Losing seasons have been few and far between for Asbury Park over the past decade, but last year’s Blue Bishops team sought to distance itself from a forgettable 2014 campaign and in that regard, 2015 was a smashing success.

Ultimately, though, Asbury Park has become a place where players and coaches expect to compete for state championships, so any season that ends without one is a disappointment to some degree.

The returnees to the Blue Bishops program this season have the satisfaction of knowing they helped turn the ship back in the right direction last season, when they went 6-4, finished tied for second place in Class B Central and qualified for the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I playoffs as a No. 2 seed. They also return with a chip on their shoulder having lost their final three games of the season, including a 21-18 loss to Keyport in the first round of the playoffs.

“These guys definitely brought a pride and swagger back to the program that just wasn’t here the year before,” said second-year head coach Tim Fosque. “We just weren’t where we needed to be and these guys came in last year wanting to change that and they definitely did. We didn’t finish the way we wanted to but we put ourselves in a good position so that this year, we can correct some things and get to where we want to go.”

Photo by Ray Richardson

Keeping the momentum going will be the primary focus of this year’s returning group, led by a more experienced offensive line and a handful of returning skill players who will figure into more prominent roles. Junior Donta Abrams is among the top players back for the Bishops and will take over the role as No. 1 receiver and playmaker from graduated wide out Jaedon Stephens. According to Fosque, Abrams is getting early looks from FBS programs as a potential defensive player in the secondary.

“I like the challenge,” Abrams said of being the focus of opposing defenses. “I know I’m going to see two or three defenders sometimes because teams are starting to know who I am. Last year, (team) were double-teaming Jaedon at first but I started to see an extra guy by the end, so I feel like I can handle it.”

Javon Higgs is another junior who will excel in the passing game for Asbury Park and can also be used in the running game in order to get him the ball. Getting the ball to both Abrams and Higgs will be the focus of the offense, which is now led by junior Jaking Agostini at quarterback. Agostini was not in the mix at the position last season, but the graduation of Davon Thompson left a void that Fosque needed to fill.

“We were looking for somebody to step up and he answered the call,” Fosque said. “He’s got a linebacker’s mentality, but he’s also very good at reading the play and making decisions. He wasn’t somebody who we thought was going to be at the top of the list to play quarterback, but once we saw the work he was putting in, we knew.”

“I knew I wanted to play quarterback because I knew we were going to need one this year,” Agostini said. “Coach needed someone to step up so I made sure I volunteered and worked hard to get ready.”

The offensive line that will be protecting Agostini and paving the way for running backs Nymere Agostini, Chisiume Simmons and Paul Reed is one of the strengths of the team after it was the youngest part of the team last year. Senior guard Calvin Simmons-Carter leads the group and is still the only senior in the starting unit. Sophomore center Lazarus Chathaunt, junior guard Kyrie Moore and junior tackles Jaylen Paige and Xavier Banks are among the primary contributors up front on offense.

“Last year, we were the young guys on the team that had to step up to support the rest of the offense,” Simmons-Carter said of the offensive line. “Now, we’re more experience and we’re going to be the ones that have to step up. I think the younger guys did a good job last year and this year, they are even more experienced and that much better knowing what we accomplished last year.”

The Asbury Park defense will have a similar makeup to the offense in that the front seven of its 4-3 formation will be peppered with experience while the secondary hopes to overcome some key losses. Abrams and Higgs will be the leaders of the secondary, with Reed and seniors Najor Ridout and Josmere Taylor all seeing action. Jaking Agostini will also see the field on defense in some situations and could end up playing a lot if Fosque gets comfortable with his starting quarterback on the field most of the game.

The offensive line will make up most of the defensive line, with Simmons filling up one of the defensive end spots. Senior Namir Argilagos returns as a linebacker and will play in the middle this year, with senior Dyquan Young at one of the outside spots. Taylor is in line to play the other outside linebacker spot.

The difference between wins and losses in those final three games for Asbury Park came down to a few plays, with the Blue Bishops within a couple of scores of both Shore Regional and Neptune – Asbury Park’s Thanksgiving opponent. Closing the gap with a new quarterback and without a talent like Stephens will be a challenge, but the attitude at Asbury Park appears to be back and the current group has its sights set on making that leap.

“I’m not going to say we don’t have big goals, but when you open up the season with Shore, that’s all you worry about,” Fosque said, referencing a week one game against the defending state champs on Friday. “It’s going to be a good test for our guys right from the jump. We’ll definitely see where we’re at.”

 

Head Coach: Tim Fosque, second season

Career Record: 6-4

2015 Record: 6-4 (3-2 in B Central)

Big Shoes to Fill: Donta Abrams, WR/DB

Jaedon Stephens was Asbury Park’s big play guy last year, but Donta Abrams was another on a team of playmakers. Abrams does not have to do anything he is not capable of to step into the open spot as the No. 1 option on the offense, but with a new quarterback and one less beast in the offense, he will need to elevate his game.

X-Factor: Offensive line

Last year, the offensive line was the young part of a team with experienced skill talent and this year the role has reversed. The Blue Bishops should have enough fire power to make the necessary plays, but the line will need to be in top form throughout the season.

Glue Guy: Calvin Simmons-Carter, OL/DL

Simmons-Carter is a lunch-pail player on both sides – a two-way lineman who both impacts the game and provides leadership. He’s been a big part of the program during his four seasons.

Impact Newcomer: Jaking Agostini,QB

Agostini saw time last year as a sophomore, but was not on the radar as a potential quarterback until the summer. In that sense, he is a newcomer to the team and a very important one, but once Fosque saw him go to work at the position, he knew he found his man.

Pivotal Game: Sept. 17 at Keyport

Keyport also lost some key skill players, so this game will be a test to see which program can best replace those players early in the season. It’s also a major revenge game for Asbury Park, which fell to Keyport a home in the opening round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I playoffs.

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