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Despite graduating a tremendous senior class that included a pair of FBS players in Manny Bowen and Sam Madden, Barnegat still plans on being a force in Class B South during the program’s 10th season.

Along with Bowen (Penn State) and Madden (Wisconsin), the Bengals also saw quarterback Cinjun Erskine and defensive back Ricky Gerena graduate. It will be up to a mostly new cast of starters to keep Barnegat in contention for the division title and a postseason berth.

“We’re working to get those types of players back in the sense of showing we still have those types of players,” said senior Nick Camarato.

Three starters return in the Bengals’ spread offense led by senior speed demon Paul Wickwire at running back. The Ocean County 100- and 200-meter champion during track season, Wickwire moves into the backfield from receiver where the Bengals feel his speed can be game-changing. He will still see time at receiver and gives Barnegat an element it has never had at the running back position.

Paul Wickwire (7). (Photo by Bill Normile).

“He’s the most explosive kid I’ve ever coached,” said Barnegat head coach Rob Davis. “Wherever he goes, he tilts the field. Paul is going to have a major effect on defenses, probably more than anyone we’ve ever had at the tailback position. He’ll have his fingerprints on the ball wherever he’s lined up.”

Senior Josh Bowen also returns as the starting tight end. The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder caught 15 passes for 241 yards and a pair of touchdowns last season. Bowen, Camarato, juniors Jacques Picault and junior Hunter Mauro at wide receiver, and Wickwire will be the offensive weapons for junior quarterback Joe Monaco, who will enter his first year as the starter.

“I know Joe is young but he is a tank,” Bowen said. “He flings the ball around and puts it on a dot. He’s young, but we’re trying to get him to step up and launch the ball, not sit back there and panic.”

“I believe in Joe and I always have,” Wickwire said. “I’ve always said he can sling it. He’s going to be a good quarterback.”

“We’re getting him throwing the ball a lot in scrimmages, and if we can get the running game going he’ll be alright,” Davis said. “He has an arm and we have some receivers we’re excited about.”

The fullback will be sophomore Juan Abraham. Senior Danny Dugan returns as the anchor along the offensive line from his left tackle position. The left guard is senior Greg Schmalz, the center is junior Kyle Kessinger, the right guard is junior Andrew Meany and the right tackle is senior Kyle Rodmell.

Barnegat’s defense was a top-10 unit in points allowed last season, yielding just 16.1 points per game. The Bengals return five starters from that unit as they look to keep the same level of play. In their 4-3 multiple scheme, Dugan and Schmalz are returning starters at defensive end while senior Joe Scaglione is back at defensive tackle. The other defensive tackle is Meany.

Bowen returns to lead the linebacking group and will be at middle linebacker. He will be joined by senior Phil Wambach and junior Eric Becker on the outside.

“I love defense,” Bowen said. “My older brother obviously went to college for defense, and he taught me everything he knows. It’s the most important to me because if you can stop the other offense every time you’re going to win.”

Wickwire and junior Jake Schmitz will start in the secondary as the cornerbacks while Camarato, a returning starter, and junior Connor Lustenberger are the safeties.

Lustenberger will also handle the kicking and punting duties. Wickwire is the return specialist.

Barnegat knows teams will be gunning for them in B South and also that the division features a Central team with 2,000-yard rusher Mike Bickford and a Point Boro team loaded with experience, among others. The goal remains to hoist the division championship again and make a deep run in the state playoffs.

“We tell the kids that tradition doesn’t graduate,” Davis said. “We have a lot of program kids in that locker room and now it’s their turn to step up.

“We tell the kids when you’re striving for perfection there will always be stress and a sense of urgency. Expectations aren’t a nice completion on the practice field when no one’s around. We’re not expecting anything less than the goals we put in place.”

 

Head Coach: Rob Davis, 10th season.

Career Record: 52-42.

Assistant Coaches: Kevin Smith (def. coord.); Chris Clerico (OL); Greg Oravets (DL); Mike Burke (RB); Paul Covine (LB); Steve Fence (WR/DB); Mike D’Ambrosio (QB); Mike DeTroia (OL); Ralph Adorno (game day volunteer); Dave Smith, Brian Fitzpatrick, Jarrod Verge (freshmen).

2014 Record: 7-3 (6-1).

 

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Connor Lustenberger, Jr., S

Lustenberger will start at safety where Ricky Gerena patrolled the last two seasons and was among the Shore Conference’s leaders in interceptions.

X-FACTOR: Offensive line play

The Bengals return just one starter from their offensive line and will need the unit to gel to give new quarterback Joe Monaco a chance to succeed.

GLUE GUY: Danny Dugan, Sr., OL/DL

Dugan is the lone returning starter on the offensive line and also a returner on defense, and will be counted on to bring stability to both units.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Joe Monaco, Jr., QB

Monaco takes over as the starting quarterback in Barnegat’s spread offense, replacing two-year starter Cinjun Erskine.

PIVOTAL GAME: September 18 at Central

This game last year, won by Central, ended up forcing a tie for the Class B South division title. This year’s winner gets a major advantage in the title race. The Bengals will need to contain 2,000-yard rusher Mike Bickford and versatile quarterback Mike Miserendino.