In the third season under head coach Luke Sinkhorn, Howell turned the corner in a 6-5 season that featured a return to the playoffs and a memorable postseason victory. Now, with one of the best passing games in the Shore Conference and several returning starters on both sides of the ball, the Rebels are ready to morph into a championship contender.

“Our goals this year are to contend for A North and contend for a state championship, but we’ll take it week-by-week,” said senior two-way lineman Scott Prendergast. “We know what we have to do to attain those goals.”

“We have a chance to be a great team,” said senior quarterback Eddie Morales III.

Morales was one of the main reasons Howell went from 3-7 to South Jersey Group V semifinalists last year. Leading Howell’s spread offense, Morales threw for 2,259 yards and 26 touchdowns to emerge as one of the Shore Conference’s top quarterbacks. He returns for his third year as the Rebels’ starter.

“Eddie is very multiple in his athleticism and could probably be one of our top receivers or a top defensive back,” Sinkhorn said. “We need him touching the ball every play. But what he brings to the table even more is his leadership. He has the ability to hold everyone accountable and put a model out there for the team on how to work hard. He’s an All-Shore type of guy but he doesn’t act entitled or take anything for granted. To get that from your quarterback is crucial.”

Photo by Paula Lopez/PAL Images

Morales’s top target is also one of the top returning receivers in the Shore. Senior Naseim Brantley was a second-team All-Shore wideout last season after catching 46 passes for 773 yards and 11 touchdowns. The duo have a great relationship, and a unique one at that.

“We live together, so we work out together all the time,” Morales said. “We have great chemistry. We’ve played with each other since we were probably six years old. It’s business out there but it’s also having fun, and for us it’s like playing backyard football.”

“We work out together all the time, but it’s more than that,” Brantley said. “We do everything together whether it’s playing video games or just hanging out.”

Seniors Ryan Mazik and Pat Handy are also returning starters at wide receiver, and the fourth wide receiver spot is between juniors Peter Cantillo and Brandon Van Burgen. Senior Nick Chambers returns as the starting running back after rushing for 780 yards and nine touchdowns last season.

Three starters return on the offensive line with Prendergast, a three-year starter, at right tackle, senior Steven Cannon at left guard and senior Mark Welsh at center. The left tackle is senior Wendell Wright, who played in a platoon last season, and the right guard is 6-foot-4, 260-pound senior Mike Klein. Senior Matt Mazauskas will also see playing time along the offensive line.

Sinkhorn considers himself a defensive guy, and since he arrived at Howell it has always been his main point of emphasis. With an offense that should be among the best in the Shore, the Rebels know their defense holds the key to how successful a season they can have.

Eight starters are back in Howell’s 4-3 defense, starting with Prendergast and Welsh at defensive tackle and Mazauskas at defensive end. Wright will man the other defensive end position. The middle linebacker is senior Braedon Baldwin, a returning starter while Chambers moves to outside linebacker after starting in the secondary last year. Either Cannon or senior Chris DeMarco will be the other outside linebacker.

Brantley is a returning starter at cornerback and will be joined by Morales. Van Bergen will also see time at cornerback. Mazik is a returning starter at safety and Handy moves to safety after starting at linebacker last season.

“We’re going into year four and from day one the push has been on the defensive side,” Sinkhorn said. “If we’re going to win – and our goals are A North and South Jersey Group V – the defense has to come to play. If we can have both (offense and defense) going it will be pretty fun.”

Handy returns as the kicker and punter. He kicked the game-winning field goal in Howell’s thrilling playoff win over Vineland last season, a victory that showed the Rebels everything they are capable of.

“I don’t think anybody thought we were going to win that game, but we learned we could compete with the best,” Morales said.

“We learned to never give up and that anything can happen at any time,” Brantley said. “That’s what that game was really about.”

At a Glance

Head coach: Luke Sinkhorn, fourth season (ninth overall).

Career record: 37-45.

Coaching staff: Joe Santopietro (off. coord./QB/DL); Bob Mussari (OL/LB); Ryan Klusewicz (special teams/OL/DB); Joe Migliore (RB/LB); Zac Cooper (WR/DL); Chris Provow (RB/DB); Sam Iacobone (freshmen HC); Shane Baldwin, Matt Wingo (freshmen); Amy Ghione (athletic trainer).

2016 record: 6-5 (5-1).

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Brandon Van Bergen, Jr., WR/DB

There isn’t one specific player Van Bergen is stepping in for, but he will see time at wide receiver and defensive back where Dan Cacciatore and Mekai Gandy excelled last season.

X-FACTOR: Stopping the run

Howell’s weakness on defense was stopping the run, so if the Rebels can improve in that phase of the game it could be what elevates the team to the next level.

GLUE GUY: Eddie Morales III, Sr., QB

The top returning passer in the Shore Conference is also a two-year captain for the Rebels and the team leader.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Wendell Wright, Sr., OL/DL

Wright played a little last season but will now start on both sides of the ball.

PIVOTAL GAME: Oct. 13 at Manalapan

Manalapan is the defending Class A North champion and a top-20 team in the state. This will be Howell’s chance to make a major statement and put itself in the driver’s seat for the 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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