One of the biggest storylines of the offseason was Dan Curcione, fresh off winning a state championship at Wall, taking the job as Donovan Catholic’s head coach. The Griffins were 0-10 last season and haven’t had a ton of success in their history, but with Curcione and offensive coordinator Chip LaBarca Jr. at the helm, expectations for a turnaround and a bright future have permeated the program.

“When we got the news, there was a buzz around school that we haven’t had,” said senior two-way lineman and long-snapping extraordinaire Jack Hadley. “People are doubting us already, but the coaches are working us hard and we’re really looking forward to the season.”

“Once we found out about the coaches everybody was excited,” said senior Sal DiSalvo. “They have brought a whole new energy.”

Curcione is the reigning Shore Sports Network Coach of the Year after leading Wall to a 10-2 record and the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III championship last season. LaBarca, who was previously the head coach at Toms River North and led the Mariners to a 12-0 season in 2008, was with Curcione throughout his tenure at Wall. LaBarca was also the offensive coordinator for Brick’s 2013 state championship team. Together they bring championship experience to a program that has only one playoff win in 11 appearances.

Coming off a winless season there’s only one direction for the Griffins to go. The senior class is small and there are plenty of new faces on both sides of the ball, so it’s been a learning experience all around so far.

Left to right: Senior OL/DL/LS Jack Hadley, sophomore QB Ryan Clark, senior OL/LB Sal DiSalvo. (Photo by Paula Lopez/PAL Images).

“We’re learning the players and what they can do, and it’s a work in progress,” Curcione said. “We’re just trying to get better at something every day. We do it our way and the kids have done a great job falling in line and doing what we expect. You have to teach from the ground up, and for me that’s exciting, scary and fun all built into one. We’re young, but we’re a varsity team so that’s not a crutch. We expect to go out and perform on Friday nights.”

The Griffins have a good cornerstone with which to build their power spread offense around as 6-foot-1, 210-pound sophomore Ryan Clark returns after starting as a freshman. With a good arm and a physical running style, Clark has the tools to be a standout in LaBarca’s offense.

“It feels pretty good to be set at the quarterback position from day one,” Curcione said. “Now it’s working on him learning the ins and outs of the offense and getting better. He’s a big, strong, physical kid with a big arm, but he’s still a young kid. The mental aspect has to develop but he definitely has a lot of intangibles that can help us.”

The tailback will be senior Myles Jackson with sophomore Damian Johnson also in the mix. The fullback/tight end position has 6-foot-3 sophomore Chris Aldridge, junior Joe Sabia and freshman Ethan Capone. The wide receivers are junior Alex Bryant along with sophomores Andre Laney, Jared Helstowski and Ronan Bova.

Two starters are back on the offensive line with Hadley at right guard and DiSalvo at left tackle. The center is junior Nick Kenmure, who transferred from Point Beach, while the left guard is junior Bobo Aluko and the right tackle is senior Charlie Cushman.

The Griffins will play a 3-4 defense with Hadley as the nose tackle and Aldridge and Aluko as the ends. DiSalvo is a returning starter at outside linebacker and will be joined by Sabia and sophomore Chris Corman at inside linebacker. The other outside linebacker spot is between juniors Trevor Barber and Andrew Schlendorf, and sophomore Nick Novakowski. Zakary Burritt and Quamire Green will also see time at inside linebacker while Will Lindsey will see time at outside linebacker.

“Sal is a kid that you look at and you see he has the build of a college football player,” Curcione said. “He’s a kid we expect to be a solid player for us.”

The secondary has Jackson and Laney as the cornerbacks with Bryant at free safety and Helstowski at strong safety. Sophomore Keaon Torres will also see time in the defensive backfield.

On special teams, the Griffins will have DiSalvo as the kicker and Clark as the punter.

They also have one of the nation’s best long snappers in Hadley, who holds an offer from Monmouth and multiple preferred walk-on offers from top FBS programs. He was also recently selected to play in the Blue-Gray All-American Bowl in Dallas.

“It’s nice to have a great long-snapper, but what might get lost in it is Jack is a pretty good football player, too,” Curcione said. “He’s done some really good things so far in camp and will be on the field quite a bit for us.”

From the coaching staff to the players, the ingredients are certainly there for Donovan Catholic to get back into the win column and build toward being a contender. When and how quickly that happens remains to be seen, but the goal moving forward is to build a solid foundation that will support the program for years to come.

“We want to win but we’re also playing for the future, to set a foundation where we can restart this program,” Hadley said.

“Any year, even the last three at Wall, I never put a number on anything,” Curcione said. “I just want the team to get better each week and believe they can win. They didn’t win a game last year, so to get them believing they can and teaching them how to win is first.”

At a Glance

Head coach: Dan Curcione, first season (fourth overall).

Career record: 16-15.

Coaching staff: Chip LaBarca Jr. (off. coord.); Dan Wendel (QB/special teams); Sean McPherson (DB); Dean Helstowski (RB); Lou Montanaro (DL); Ryan Wells (OLB); Pat Dowling, Eric Bruno (freshmen); Mark Deppen (strength and conditioning); Bob DeStefano (athletic trainer).

2016 record: 0-10 (0-7).

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Alex Bryant, Jr., WR

Bryant looks to be the top receiver for Clark and comes into a starting role, replacing All-Division receiver Pete Schlendorf.

X-FACTOR: Quarterback development

If Clark can continue his development in a system that maximizes the overall talent of its quarterbacks it will go a long way toward giving the Griffins a successful offense.

GLUE GUYS: Jack Hadley, Sr., OL/DL/LS and Sal DiSalvo, Sr., OL/LB

The Griffins have just a handful of seniors to rely on for leadership. Hadley and DiSalvo are returning starters who will play on both sides of the ball.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Andre Laney, So., WR/DB

Laney looks like he can be a major weapon in the passing game and will also start at cornerback.

PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 8 at Barnegat

We’ll get a good idea of how much better the Griffins will be this year when they open the season on the road at Barnegat.

 

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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