If you go purely on what Middletown North lost to graduation after a banner season that included a win over rival Middletown South and a trip to a state sectional final, it would appear the Lions are destined to take a step back. But even though they have to replace all-time program greats at quarterback and receiver, among others, this is a program that has been built for the long haul.

“We lost some very experienced players that were three- and four-year starters, but we have some very capable players to fill in,” said Middletown North head coach Steve Bush. “In some spots we may have a little more depth than we’ve had in the past. They know what is expected and we just have to go out and try to keep things going.”

“I believe our team has the talent and the ability to get us to the level we were at last year,” said senior Connor Welsh.

Of all the starters that have to be replaced, the most difficult will be at quarterback where current Wagner freshman Donald Glenn was a four-year starter who set the Shore Conference for career yards (7,498) and touchdown passes (71). Last season Glenn led the Shore with 2,689 yards passing while throwing 26 touchdown passes. The Lions will be keeping the quarterback position in the Glenn family, however, as junior Sean Glenn will try to follow in his brother’s footsteps and command Middletown North’s spread offense.

“We’re working through some of the timing with Sean and the receivers, and he’s getting better every day and getting more comfortable,” Bush said. “We expect big things from him.”

Glenn’s top target over the last two years was Brendan Kube, who is believed to be the only wide receiver in Shore Conference history to post consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Last season Kube caught 62 passes for 1,149 yards and nine touchdowns.

Left to right: Tim McCann, Connor Welsh, Austin Dewise. (Photo by Paula Lopez/PAL Images).

Junior Aidan Campbell returns as a starter to lead the group of wide receivers. Senior Paul Dunleavy was also a starter last season before an ACL injury in the middle of the season knocked him out for the rest of the year. Junior Nick Dewise and sophomore Anthony Soto round out the group of starters.

“We have a pretty good receiving corps in that they all catch the ball well,” Bush said. “We have good speed in some spots and we have guys who are good after the catch.”

The position group with the most experience is at running back where Welsh and junior Connor Robbins are returning starters. Welsh missed nearly half the season with a broken arm, but still finished with 482 yards rushing and five touchdowns, plus 15 receptions for 150 yards and two scores. Robbins added 508 yards and eight touchdowns.

“They’re both good runners and they have different styles,” Bush said. “Robbins is more of a downhill, physical runner and Connor Welsh has good feet and vision. Both are playing defense too so they can spell each other a little bit.”

Senior Austin Dewise is back as the tight end where he is a solid pass catcher and blocker. Two starters are back on the offensive line with senior Anthony Canova at right tackle and senior Tim McCann at center. The newcomers up front are sophomore Rob Kelly at left guard, junior David Rodriguez at right guard and junior Dominick Pianoforte at right tackle.

Middletown North’s defense was No. 13 in the Shore last season, allowing 18.2 points per game. The Lions will bring back just two starters on that side of the ball, but they are both crucial players on the defensive line. Dewise was a second-team All-Shore player last season after making 55 tackles and 12 sacks. He is a game-wrecker at defensive end and a player opposing teams have to account for. Senior Nicko Cofone also returns to his spot at defensive tackle. The other defensive end spot has Robbins with juniors Aaron Vanderhoof and Steven Holler also in the mix. The other starting defensive tackle position will be McCann and Rodriguez in a rotation.

“I think our D-line could be pretty solid with Austin and Nicko Cofone leading,” Bush said. “If your defensively line is good it sets the tone for the rest of the defense. We’ve been encouraged by what we’ve seen so far, and we know that Austin is a great player.”

“We all have confidence in each other,” Dewise said. “We’ve all been working together and we know what we have to do.”

Robbins and senior Allajah Morin are the starting inside linebackers while Dunleavy and senior Daylon Wilkerson will start at outside linebacker. Senior Ryan Dones is currently injured but will likely start at inside linebacker when healthy. Junior Stephen Barry will also see time at inside linebacker.

Welsh will play the rover position as a strong safety/outside linebacker hybrid.

Campbell and senior Billy Barillari will start at cornerback while junior Alex Zenker is the starting safety. Soto will also see snaps in the secondary.

Middletown North returns one of the top kickers in the Shore with junior Joey Cavanagh, who converted 8 of 10 field goals and 37 of 43 extra points last season. Dewise returns as the punter.

The Class B North division was the best in the Shore Conference last season, producing two state sectional champions and three overall finalists. Neither of those teams won the division, however, as Middletown South took the B North crown. With Manasquan and Middletown South expected to contend again, a loaded Red Bank Catholic team and a much-improved Long Branch squad it will once again be a gauntlet.

Middletown North learned how to get over the hump last season and will take that knowledge into this season. The mark of a consistent program is winning no matter who graduates, and that is what the Lions are trying to accomplish this season.

“We want to keep the winning tradition going,” Welsh said. “We’ve slowly gotten a lot better and hopefully that continues this year.”

At a Glance

Head coach: Steve Bush, fifth season (11th overall).

Career record: 65-46-1.

Coaching staff: Geoff Massimini (def. coord./LB/TE); George Kostas (OL/DL); Randy Kalman (special teams/WR/DB); Jason Pino (RB/OLB/JV); Larry McKnight (OL/DE); Danielle Kanski (athletic trainer).

2016 record: 9-3 (4-2).

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Sean Glenn, Jr., QB

Glenn needs no introduction to the player he is taking over for, but that doesn’t mean following in brother Donald’s footsteps will be easy. Donald Glenn graduated Middletown North as the Shore Conference’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns and is obviously a tough act to follow.

X-FACTOR: Fitting all the new pieces together

Middletown North will have several new starters this season, and while the coaching staff is confident they can step in and make an impact, it still has to be proven on the field.

GLUE GUY: Connor Welsh, Sr., RB/LB

Welsh is a three-year starter at running back and will also start on defense this year. He’s played in big games and has played a critical role in Middletown North’s ascension.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Nick Dewise, Jr., WR

Dewise has looked good in the preseason and will start at wide receiver.

PIVOTAL GAME: Oct. 27 vs. Long Branch

This Week 8 game will likely be of importance to both teams in the divisional race and with the playoffs looming.

 

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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