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There was a time when losing was commonplace at Point Beach, but those days are now long behind the Garnet Gulls. Now losing is unacceptable, and even a 5-5 season is viewed as a down year.

Things are much different these days under head coach John Wagner, as the Garnet Gulls are only two years removed from a state championship. Youth and injuries were major factors in Point Beach falling to 5-5 in 2014, which included losing its last three games. Now with several starters returning, including a heavy rotation of experienced linemen, the Gulls are looking to get back to their winning ways.

“Last year we ended up 5-5 and now by Beach standards that’s not what we’re looking for, and that’s a great thing,” Wagner said. “The best thing about playing mostly sophomores and juniors is next season they’re juniors and seniors, and that’s where we are right now.”

The Gulls will have several news starters at the skill positions in their Delaware Wing-T offense, but, in a reversal from last season, will be loaded with experience and depth along the offensive line. Five players who either started or saw time return as the core of what will be an eight- or nine-man rotation.

As per Wagner’s philosophy, there are no set positions. Instead, each player knows each position along the line, making them interchangeable. The returners are senior John Wagner (no relation to the coach), senior Kevin Barry, junior Matt Zuhowski, senior Forrest Gardner and junior Cade Watkins. Add in senior James Liotta and junior Cody Liguori along with reserves Joe Longo, a senior, and junior Jon Ricciardi, and it’s easy to see why Point Beach is excited about what it has up front.

Senior Forrest Gardner is one of several returning starters along the offensive line for Point Beach. (Photo by Bill Normile).

“We’re excited about what we have coming back because it makes what we want to do on offense a heck of a lot easier,” Wagner said.

“Last year Kevin Barry and I were the only returning starters on the line, and now with everyone coming back a year smarter and stronger it gives us confidence,” Gardner said. “We’ll give better opportunities to our young running backs to make plays.”

The tight end will be senior Tanner Smith, with junior Connor Kells also seeing time there.

“My freshman year we had a huge offensive line, and the same thing my sophomore year when we won the state championship,” Smith said. “Now we have everyone coming back on both sides of the ball. We’re big and experienced.”

Filling the void left by the graduation of three-year starting quarterback Jake Fioretti will be the combination of sophomores Luke Frauenheim and John Nista. Both will also see time at halfback along with junior Declan Conway and sophomores Chris Webber and Sean Gould. The fullback will be junior Miles Shea, who saw some time last season.

The 6-foot-2 Kells is a returning starter at wide receiver along with 6-foot-2 senior Ryan Sheehan. Sophomore Josh Yates, junior Colby Boylan and junior Ryan Sloan will also be in the mix.

“Even though we had (Joe) Wegrzyniak and (Mike) Frauenheim at running back, we had a younger line and couldn’t open the holes for them,” Gardner said. “This year with everybody back it’s going to make a big difference.”

As usual in Group I football, the Gulls will use a one-platoon system with each player going both ways. On defense, Point Beach will use a four-man front with a heavy rotation along the defensive line that mirrors what it does on the offensive side of the ball. The defensive ends are Zuhowski and Smith, the latter of whom recorded 67 tackles and six sacks last season. The interior linemen are all interchangeable with Gardner, Watkins, Liguori and Wagner in a rotation.

Senior Tanner Smith recorded 67 tackles and six sacks at defensive end last season. (Photo by Bill Normile).

Webber and Frauenheim are both returning starters at linebacker with Barry, who started last season at defensive end, moving to linebacker. The other linebacker spot will be filled by Nista, Gould or Ricciardi.

The secondary will have multiple players at both cornerback and safety with Kells and Sheehan as returning starters. Yates, Sloan, Boylan and Conway will also be in the rotation.

“Our philosophy is simple,” Wagner said. “We tell the kids the toughest position to play is defensive back. We don’t want kids having to cover people in space so we go after teams with different things up front, that’s our game. We’re a gap control defense, and when you stay in your lanes good things happen.”

“Our defensive goal is usually around nine stops a game,” Watkins said. “Our offensive line is older and that makes our defensive line seasoned, too. The linebackers we have can come up and fill a hole one-on-one with a running back.”

Participation numbers also continue to rise at Point Beach. The program now stands at 56 players. Three years ago there were just 28.

Most of Point Beach’s skill players are unknowns entering the season, but it may not be that way for long.

“I feel some teams are looking at us like we won’t even do as well as last year, but they don’t know some of the younger kids could be lethal weapons for us,” Gardner said.

After experiencing a state championship two seasons ago, those players who were either freshmen or sophomores are eager to bring Point Beach a second title. They saw it accomplished with their own eyes and know what it takes to get to that level. Now it’s their turn to go for gold.

“We’ve seen good teams and bad teams at Point Beach, so we know what it means to be successful,” Smith said. “We’re just trying to bring everybody together and make it all work.”

“I feel like me and all the juniors that were part of that state championship team as freshmen but really weren’t a part of it, you want to be on that field giving your blood for that trophy,” Watkins said. “We’re as hungry as ever.”

 

Head Coach: John Wagner, 5th season (30th overall).

Career Record: 33-11 (183-103-2 overall).

Assistant Coaches: Jeff Bower (RB/DB); Rich DelDuca (OL/DL); Bill Evans (WR/DB); Brandon Neary (OL/DL/freshmen); Paul Struncius (QB); Mike McGee (LB/freshmen); Josh Seip (team manager); Cali Whedon (athletic trainer); Dr. Joseph Mannion (team physician).

2013 Record: 5-5 (3-2).

 

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Luke Frauenheim, So., QB and John Nista, So., QB

Whether it’s one or both in a platoon playing quarterback for the Garnet Gulls they will be replacing three-year starter Jake Fioretti, who knew the playbook inside and out and was a member of Point Beach’s only NJSIAA sectional championship team.

X-FACTOR: Staying healthy.

While Point Beach’s numbers are very good for a Group I team, injuries to crucial players could derail its season very quickly.

GLUE GUY: Tanner Smith, Sr., TE/DE

Smith’s six sacks last season don’t seem overwhelming until you factor in the amount of chances he likely had against a schedule that heavily features teams that almost exclusively run the ball. He will be a big, athletic body on both sides of the ball that other teams have to account for.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Sean Gould, So., RB/LB

Point Beach will play many sophomores and even some freshmen, so anyone could end up playing a surprisingly big role. For now Gould is penciled in to contribute both in the backfield and at linebacker.

PIVOTAL GAME: Oct. 30 vs. Shore

As has been the case recently, Shore and Point Beach figure to be the top two teams in Class B Central, meaning this game has a great chance to be for the division title.