There is something to be said of a coach’s confidence in his team during the preseason and how far positive thinking can carry them throughout the season. That seems to be the sentiment at Jackson Liberty this season from head coach Jim Sharples.

“I like our kids,” Sharples said. “They all put in the offseason work necessary to be successful. They are all hard-working kids who give great effort.

The latest version of the Jackson Liberty football program will look to further its success from a year ago after losing to Brick Memorial in the first round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV playoffs. The Lions had an up and downs season trying to string wins together, and finished 4-6.

Jackson Liberty seniors Steven Schuster (13), Ryan Downer (22), Javier Duran (74) and Xavier Roman (54). (Photo by Ray Richardson).

Offensively, the Lions are poised for a breakout season with another year running a multiple pro set out of the pistol formation. The offense will rely on returning receiver Ryan Downer, a game-breaking type of player who can score anytime he touches the ball. Returning left guard Xavier Roman will add experience and leadership to the line. At quarterback, senior Justin Mayes will get his first snaps as starter after sitting his first three years behind Ryan Van Wickle. Also looking to make big impacts will be Nick Patla, Jake Stillwell and Javier Duran, all of whom saw valuable playing time last season.

“I am excited about the speed and explosiveness that Downer, Spears and Locklear bring,” Sharples said. “We have weapons that need to be contained by opposing teams.”

Jackson Liberty will run a 3-3-5 stack on the defensive side with Steven Schuster leading the unit at middle linebacker and also safety. Jake Stevens, Derek Catron and Patla will solidify a physical and fast linebacker corps. Stillwell at nose guard brings leadership to a much-improved defensive line and Duran will also play a valuable role on the line.  Downer at cornerback and Locklear at outside linebacker add veteran leadership and physicality to the defense.

RELATED: Jackson Liberty 2016 football schedule

Head coach: Jim Sharples, fourth season.

Career record: 13-17.

2015 record: 4-6.

Coaching staff: Ryan Hesnan (OLB);  Arin West (DB); Ronald Brown (DL/ST); Vin Spaddevecchia, (QB/OC) Gerard O’Donnell (OL); Charlie Diskin Jr. (RB); Anthony Meyers (WR); Matt Spader, Len Albline (freshmen); Chris Grande (athletic trainer).

Big Shoes to Fill: Justin Mayes, Sr., QB: Mayes takes over for three-year starter Ryan Van Wickle. If he can get the ball to the Lions’ big playmakers, good things are in their future.

X-Factor: Hitting Big Plays: The staple of the team will be the big play ability of Downer, Locklear and Spears.  They will also rely on a very experienced defense with eight returning starters.

Glue Guy — Steven Schuster, Sr., MLB: The Lions’ leading tackler last year is the heart and soul of the Jackson Liberty defense.

Impact Newcomer — Malcolm Locklear, WR: Head coach Jim Sharples is high on the athletic first year starter to make an immediate contribution.

Pivotal Game - Oct. 1 at Lacey: Longtime Class B South stalwart Lacey is now back in the division after a couple years in Class A South, and should be in the running for the division title.

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