Talent, experience; you name it and Manalapan has it. The Braves return a loaded roster one year after going 11-1 and falling just short of the program’s second sectional title, so the task this season is nothing less than finishing the job and bringing home the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group V title.

“Our goal right now is to win a state championship and that’s what we have our eyes on,” said senior lineman Trevor Radosevich.

This year’s senior class has been a standout group since it entered the program, and was instrumental in the Braves capturing the Class A North division title and remaining undefeated going into the sectional final last season. Of the Braves’ 15 combined returning starters 13 of them are seniors.

“We’ve had these same expectations since we were like seven years old watching the high school games,” said quarterback Luke Corcione. “Coach keeps stressing to us that this is our year and this is our team, that there is no more high school football after this so don’t leave anything on the field.”

Eight starters return in Manalapan’s multiple-I offense that finished third in the Shore Conference at 36.2 points per game. Corcione is back for his third year as the starting quarterback after throwing for 1,699 yards and 26 touchdowns with just three interceptions.

Left to right: Chris Maksimik, Sal Tardogno, Luke Corcione, Trevor Radosevich, Naim Mayfield, Scott Scherzer. (Photo by Paula Lopez/PAL Images).

“He is so well prepared with his reads and where the ball is supposed to go,” said Manalapan head coach Ed Gurrieri. “He’ll make plays but he also doesn’t force anything. And if something breaks down in front of him he has the ability to create. We’re not going to be running the zone read or anything, but he can use his feet to his advantage.”

Joining him in the backfield is first-team All-Shore running back Naim Mayfield, a Fordham recruit who ran for 1,785 and 23 touchdowns last season and is the top returning running back in the Shore Conference.

“No matter what it always starters with the running back and the offensive line with us,” Gurrieri said. “Naim may be as good as anybody we’ve ever had, and that’s saying a lot. When you look at the whole package he might the most complete back we’ve ever had.”

Leading the way for Mayfield is one of the most underrated players in the Shore Conference, senior fullback Chris Maksimik. In addition to blocking for Mayfield to run for nearly 1,800 yards, Maksimik also scored nine touchdowns between rushing and receiving.

“I always tell everybody that Maksimik is the best all-around player we have,” Gurrieri said. “Fullback is a spot on our team we take great pride in and he’s probably the best we’ve ever had at the position. We’ve had guys that have been good runners but just an okay blocker so we had to put someone else in for that, but he couldn’t catch so we had somebody else for that. We don’t have to take Chris out. He catches the ball as well as anybody on the team, he’s a great runner and he’s one of the best lead blockers we’ve ever had.”

“Maksimik is unbelievable, there’s nothing he can’t do,” Radosevich said. “If we needed him to play offensive line he could do that too.”

Radosevich (6-foot-3, 270 pounds) leads the offensive lineman as a returning starter at right tackle, while senior Jack McLaughlin is a returning starter at right guard. Senior Joe Ciraola returns as the starter at left guard, while the newcomers are 6-foot-4, 270-pound senior Matt Mazza at left tackle and 280-pound sophomore Nick Cavallaro at center.

Senior Scott Scherzer is the returning No. 1 wide receiver and is coming off a junior year where he caught 40 passes for 690 yards and seven touchdowns. Senior Symir Blacknall played receiver last season but will have a much larger role in the offense this year. Seniors Eli Avivi and Chris Pisano will also see time at receiver.

“I think the guy that is going to surprise some people is Symir Blacknall,” Gurrieri said. “He really put in the work in the offseason and was our best player in 7-on-7s.”

The tight ends are juniors Alex Claro and Alan Presler with junior Dale Sieczkowski also pushing for playing time.

Manalapan’s defense was every bit as good as its offense and finished third in the Shore allowing 11.6 points per game. All three down lineman return in their 3-4 scheme with Ciraola as the nose guard and senior Antonio Deieso and junior Da-shon Taylor at defensive end. Radosevich and senior Juan Torres will rotate in at nose guard while Presler and 6-foot-4, 250-pound junior Nick Holowach will see time at defensive end.

Manalapan boasts two of the Shore Conference’s best linebackers with senior Sal Tardogno and junior Tommy Pearce lining up at inside linebacker. Tardogno made 120 tackles last year and was selected as Class A North Defensive Player of the Year, while Pearce made 97 tackles despite missing four games.

“This is going to be our third year together inside and we’re leaders on this defense,” Tardogno said.

“We think our defense is going to be pretty good, and it all starts with those two linebackers,” Gurrieri said. “They are the quarterbacks of the defense.”

Claro and Sieczkowski are the outside linebackers, and there’s always the possibility Maksimik will get some snaps at linebacker. He started four games at inside linebacker when Pearce was hurt last season and averaged over 10 tackles a game.

Avivi and Blacknall are returning starters at cornerback, and will be joined by senior Patrick Jurczuk at strong safety and senior George Lombardi at free safety.

Returning as both the kicker and punter is senior David Gelb.

The pieces are in place for the Braves to accomplish all of their goals and bring another state championship home to Manalapan. The journey begins Week 1 against district rival Marlboro.

“It’s all that’s on our minds right now,” Tardogno said. “All we’re thinking about is getting it done week to week and getting to that 12th game for a state championship.”

At a Glance

Head coach: Ed Gurrieri, 11th season.

Career record: 87-26.

Coaching staff: Dan D’Avanzo (off. coord./QB); Dom LePore (def. coord./DB); Dom Pollifrone (special teams/DL); Joey Tetley (assoc. head coach/OL); Bill Smith Sr. (OLB/TE); Jim Papcun (WR); Bill Smith Jr. (freshmen HC); Andrew Jones, Corey DeCastro, John Harrison, Reggie Grant (freshmen); Shannon Tomasula (athletic trainer).

2016 record: 11-1 (7-0).

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Patrick Jurczuk, Sr., DB and George Lombardi, Sr., DB

The Braves graduated a pair of All-Division defensive backs in Sean Kinniburgh and Cody Weiner, and Jurczuk and Lombardi will step in behind returning starting cornerbacks Eli Avivi and Symir Blacknall.

X-FACTOR: Staying healthy

Manalapan has talent up and down the field and can win games in a variety of different ways. Injuries look like the only thing that could derail a successful season.

GLUE GUY: Trevor Radosevich, Sr., OL/DL

Radosevich is the leader along the offensive line and will also provide depth rotating in at nose guard on defense.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Dale Sieczkowski, Jr., TE/LB

The coaching staff is high on the third Sieczkowski brother to come through the program and expect him to be a contributor on both sides of the ball.

PIVOTAL GAME: Oct. 13 vs. Howell

The Rebels are a team on the rise and gave Manalapan a run for their money in a 41-34 Braves win last season. This could be the game that decides the Class A North division title.

 

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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