Football – Change of Atmosphere: 2016 Toms River East Preview
Following a seventh consecutive losing season, Toms River East looks to steer into waters not charted since the 2009 season where the team went 10-1 and won back-to-back division titles. New head coach Kyle Sandberg looks to captain this team into relevancy and restore the winning tradition at Toms River East.
Sandberg spent the previous two season as the team's defensive coordinator before being tapped as the new head man this season in succession of Charlie Diskin, who stepped down following last season. For Sandberg, the transition into his new role has been seamless.
"I love it, this is what I've always wanted to do, always wanted to be a head coach, (and) always wanted to do it here," said Sandberg. "There's no place like East. It's a dream come true for me."
Some adjustments are being made for the upcoming season and someone Sandberg spoke with as he took the torch was his predecessor.
"He was a great help early on, he was my coach and he's been a mentor for me since I've been here," said Sandberg. "I spoke to him before the process and really when I got the job."
Diskin's teams compiled a 48-54 record in his 10 years as the head coach, and Sandberg credits his former coach as someone who provided tremendous insight into what it's like being a head coach.
But there are some changes being made, and above all, it's about maintaining a consistent presence in the win column.
"The biggest thing for me is these kids lost winning, toughness, togetherness, and pride," said Sandberg. "Being a graduate here, I take all that to my heart, so I kind of implement that to them, and show them how to be a Raider."
Sandberg adds many of these seniors aren't used to winning and he believes it's his job to change that. So far it's been an explosive effort by a team willing to do what it takes to win.
"My biggest thing is to change this entire culture and that's something that I wanted to do as soon as I got the job," said Sandberg. "To change the culture on the field, off the field, in the building and pretty much on this whole side of town."
Winning is near the top of the list of goals for this season but, there are some other aspects of the game in need of being met head on in order for them to get where he thinks they can go.
"It's hard because these kids have never tasted victory before, they have never felt what it's like to win a game," said Sandberg. "To me that is just unacceptable. My job here is to get them Ws."
His players are also seeking to end the losing streak and get back on track.
“I feel like we’re just going to progress from what we came off (of) last year," said senior Jake Gilligan. "We have the mindset that we have nothing to lose. We’re just looking to get as many wins as we can.”
“We give 100 percent everyday," said senior Jordan Lewis. "That’s all I can ask from this team, and if we do that for the rest of the seson we’ll be pretty good”
The atmosphere is changing at Toms River East and the players are liking the way Sandberg is approaching his promotion to head coach.
“It’s a different atmosphere, everybody’s excited to have a different coaching staff, a different set of plays,“ said Gilligan “There's a total different mindset in everybody, I feel like we’re going to have a successful year.”
"Attitude’s changed, mentality’s better, (and) everyone’s excited to be here," said junior Tommy Ferrante.
After losing a good amount of seniors off last year's team, there is open competition for a lot of positions in both the Raiders Wing-T offense and multiple set defense.
Landon Zagacki, Jake Gilligan and Tommy Ferrante are the returning starters from last years team.
Jack Goodall, who was the quarterback last year along with Louie Gallo, could see snaps under center, but heading into the season they are battling with Dom Cadamatre, Ryan Gilmartin and Tyler Toth.
In the secondary, there are plenty of holes to fill. Gallo along with other senior defensive backs Evan Otten, Joe Dobridge, and Kyle Blue are fighting for playing time.
Battles on the offensive line are a daily thing according to Sandberg, and this year has voids to be filled as well. Nick Fairfield, Trevor Melnyk, Liam Meakem, Dave Cummings, and Anthony Cresho, among others, are fighting for positions on that side of the ball.
There are plenty of question marks surrounding Toms River East, but the one certainty is the group is motivated to turn the program around.
“I feel like I’ve taken this leadership role for this team, I just look to push kids as far as I can and push myself as far as I can," said Gilligan. "All I have is this record that’s been in my head this whole time as we’ve been training. I just want to change that around."
Head Coach: Kyle Sandberg, first season.
Career Record: 0-0.
2015 Record: 1-9 (0-7).
Assistant coaches: Mike Nemeth (off. coord.); Matt Madeo (RB); Tim Gilmartin (OL); Vinnie Arminio (WR); Billy Byrne (WR); Frank Giannetti (DL); T.J. Tkac (DB); Joe Arminio Jr.(freshman head coach), Eddie Goodman, Kevin Kanarkowski (freshman); Jake McCartney (athletic trainer).
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Nick Fairfield Sr., OL/DL
The Raiders strength last season was an offensive line that included Brandon Burdge, Brendan Brush, and Kelly Conklin. Fairfield could add a strong force on the offensive and defensive lines to help offset the losses to graduation.
X-FACTOR: The seniors
Hungry to become winners, Sandberg says the seniors want to win so badly they are stepping up as leaders to the younger Raiders so they don't have to feel the sting of losing in the regular season. If the seniors step up on the field this year both in stats and in leadership roles, the Raiders could earn some wins.
GLUE GUY: Jake Gilligan Sr., FB/OLB
Gilligan is determined to end the Raiders' losing ways by helping pull this team together.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Liam Meakem So., C
There is an increasing amount of talent coming up through the ranks of players now in their sophomore or junior seasons. Among them includes Meakem,who had a taste of the varsity level and could become vital to the Raiders' success.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 16 vs. Toms River South
The Raiders will take on the rival Indians in Week Two where they will look for their first divisional win in two years.
Vin Ebenau is a Shore Sports Network Contributor. You can follow him on Twitter @VinEbenau. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.