Football – “Hol” New Tune: 2017 Neptune Preview
Football has taken Tarig Holman around the country, from his days as a high school player at Randolph, to his time as a standout defensive back at the University of Iowa, to his training camp shot with the Tampa Bay Bucaneers, then back to five different high schools as a coach – both as an assistant and head coach.
For all of his travels, Holman has never coached a game in the Shore Conference, which was one of the reasons he was so drawn to the opening at Neptune.
“It’s such a great opportunity for somebody who loves football and loves to coach,” said Holman, who has made head coaching stops at South Brunswick, Trenton and most recently Randolph. “There is so much athletic tradition at Neptune and the administration is very supportive of the kids, both athletically and academically.
“As far as the competition, you’re not going to find a better conference than what there is at the Shore. Every week, you’re playing another big program and it challenges the coaches and players to be at their best every day.”
Holman takes over a Neptune squad that went 3-7 overall in 2016 in the rough-and-tumble Shore Conference Class A North division that could be even tougher in 2017. In order to get the Scarlet Fliers back to the postseason, Holman will have to work with a mostly new starting lineup around a veteran quarterback in three-year starter Chase Fairbanks.
“There are a lot of new starters this year, which is not always a bad thing when you’re a new head coach,” Holman said. “You want to come in a set a tone and create competition and sometimes it’s better to have a bunch of guys who are hungry and ready to listen and do what it takes to see the field.”
Although most of the offense will feature either new starters or returning players in new roles, Fairbanks will be a constant at quarterback. Fairbanks is in his third full season as a starter and has had his share of individual success as a passer. In his final high school year, he wants to go out a winner.
“We’re really pushing ourselves in practice with this new coaching staff,” Fairbanks said. “It’s all about learning to speed things up and push through in practice because when we get in the fourth quarter of games, we want to be the team that still has fresh legs and is still playing with tempo and energy. I think we have the basics of the offense down and I know the position, but that mentality to finish off games is the next step.”
Fairbanks will work with a new group of running backs and receivers after most of last year’s units graduated or left the program. Senior Thomas Best will get more carries at running back this year after gaining some experience last year, while freshman Isaiah Leeks has also impressed enough in camp to warrant some carries. Malik Ingram stood out as a freshman running back for Neptune last year, but has since transferred to Mater Dei Prep.
The receiving corps is almost entirely new this year following the graduation of Kahmar Rice, Marvin Morgan and Isaiah Calhoun. Junior Kevin Mabry has been an early standout at receiver, while seniors Da’jere Brown and Nahzere Bullock have also emerged as potential weapons, most likely in the slot. Sophomore Damir Williams will also be a factor in the passing game and has a chance to establish himself as one of the team’s best offensive players over the next three years.
“I like the guys we have here,” Holman said. “A lot of them are new, but they have talent, they have speed and they have a three-year starter throwing them the ball. Chase understands the offense, he’s an extension of the coaching staff and he is going to give guys a chance to make plays.”
Up front, senior tackle Billy Flood leads a mostly new offensive line into battle. While the line will have some new starters, it will still be one made up primarily of seniors. The Fliers also bring back senior Chris Parland at center, while seniors Braeden Bradforth and Zion Bolden have seized jobs as well. The fifth spot on the line is up for grabs.
Flood will also be a leader on the defense while playing either defensive end or outside linebacker depending on the formation. Bradforth will play defense as well, taking on one of the defensive tackle positions. Junior Sajjad Stathum is another defensive tackle who can serve as a noseguard when Neptune goes with three down lineman, while senior newcomer Kobe Blake has the size to play tackle and is also athletic enough to work at defensive end.
While the defensive line has some potential, the secondary is where Neptune houses most of its defensive depth. Best and junior John Burns will play the safety spots and Holman has a host of athletes to take on the cornerback position, as well as provide depth at safety. Bullock, Mabry, Brown, Williams and junior Hassan Worthy will all factor into the equation in the defensive backfield.
“Neptune always has a lot of speed, so we’re catering our defense toward that,” Flood said. “We want to put those guys in the best position to use that speed and get after the ball.”
“The safeties are more involved this year,” Best said. “Everybody is young, so we’re trying to call out reads and get everybody in the right spots. We’re just trying to lean on our strengths more.”
The group of linebackers will be less experienced than any other part of the Neptune team, particularly when Flood lines up at defensive end. Senior Elijah Owens will be a new starter, while sophomores John Gannon and Colton Kimmy have earned early looks, with Gannon shoring up a starting spot.
While the last two seasons have been disappointing seasons in the standings for Neptune, the Scarlet Fliers have remained competitive and will have a senior quarterback, plenty of speed and an accomplished head coach to help them try to turn some of the losses of the past two years into wins.
“It’s important for everybody to buy into what the coaches are telling us and so far that’s been a big positive so far,” Fairbanks said. “I think that’s been one of our problems the last two years. Guys weren’t all in, but this year I think guys are ready to go to battle and keep pushing to get better.”
Head Coach: Tarig Holman, first season
2016 Record: 3-7 (2-4 in Class A North)
Assistant Coaches: Brian Duffy, D.J. Catalano, Frank Iachetta, Ron Puryear, Nethanis Bean, Brandon Settles, Dallas Clem, Dan McHarris, Mysonn Leder, Dennis Tobin, Thomas Mandese
Big Shoes to Fill: The receiving corps
Kahmar Rice, Isaiah Calhoun and Marvin Morgan were the key producers in the passing game for Fairbanks last year and running back Malik Ingram moved over to Mater Dei after playing as a freshman for the Fliers last year. That means plenty of skill-position players will have to step up, particularly at receiver. Kevin Mabry, Da’jere Brown, Damir Williams and Nahzere Bullock have all competed hard early and have a chance to be reliable targets for their senior quarterback.
X-Factor: Chase Fairbanks, QB
A third-year starter at quarterback, the offense is going to lean heavily on Fairbanks to get the ball to the right spots on the field and keep the offensive moving in what Holman hopes will be a more up-tempo attack. With very few proven players coming back at the skill positions and the offensive line, Fairbanks will have to be on his game, but the Neptune staff can at least sleep well knowing Fairbanks’s experience gives him a good chance.
Glue Guy: Thomas Best, RB/DB
With a lot of senior skill players gone, Best is someone who can fill in a lot of different roles on a team, including running back. The senior will likely get a lot of carries, but he can also catch the ball and block as well. Defensively, he will be one of the leaders of the defense while playing safety.
Impact Newcomer: Kobe Blake, DL
Blake stuck to basketball in his first three years of high school before coming out to play football this summer. In his first high school season, Blake will line up on the defensive line and Holman expects he can make an impact on the inside or at defensive end.
Pivotal Game: Sept. 23 at Freehold Boro
Neptune beat Freehold Boro last year, but that was before Ashante Worthy was entrenched at quarterback. For the Scarlet Fliers to have a big year, the start of the season is going to be crucial for them, as they play Middletown North, Freehold Boro, Freehold Township and Howell during the first five weeks.