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It hasn't been easy for Bill Furlong as Manchester head coach, and following another down year (3-7), his third in the program, he's confident this will be the year they turn things in a positive direction with a lot of returning talent.

"I think there's just been a gradual increase in the positive attitude and the buy-in from the kids," said Furlong. "The players who are seniors now were the first group of players when I started here. I just feel like they've gelled because they've all been through it, and sometimes going through the hard times pulls you together."

"Our tempo is a lot quicker," said senior running back Jalen Glenn. "We have a lot of fast guys on the team and we're trying to take advantage of that. We're also a more experienced team and I think we'll come out with a better record this year."

"I think we're going to be great this year," said senior quarterback Jerry Ward. "We're going to score a lot."

With all those players coming back this year Furlong feels that they can only continue to develop and become better and contribute to winning again.

"I think they're highly motivated," said Furlong. "Some of these lineman have been starting for two or three years and taken their share of lumps, and they're a little tired of it. They've worked hard and want to change things."

He credits the senior led group as those who are already making a difference heading into the 2017 season.

"These younger kids look up to them and they know how to act," said Furlong.

In order to change the culture of the program to a winning tradition, they'll have to compete at a higher level in order to pass teams inside Class B South.

"I think we're going to matchup well with all of those teams," said Glenn.

"We were in a lot of close games last year and were just shy of turning that corner," said Furlong. "I think part of that was learning how to win and dealing with being in that position. Now it's about taking that next step."

While winning the division is something they'd like to accomplish, Furlong says they're just going to take things one game at a time.

"We're just going to try and outperform ourselves from the week before," said Furlong. "We're trying to eliminate our mistakes. Most of the offensive and defensive lineman are returning but there's still a couple position battles being played out and something that may carry into the regular season.

They have some depth, but Furlong says most guys will end up playing both ways. Staying healthy will be crucial.

"We've had enough of an upswing from young guys," said Furlong. "Markel Hourigan (Jr. FB) has been a very pleasant surprise, Devin Zamot (So. RB/MLB) has proven to be a guy we really need to get on the field and Jeffry Eletto (RB/DB) is back after not playing last year and has really had a nice summer."

Head coach: Bill Furlong, fourth season (21st overall).

Career record: 75-88.

2016 record: 3-7 (2-5).

Assistant coaches: Karl Schaeffer (OL); Joe Serratelli (LB); Bill Hill (def. coord./DB); Paul Findlow (DL); Bill Hill Jr. (OLB/WR); Brian Wilkinson (RB); Mark Mernone (freshmen); Tiffani Helen (athletic trainer).

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Dan Morales, OL/DL

Jake Lloyd was their best lineman in 2016, according to Furlong, and following his graduation Dan Morales will be one of the players asked to step up.

X-FACTOR: Confidence

Furlong feels the players are talented enough to win and they just need to believe in themselves. He says things will go wrong through the course of the season but it's how they bounce back that will determine how good they could be.

GLUE GUY: Jerry Ward, Sr., QB/CB

Ward is like having a coach on the field for Furlong and is really the guy the gets his teammates going in the huddle. He says Ward is the guy who doesn't taking things for granted and really tries to help out his teammates.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Andrew Dodd Jr., OL/LB

He's described by Furlong as a weight room warrior and through his worth ethic has flourished as a JV player now ready to make an impact on varsity.

PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 8 vs. Lakewood

Manchester feels much improved, and what better way to make a splash than with a win over division title-contender Lakewood.

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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.

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