time last season, when head coach Dave Oizerowitz had taken over for Chip LaBarca late and several crucial returners transferred out.
The Mariners return some high-level talent, led by senior tight end/linebacker Jordan Craig, who has offers from Buffalo and UConn and strong interest from Boston College and Duke. He is an athletic H-back who can be a factor over the middle in the passing game at tight end and is able to run by linebackers and overpower safeties.
Junior Asante Moorer, who ran for 800-plus yards as a sophomore, appears poised for a big year. He is 5-11 and 220 pounds and runs a 4.45 40-yard dash, and he has received interest from the same schools recruiting Craig. Sophomore Parker Day is another to watch in their backfield.
Sophomore Mike Husni returns at quarterback after starting as a freshman, and the year of experience should help him make a leap forward. The only bad news offensively is that projected starting center Nick Tedeschi is out for an extended time with a foot injury, according to Oizerowitz.
Defensively is where the Mariners really struggled last season, but they have the talent to turn it around on that side of the ball as well. Senior defensive tackle Adam Kakar is a four-year starter who should be one of the Shore's best defensive linemen. They moved him from the nose to end in their 3-4 scheme midway through last season and saw improvement in their overall team defense, so he will again be at end this fall. Junior Da'shon Copes was an All-Class A South pick last season on the defensive line, so that unit will definitely be a strength.
Wednesday, Aug. 20, 10:05 a.m.
Checked out the scrimmage between Ocean and Donovan Catholic on Tuesday night at Albert Carelli Field in Ocean and it was pretty one-sided in favor of the home team.
No surprise that Ocean junior tailback Tyler Thompson looked outstanding, running for an 80-yard touchdown the first time he touched the ball and then scoring just about every other time he touched the ball. With a pair of 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, he currently has offers from Penn State, Virginia, Boston College, Syracuse, UConn, Old Dominion and Temple as well as interest from Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Maryland and reigning national champion Florida State, according to head coach Don Klein.
Klein is looking for the next step in Thompson's evolution to be improving his blocking in pass situations and catching the ball more out of the backfield, as he has great potential in the passing game. He looks primed for a huge year, and he had some fun with a little good-natured trash talk with some Neptune players who were in the stands watching, including former teammate Royal Moore, a starting quarterback/defensive back who transferred to Neptune in the offseason. Those two teams play each other in the season opener.
Sophomore Kenny Pickett steps in at quarterback now that Moore is gone, and he looked solid on Tuesday. He is accurate and has decent speed. He will engineer the spread offense installed by new offensive coordinator Fred Stengel, a coaching legend during his 22-year tenure at state power Bergen Catholic, which he led to nine state championships, 192 wins and 21 straight state playoff appearances.
The Spartans look to have some weapons to keep defenses from ganging up on Thompson, including senior Marcus Blackman. He started at defensive back last year but will be a threat as a receiver and also as a runner on jet sweeps and other plays out of the spread this year.
Another player who stood out to me was senior offensive tackle and outside linebacker Haydn Matarazzo. He's tall and rangy but plays bigger than he is and did a nice job on both sides of the ball. Also, senior Frank Henry has moved to safety after making 100-plus tackles as a linebacker as a junior. He was overshadowed by graduated stars like Dan Loizos and Mike Halawani last year but should be one of the best safeties in the Shore this fall.
Ocean's back-up quarterback is injured so there were some funny moments when fullback/linebacker Tyler Rossback and wide receiver/safety Frank Henry played quarterback with the second team during some drills. After Rossback threw a wobbling pass that was intercepted, he came to the sideline and advised Pickett, "Kenny, don't get hurt."
As for Donovan Catholic, senior two-way lineman Nyeem Calhoun is a specimen. He put in a lot of work in the weight room in the offseason, and seems prepared for a strong year in Class B South. Offensively, their replacement for Vinny Grasso at quarterback, David Calderone, is small but has great speed in running the triple option. He should be a playmaker for them because he can make people miss and has the burst to turn a defensive mistake into a big gain. Donovan lost the core of its offense - Grasso, Joey Fields and Kyle Carrington - to graduation, so there are a lot of new guys working out the kinks right now.
The Griffins also have a new offensive coordinator in former Toms River East star quarterback Vito Steriti, who was a triple option dynamo in his days for the Raiders in the early 2000s.
Monday, Aug. 18, 1:15 p.m.
Jackson Memorial appears to have picked up a key transfer in senior RB/WR/DB Matt Castronuova, one of the top returning safeties in the Shore Conference and a four-year varsity starter. It's unclear when it will be finalized and whether he will be forced to sit 30 days via the transfer rule. Castronuova was a second-team All-Shore pick by Shore Sports Network for Jackson Liberty last season.
Sunday, Aug. 17, 1:05 p.m.
- Stopped by Raritan on Saturday morning to get a look at the Rockets, who should continue to improve after going 3-7 last year on the heels of a winless season.
Their offense has the ingredients to be more productive this year behind senior quarterback Riley Sullivan. He is quietly the second-leading returner passer in the Shore this year behind Middletown North's Donald Glenn (1,557 yards) after throwing for 1,385 yards and 9 touchdowns in nine games last year.
If the offensive line can improve its protection from a year ago, the Rockets should be able to consistently move the ball after struggling in that department against most of the playoff-caliber teams on its schedule last year. Sullivan has a strong arm, so his main focus has been on quicker decision-making in his second year as the starter. If he can get the ball out faster, this team will be much harder to defend, and he has a big target in 6-5 senior Dylan Dewysockie at wideout. They graduated Old Dominion recruit Pat Toal and three-year starter Erik Friedman on the line, but do bring back a good amount of experience. Senior Rich Salerno, a compact, hard-nosed runner in the typical Raritan mold, will look to replace the production of Jared Collins at running back.
They have experience back at all three levels on defense, particularly with Sean Ennis at linebacker and Colby Jones in the secondary, so the ingredients are there to improve. Their schedule also is not as daunting, although Class A Central looks to be very competitive, as they replaced nondivisional games against playoff qualifiers Neptune, Carteret and Colonia with games against Freehold Boro (2-8), Point Boro (1-9) and Red Bank Regional (1-9). The opportunity is there to snag their first state playoff berth in five years.
Seeing their practice also showed how much technology is changing things. At one point, they had a player filming drills with an iPad. Assistant Jeff Struble, who is the school's head baseball coach, was also filming special teams drills with an iPad and was able to give immediate feedback on technique because he had the video replay right there.
- I also stopped by Middletown South, which is coming off its first non-winning season in 29 years after finishing 5-5. The Eagles played a lot of sophomores last year, so the hope is that experience allows them to roar right back into the division and state title picture like usual this fall.
The sophomore and junior classes are the core of this team, which should be much-improved this year and loaded next year. Their backfield looks like it could be one of their best in the past five years with junior Cole Rogers and promising sophomore James McCarthy, a 190-pound battering ram of a back with good speed. The coaches have compared McCarthy to Pete Tactikos, who starred for the Eagles in the mid-1990s and had the school single-game record with 363 yards rushing before Knowshon Moreno obliterated it with a then-Shore Conference-record 420 yards during his junior year. McCarthy also has FBS potential as a linebacker, and he is one of numerous sophomores who should see time after being part of a dominant, undefeated freshman team last year.
Junior Matt Mosquera takes over for Kyle Brey at quarterback after having a strong year as the Eagles' kicker as a sophomore. He is undersized but has some good speed in running the spread option. Brothers Spencer and Nolan Pereless are both back at wideout to lead a deep group there, and senior Pat Crowe is a big target at tight end, so this offense has some good balance and weapons. Plus, four of the five offensive linemen are returning starters, including senior James Wilson, who has offers from Old Dominion, Youngstown State, Monmouth University, St. Francis (Pa.), Sacred Heart and Fordham.
Defensively, the Eagles have made the switch from a 4-4 to a 4-2-5 after being lit up for 52 points in a wild 52-45 playoff loss to Burlington Township in the first round in Central Jersey Group IV last year. The proliferation of spread offenses necessitated the change, according to head coach Steve Antonucci, and the Eagles have a group of versatile defenders suited to making tackles in space. Junior Dylan Rogers is a potential star at inside linebacker where talented senior Sergio Gonzalez also returns, McCarthy will be an outside linebacker and another promising sophomore, Maxx (that's right, with two x's) Imsho will man one of the hybrid safety/linebacker spots.
The Eagles have also welcomed back one of their former standouts to coach with them this season, as former Rutgers offensive lineman Howard Barbieri is now in the fold.
Sunday, Aug. 17, 11:52 a.m.
First off, as we all know, the ALS ice bucket challenge is sweeping the nation. Half of my social media timeline is people dumping water and ice over their heads. I have been challenged by the Brick football team and several others. I was thinking maybe during a visit to a camp this week, a team could help me out. I have already donated the $100 because that's the most important thing to help the cause, but I plan on going through with it.
Saturday, Aug. 16
- Started my camp visits with Manasquan on Friday, and the Warriors are going to be playing a host of newcomers this year. They only have two starters back on offense, although senior running back James "Bubba" McAlary wasn't technically a starter but saw significant time at running back in complementing graduated 1,000-yard rusher Joe Murphy. Defensively, they only have four starters back. However, this program has shown time and again that it can withstand graduation losses, so there has always been a tradition of the next man up filling the void.
Virginia recruit Tanner Cowley, a senior tight end/linebacker, has definitely taken it up a notch from last year. He is much more of a vocal leader, and he has gotten much faster laterally and more athletic at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds. His football IQ is also off the charts, which should help with all the new guys working in the lineup because Cowley is like having another coach on the field as far as knowing what each player at each position on defense should be doing.
The Warriors have also have added some speed at wideout in "Uncle" Max Hawkins, a senior who has been a baseball standout and came out for football this year. His nickname comes from the fact that in a family quirk, he is the uncle of Manasquan baseball teammate Ty Hawkins, who is also a senior. He joins a solid group of pass-catchers that includes Cowley and junior Matt Paturzo, who saw significant time last year. They will be prime targets for the winner of the quarterback competition between Gerry Maher and Liam Grieb. Also, Luke O'Shaughnessy, who played on the basketball team last year after transferring from Christian Brothers Academy, has come out for football and will see action at fullback in addition to being in the rotation at safety.
Also, like many teams during the preseason, the Warriors are searching high and low for a kicker and may have found theirs in an unlikely place. Senior Logan Sabins has come out for football after playing on the golf team and looks to be the starting kicker.
- Matawan is definitely one of the hungrier teams out there considering they had to watch the playoffs from the sidelines last year despite going 7-3 while two- and three-win teams were qualifying. What hurt were some nonconference games against struggling teams like Bishop Ahr and New Brunswick that killed them in the power points department. That's all changed now because the Huskies have been realigned into Class A Central, where rivalries with Manasquan, Raritan, Rumson-Fair Haven and others will be renewed, and they have a loaded Barnegat team and old foe Long Branch in their nondivisional games. No cupcakes this year, which is just the way they want it.
After making first-team All-Shore for Shore Sports Network as a sophomore, junior linebacker Aliem Shaw is poised for another big season. As his football acumen improves to combine with his outstanding athletic ability that produced a Shore Conference-best 17 sacks and 30 tackles for a loss last year, he will be a monster. This season he will see more action at tailback to take advantage of that athleticism to help the offense. He has gotten interest from North Carolina State, Rutgers, Nebraska and Michigan State, according to Huskies coach John Kaye.
The Huskies have switched to a wide-open, no-huddle spread passing attack with a lot of four-wide sets and will play two quarterbacks this fall after a successful 7-on-7 season this summer. Offense was their Achilles' heel last year, so with another strong defensive unit projected, if they can address that side of the ball they will be back to being a serious playoff contender. Senior Jimmy Pierce returns after starting last year, and promising freshman L.C. Pearson, the nephew of former Dallas Cowboys great Drew Pearson, also will see snaps.
The offensive change has come because Matawan wants to get its athletes out in space more, and with leading rusher Devon Spann returning along with Shaw now back there, plus a deep group of talented wideouts, they have a range of playmakers. One of those playmakers is junior Dejohn Rogers, a wideout and corner who is being recruited by the same schools as Shaw, according to Kaye.
They also have added St. Joseph's-Metuchen transfer Kyle Midtlyng, a junior who looks like he will be in the mix at running back and at cornerback. While Manasquan has gone to the golf team for its kicker, Matawan went to the baseball team. Junior Adam Elliot, the Huskies' shortstop, looked good at practice when I saw him. He has to replace the best special teams weapon in the Shore last year in Mike Creamer, a first-team All-Shore kicker who made a Shore Conference-record 14 field goals, but the drop-off might not be as severe because Elliot looks like he can help them.
Matawan has also added an experienced coach to its staff in Nick Christathakis, who was Keyport's defensive coordinator for multiple seasons under now-retired Hall of Famer Mike Ciccotelli. He is coaching the linebackers, tight ends and fullbacks.
- St. John Vianney is without question one of the more intriguing teams out there under new head coach Mark Ciccotelli, who led Freehold and Neptune to a combined three state titles. The Lancers have promising junior Anthony Brown at quarterback after he saw time last year behind starter Billy DeMato, and almost all of their skill position players are new.
In the backfield, they have Neptune transfer Aaron Mora and Matawan transfer Calvin Beaty at tailback, Matawan transfer Khalil Haskins and Keyport transfer Jeff Sheard at slotback in the flexbone offense, and Colts Neck transfer Dan Calabro as a top wideout along with returner P.J. Bracchia. So, yeah, you can't tell the players without a scorecard in Lancer-land, and all those transfers have raised some eyebrows around the Shore. Still, they have a lot of athletic talent back there, so the question is whether they can mesh all the newcomers into a cohesive unit.
They have a big offensive line that includes senior Clay Kemp, who played for the Lancers the last two seasons, transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, in June and then came back on Wednesday after deciding to play his senior year at St. John Vianney. Returning starters Nick Mastria and Kyle Gibson give them more veteran experience, and they have two promising sophomores in Jamaal Beaty and Micah Clarke, who are both about 6-5 and 250 pounds and have serious potential. Ciccotelli also has brought over offensive line coach Mike DeLucia, who built state championship units under Ciccotelli at Freehold and Neptune, so this is an area that could change from a weakness into a strength for the Lancers.
They are going to run the 3-3-5 stack defense that has been Ciccotelli's trademark, with a good amount of players going both ways. Calabro could be one of the Shore's better safeties this season.
Their rivalry game with Matawan has been switched from Thanksgiving to the season opener this year, and that game is going to be an all-out war. Brown, Jamaal Beaty and Clarke are all Matawan kids who were at St. John Vianney, and now Haskins and Calvin Beaty have transferred over. Talking to each side, the Matawan players want to show the Vianney ones that they made the wrong choice in transferring or choosing SJV, while the Lancers want to show they are the program on the rise. Either way it makes for good drama and a fierce football game.
- Red Bank Catholic will once again start the season at No. 1 in the Shore, and once again is packed with talent. Junior Eddie Hahn adds a dimension they haven't had since probably Lou Bianchini in 2007 as far as a quarterback with a big-time arm and great running ability, and I think you'll see them open up the passing game a little more this year to take advantage of his ability. They know they have to throw the ball better in order to try to knock off the St. Joseph's-Montvale juggernaut that has ended their season in the last two years in the Non-Public Group III semifinals.
Also, with Mike Cordova and Tommy Spernal at tailback, they once again have multiple explosive backs who can break big runs on any play and keep the other one fresh.
Miami recruit Jamie Gordinier, has always been a big, physical player at linebacker, but he has become a much better athlete. He made a pretty sick one-handed interception at the practice I saw and just moves way better at 6-4 and 245 pounds. He is so versatile that he can be used in rush packages from the edge, drop back in coverage and be physical between the tackles against the run game, which is what Miami really likes about him. The Caseys also lined him up in the slot as a tight end in some sets on offense because he runs well and can overpower even linebackers trying to defend him.
Their secondary should be one of the Shore's best with Hahn and Cordova as the safeties, FCS prospect Mike DeMonte at corner, and experienced returner Nick Lubischer at the other corner.
RBC's offensive line has become a scholarship factory and will once again go 9 or 10 deep, which no Shore team can match. They had Quenton Nelson go to Notre Dame and Tim O'Hara go to Lehigh from last year's group, and senior Ryan Kroeger is going to Fordham from this year's unit. Behind him is junior Liam Smith, who has multiple FBS offers and is poised for a breakout season. In the Random Fact Department, Smith's father owns Val's Tavern in the heart of RBC's now-former Thanksgiving rival, Rumson, where Bulldogs fans and coaches regularly congregate. The lobster pizza there is awesome.
- Speaking of Rumson-Fair Haven, congrats to senior tailback Charlie Volker, the reigning Shore Sports Network Offensive Player of the Year, who committed to Princeton on Friday. Technically, he "verbally committed to entering the admissions process," which is Ivy League-jargon for the fact that you still have to pass the rigorous admissions before it's all legit. Volker has been putting in serious work in the weight room and has bulked up his upper body. Anyone trying to tackle him high or arm tackle him this year is going to be feeling it the next day. He also has improved his speed, so he will once again be a force after leading the Shore Conference with a school-record 2,108 yards last year.
I told Volker he could be the next Keith Elias at Princeton, thinking he would have no clue who that is, considering Elias, a Lacey legend, rewrote Princeton's record book as a running back in the early 1990s before Volker was born. However, Volker actually met Elias a camp and said he was great to speak with, so he is familiar with his career there. Maybe one day he can make a run at Elias's records with the Tigers.
The Bulldogs have added a former head coach to their staff in former Holmdel head man Frank Papalia.
Keep an eye on senior Greg Elsas, who was stuck behind two star defensive ends last year in Rutgers recruit Donald Bedell and Kevin Clayton, but should keep the production coming at that spot after the graduation losses. Senior tight end Kenny Ferrare, at 6-3, 225, is another player who could shine after seeing time last year.
Sophomore Mike O'Connor is another one to watch after starring on Rumson's outstanding freshman team last year. He is competing for a safety spot and should see time at wide receiver. Jack Woods, a 6-2, 240-pound sophomore, is another from that class who looks to get time at left guard and on the defensive line, and 6-2, 255-pound sophomore Tim Leonard is another young talent in the mix on the line along with fellow sophomore Mike Ruane at defensive end.
I was a little delirious in visiting my fifth camp of the day when I got to Rumson and couldn't resist asking senior captain Jackson Reid, a starting free safety, for his review of "Sharknado 2." Reid's aunt is actress Tara Reid of "American Pie" and "Sharknado" fame. He understandably gave me the "Dude, did you seriously just ask me that question?" look. For the record, he hasn't seen it and does not see his aunt very often.