Football – Back in the Saddle: 2017 Brick Memorial Preview
The 2016 season was just one of those years where not much went right for Brick Memorial. Coming off an appearance in the 2015 Central Jersey Group IV final, the Mustangs had to deal with massive losses to graduation, and things never came together. The result was a 2-8 season and a rare sub-.500 record for a program that has been a consistent championship contender for the past 15 years.
With key players returning on both sides of the ball, including one of the top running backs in the Shore Conference, the Mustangs are confident this fall will bring about a return to their winning ways.
“Last year we struggled a lot and it left a bad taste in our mouths,” said senior Blaine Netterman. “Some teams are rebuilding in A South and we have a good senior class, so we’re looking forward to this year.”
“We have to stick together as a team and have the same mentality, to be all-in and go in one direction,” said senior Tony Thorpe. “We all need to have one goal and strive for that goal.”
Having Thorpe back as the “A” back in their flexbone offense is a great place to start. Thorpe ran for 1,002 yards and 12 touchdowns last season and had over 1,300 yards as a sophomore. He’s a punishing, physical back whom the Mustangs can count on to carry the load each week.
The wing backs will be Netterman and junior Jeff Lavarin, a Neptune transfer. Netterman is a returning starter. The quarterback position, the most critical in a triple-option offense, is a competition between senior Justin Hans and junior Tyler Sindel. Hans saw some time last season and was also a starter on defense.
“Both of our quarterbacks are doing a real nice job of not just playing the position, but being a quarterback, being a leader on the field,” said Brick Memorial head coach Walt Currie. “Hans has more experience being in the offense for a while, and he’s also a returning starter on defense, so he’s competed at the varsity level. Tyler is a little faster, has just as strong an arm and is a very good athlete, he just doesn’t have the experience under center that Hans does.”
Senior Grant McKelvey is a returning starter at wide receiver and will be joined by the combo of senior Billy Mullen and sophomore Sal Lepore.
“We have a lot of threats in the backfield,” Netterman said. “Jeff Lavarin has a lot of speed, Tyler and Justin are battling for quarterback right now and of course Tony. He’s a big part of this team and we expect him to lead us.”
The offensive line has a pair of returning starters and another with experience. Senior bookends Joe Castellano at left tackle and Willie Garner at right tackle return after starting as juniors, while senior Keidon Roettger, who saw time last season, is the left guard. Junior Logan Baxter is the center and junior Jameson Whaley is the right guard.
Brick Memorial was near the bottom of the Shore in points allowed last season, yielding 30.1 points per game, so a major emphasis throughout the offseason has been finding a way to regain its defensive edge.
“We wanted to make adjustments so we went out and researched and got some ideas on how to utilize our talent better,” Currie said. “Now it’s just a matter of playing tough and physical, and that’s what Brick Memorial football players have been known for well before I got here. We’re at our best when we’re playing physical.”
Seven starters return in the Mustangs’ 3-4 front, including all three defensive linemen. Castellano is the nose tackle while Garner and senior Tyler Gonzalez are the ends. McKelvey and junior Kyle McBride are returning starters at inside linebacker while Hans is a returning starter at outside linebacker. If Hans ends up as the starting quarterback he won’t play defense full time. Thorpe will see action at outside linebacker for the first time with Neptune transfer Najiere Hutchinson, a junior, starting as the other outside linebacker. Logan Baxter and Alex Vonderlinden will also see time at inside linebacker.
“I’m pretty excited about being on the field more,” Thorpe said. “It’s different but very exciting. I get to crack some more people.”
Lavarin and Mullen are the cornerbacks while junior Ja Billingsly is the free safety. Netterman is back for his third year as the starting strong safety after making a team-high 76 tackles last season.
“We switched up some things, defensively, and our main goal is to play fast and get after the ball,” Netterman said. “I like the way we’re looking.”
In what looks like a fairly wide-open Class A South division, Brick Memorial can get back to contender status if all goes well. The path to what the Mustangs hope will be a bounce-back season begins on Saturday Sept. 9 against rival Brick.
“We had a good offseason and we all worked hard,” Netterman said. “We know there isn’t one team that’s looking like they’re going to run away with it. Every team is pretty even and we feel like we have a good shot.”
Everybody is real excited for it,” Thorpe said. “We’re counting down the days and making those days count.”
At a Glance
Head coach: Walt Currie, 11th season.
Career record: 61-47.
Coaching staff: Mike Cintron (def. coord.); Pete Brennan (DL); Jimmy Bright (OLB); Micah Bender (ILB); Rob Brown (DB); Mike McArthur (OL); Bill Brunner (OL); Keith Farr (WR/wing backs); Alex Zulewski (A-backs); Rob Merola, Ryan Graham, Brian Hibbs (freshmen); Sue Penrod (athletic trainer).
2016 record: 2-8 (1-6).
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Jameson Whaley, Jr., OL
This could really be any of the new starters on the offensive line, but we’ll go with Whaley because he is slated to play right guard where 6-foot-7, 260-pound Justin Szuba started last year. Szuba is currently a freshman at Monmouth University.
X-FACTOR: Quarterback play
If Hans or Sindel emerge as a solid quarterback then Brick Memorial’s offense should be back in business. If not, it will be difficult for the Mustangs to find any traction in an always-tough division.
GLUE GUY: Blaine Netterman, Sr., RB/DB
Netterman is a lead-by-example type of captain who will enter his third year as a starter at safety and his second year as a starter at wing back.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Jeff Lavarin, Jr., RB/DB
A transfer from Neptune and the cousin of 2015 Brick Memorial graduate Eli Lavarin, Jeff Lavarin will start at both wing back and cornerback.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 9 at Brick
There are several good rivalries between the A South teams, but when crosstown rivals square off in Week 1 it’s hard to go against that. Brick has won the last four meetings so the Mustangs are hellbent on snapping the losing streak.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.