Football: 2014 Preseason Top 10
It's time for the annual crapshoot known as the Shore Sports Network preseason football Top 10 rankings, which once again will be led by Red Bank Catholic at No. 1, but certainly features plenty of debates after the Caseys.
RBC has gone wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the Shore Conference for three straight years, so the annual question of whether any local team can stop the Caseys is again a relevant one. After them, a loaded Brick team defending its Central Jersey Group IV title looks like a pretty clear No. 2, although the Green Dragons will certainly be challenged by their Class A South schedule.
Rumson-Fair Haven is a defending state champion that returns the SSN Offensive Player of the Year in senior tailback Charlie Volker, but the Bulldogs have a challenging schedule that will make them work to retain that high ranking after finishing No. 2 in the final Top 10 last year. Manalapan lost some big names to graduation, but with 25 straight wins against Shore Conference competition, the Braves have earned the respect of being a top-five team.
Barnegat is a team that could be undefeated going into the state playoffs, with games against Lakewood and Matawan looking like the Bengals' sternest tests, so this could be a team that is in the top three when it's all said and done.
After the top five, I think it gets a little murky, but it should sort itself out fairly quickly. Toms River South looks like a prime challenger to Brick in Class A South, and I think Middletown South could have a big bounceback season after going 5-5 last year. The Eagles may be underrated at No. 7, but they will have plenty of opportunities to show they are once again an elite team in the Shore.
The bottom three are teams that will all be challenged right off the bat, so we'll find out about them immediately. Ocean opens with Neptune, Matawan plays St. John Vianney and Rumson-Fair Haven back-to-back to start the season, and Long Branch starts with top-ranked Red Bank Catholic and then the Carteret team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season.
Before everyone inevitably gets mad and plays the disrespect card for not feeling like they are properly ranked or that they didn't get ranked at all, remember that only five of the 10 teams from last year's preseason top 10 ended up in the final top 10 rankings. It's not where you start, it's where you finish.
Good luck to all the Shore Conference squads this season as the Week Zero games give us an appetizer this weekend before the main course next week.
Shore Sports Network Preseason Top 10
1. Red Bank Catholic
The Caseys have gone wire to wire as the Shore’s No. 1 team for the past three years, and they are geared up for another big season. They enter the year having won four straight division titles and 33 straight games against Shore Conference competition. The only mountain left to climb is finding a way to dethrone Non-Public Group III champion St. Joseph’s-Montvale after consecutive playoff losses to the Green Knights in the past two seasons. Leading the way this year is Miami recruit Jamie Gordinier at linebacker, standout two-way linemen Liam Smith and Ryan Kroeger, junior dual threat quarterback Eddie Hahn, senior running back Tommy Spernal, senior tailback/safety Mike Cordova and senior wideout/cornerback Mike DeMonte. Now in Class B North, they have a schedule where eight of their nine opponents were playoff teams last year, including four division champions, so they should be tested before the playoffs. First game: The Caseys open up with a Week Zero game on Friday night at 7 against Class B North rival Wall. The game will be live on the radio as the Jersey Mike's Game of the Week on Shore Sports Network on 1310 a.m. and 1160 a.m. and streaming online right here at ShoreSportsNetwork.com.
The defending Central Jersey Group IV champions are coming off the program’s first sectional title since 1994, and they are loaded up to try to become the first back-to-back state championship team at Brick since the Green Dragons won three straight from 1981-83. First-team All-Shore selections Carmen Sclafani and Ray Fattaruso return at quarterback and running back, respectively, with Fattaruso also back as a top player on the defense at linebacker. The offense features numerous weapons, including senior wideouts Ja’Quez Johnson and Joe Phillips, sophomore Ja’Sir Taylor and senior tight end Simon Bingelis. Leading tackler James Juliano returns at linebacker, and Johnson is also a standout defensive back. It all adds up to the favorite to win Class A South and make another run to a title. First game: The Green Dragons head to rival Brick Memorial for a Class A South showdown on Sept. 13 at 1 p.m.
3. Rumson-Fair Haven
The Bulldogs are coming off a school-record 11 wins in a year in which they captured their second NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II title in four seasons, and they return the centerpiece of their offense in Princeton recruit Charlie Volker at tailback. Volker led the Shore Conference with a school-record 2,108 yards rushing and 24 touchdowns to earn SSN Offensive Player of the Year honors. One of the Shore’s best defenses from last year returns senior noseguard Ben Eisenstadt, linebackers Max Pfrang and Tucker Briggs, and a strong secondary featuring seniors Sam Eisenstadt and Jackson Reid. They also have a talented sophomore class ready to contribute. They look like the favorite in Class A Central, and will try to become the first team in school history to win consecutive state titles. First game: The Bulldogs have a Week One bye and then open with a bang against Class A Central rival Matawan on the road on Sept. 19 at 7 p.m.
The Braves may have graduated some big names, but the four-time defending Class A North champions plan on keeping the wins coming and making another run to a state final. They reached their third straight sectional final last season but came up short of winning the program’s first state title, so they are hungry to finish the job. Senior quarterback Dan Anerella, running backs Imamu Mayfield, John Cheung and Dan Debner, wideout Tyson Plummer and junior right guard Joe Sellmeyer lead the offense. The defense features senior defensive end Kyle Mullen, senior linebackers Joe Mendez and Carlos Teixeira and Debner in the secondary, and the special teams feature one of the state’s top kickers in senior Mike Caggiano. The Braves have won 25 straight games against Shore Conference competition and look to make another run to a state final. First game: The Braves' annual Thanksgiving game against Class A North rival Marlboro is now Manalapan's season opener, as they will go on the road to face the Mustangs at 1 p.m. on Sept. 13.
The Bengals are coming off a season in which they won a school-record 10 games and reached their first NJSIAA final, so now they are looking to finish the job and take home the program’s first state title. The defending Class B South champions return some of the Shore’s biggest names in senior linebacker Manny Bowen, a Penn State recruit, senior offensive lineman Sam Madden, a Wisconsin recruit, and senior quarterback Cinjun Erskine, who is committed to Bucknell. Defensive back Ricky Gerena, defensive lineman Xavier Young, linebacker Kevin Hoffman, running back/linebacker Tyler McGuinness, and running back Paul Wickwire also return to help the Bengals make a run to another division title and the South Jersey Group II crown. First game: Barnegat will be at home against Manchester at 7 p.m. on Sept. 12 as it begins its defense of its Class B South title.
6. Toms River South
The Indians won eight games and reached the South Jersey Group IV semifinals last season to continue their resurgence, and they return an explosive offense as they try to make a deeper playoff push and challenge for the Class A South title this fall. Senior quarterback Tymere Berry returns after earning second-team All-Shore honors last year, and he is joined in the backfield of the Indians’ triple option attack by senior Khaleel Greene, who is poised for a breakout season as the primary ballcarrier. Senior Mike Rutter returns to lead the offensive line, and seniors Quinten DeCarlo and Jimmy Allen lead the defensive line, with senior Joe Odebode returning to anchor the linebackers. First game: The Indians will go right around the corner in Toms River to face Donovan Catholic in a nondivisional game at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 12.
7. Middletown South
The Eagles are coming off an uncharacteristic .500 season, but have a strong core of sophomores and juniors along with some talented seniors to bounce right back and make a run at Class A North and Central Jersey Group IV titles. Almost the entire offensive line returns, led by FCS prospect James Wilson, and the backfield should be a standout unit featuring junior Cole Rogers, senior Corey Grant and promising sophomore James McCarthy. Junior Matt Mosquera steps in at quarterback and has senior tight end Pat Crowe and brothers Nolan and Spencer Pereless as targets in the passing game. Crowe, senior defensive lineman Dan Servidio, linebackers Dylan Rogers and Sergio Gonzalez and Cole Rogers in the secondary highlight the defense. First game: The Eagles open up with a Week Zero game on the road at 1 p.m. on Saturday against Class A North rival Marlboro.
The defending Class B North champions are coming off a 10-win season and a trip to the state semifinals. They are out to prove they can weather heavy graduation losses, particularly on defense, but return the ingredients for another strong season in junior tailback Tyler Thompson, one of the Shore’s best, along with senior wideout Marcus Blackman. Sophomore newcomer Kenny Pickett steps in at quarterback to replace senior Royal Moore, who transferred to Neptune. Senior safety Frank Henry returns to anchor the defense after making 111 tackles last year, senior Pat Ellison is back at defensive end, and Blackman returns at cornerback. That group will look to finish the job after Ocean lost in the Central Jersey Group III semifinals last year to eventual champion Hopewell Valley. They will be tested immediately by a veteran Neptune team that also has Top 10 potential in the opener. First game: The Spartans host Neptune in a Class B North showdown at 7 p.m. on Sept. 12.
Coming off a seven-win season in which they were the only winning team in the Shore to miss the playoffs, the Huskies are hungry to chase after Class A Central and Central Jersey Group III titles. They return first-team All-Shore linebacker Aliem Shaw, a junior who will also play tailback, and will have the tandem of senior Jimmy Pierce and promising freshman L.C. Pearson at quarterback. Leading rusher Devon Spann and top wideouts Dejohn Rogers, Justin Ferrara and Shawn Ramcheran also return. Those same players plus lineman Jake Weber and linebacker Isaiah Phillip also will be leaders of the defense, which was one of the Shore’s best last season. The Huskies will get a serious test in their opener against an improved St. John Vianney team. First game: Matawan travels to St. John Vianney at 7 p.m. on Sept. 12 for a Class A Central game, as their Thanksgiving rivalry has now been moved to the season opener for both teams.
10. Long Branch
The Green Wave return some top individual talent on both sides of the ball coming off a seven-win season in which they were knocked out in the first round of the Central Jersey Group III playoffs. Senior quarterback Jordan Rodriguez, senior tailback/safety Dahmiere Willis and senior linebacker Hunter Baillie will lead them as they face one of the Shore’s toughest schedules. They also return a veteran offensive line and senior tight end/defensive end John Mimes, a promising prospect who transferred from Middletown North late last season. If they survive the schedule, they should be one of the most battle-tested teams in their bracket come playoff time. First game: The Green Wave travel to No. 1 Red Bank Catholic for a Class B North game at 7 p.m. on Sept. 12.
Teams to watch:
Jackson Memorial: The defending Class A South champions graduated a 1,400-yard rusher who was also a defensive standout in Khani Glover as well as the star linebacker tandem of Ken Bradley and Vinny Celidonio and top wideout Marcus Ademilola. They are out to prove that they can simply reload despite graduation losses and could certainly be a team that gets right into the top 10 mix after finishing ranked No. 6 last year. First game: The Jaguars head to cross-town rival Jackson Liberty, who they have never lost against, at 7 p.m. on Sept. 12 for a nondivisional game. This was their Thanksgiving game and has been moved to the season opener.
Point Beach: The Garnet Gulls won the Central Jersey Group I title last year and finished No. 10 in the rankings. They have the goods to go 12-0 for the first time in program history this fall, but they may have to go through nemesis Shore Regional twice and some other solid teams to get there. First game: The Garnet Gulls travel to Class B Central rival Asbury Park at 6 p.m. on Sept. 12 for a good test to kick off the season.
Neptune: With the eligibility of Ocean transfer Royal Moore in question as far as him sitting 30 days via the NJSIAA transfer rule, this is a tough team to rank because it's not clear if it will have its quarterback for the first month. There are still plenty of veterans on the team to get the job done, but they will have to find a way against a tough schedule. First game: The Scarlet Fliers go on the road to face Moore's old team, Ocean, at 7 p.m. on Sept. 12 in a Class B North game.
Shore Regional: The defending Class B Central champions have made two straight appearances in the Central Jersey Group I final and will look to finish the job this year. They also now have Rumson-Fair Haven as their Thanksgiving game, which gives them another chance to bolster their top 10 resume. It most likely will again be a showdown between them and Point Beach in the division and state playoffs. First game: The Blue Devils travel to Keyport for a 1 p.m. game on Sept. 13 to kick off their Class B Central slate.
Lakewood: Coming off a 6-5 season in which they won their first state playoff game since 1986, the Piners are looking to make a serious run at Barnegat in Class B South. They also have a nondivisional game against No. 3 Rumson-Fair Haven, so the opportunities are there to show they have ascended to a top 10 team in the Shore. First game: The Piners welcome Central for a 1 p.m. game on Sept. 13 to start their Class B South schedule.
St. John Vianney: The biggest wildcard of the bunch under new coach Mark Ciccotelli, the Lancers have a host of new talent on the roster via transfer as well as some skilled returners. They open with Matawan, so they get to make their top 10 statement immediately. First game: The Lancers host Matawan at 7 p.m. on Sept. 12 in Class A Central.
Brick Memorial: The Mustangs nearly stunned the state before losing a heartbreaker in the playoffs against Manalapan last year, and they return key pieces to get back into the championship hunt this year. They open with Brick, so if they want to send a major message to everyone overlooking them, that is their chance. First game: The Mustangs welcome No. 2 Brick at 1 p.m. on Sept. 13.
Lacey: The wheels came off in the second half of last season for the Lions, but with Conor Davies at quarterback for an explosive offense and a defense that should be improved after collapsing down the stretch last year, you can't count this program out. First game: The Lions travel to face an improved Toms River North team in a Class A South game at 7 p.m. on Sept. 13.
Colts Neck: This team is somewhat of an unknown under new coach Peter Shaw after graduating most of its starting lineup from a team that won 10 games and reached a state final, but does return senior Christian Sanchez, who is more of an all-purpose threat after starting at quarterback last year, and tailback Abdul Quddus. Add in new quarterback Max Mullaney, a Rumson transfer, and the Cougars could surprise some people who think they lost too much to graduation. First game: Colts Neck heads to Class A North rival Howell for a 6:30 p.m. game on Sept. 12.
Manasquan: The Warriors are young and only return a handful of starters led by Virginia-bound linebacker Tanner Cowley, but it's still Manasquan. They always find a way to be in the hunt. First game: The Warriors travel to Hazlet to face Raritan in a Class A Central game at 7 p.m. on Sept. 12.
Middletown North: With the exciting tandem of quarterback Donald Glenn and tailback Chad Freshnock, this team should be fun to watch on offense. The main question is whether the Lions will be the team that beats the teams it's supposed to beat and loses to ranked teams, or whether it can break through and make a serious run in Class A North. First game: The Lions start with a Week Zero game at home on Friday night at 7 against Freehold Boro, which is now in Class A North after being realigned from Class B North.