Football – Jags Swag: 2015 Jackson Memorial Football Preview
When last season began, most people had an idea Jackson Memorial was going to be a pretty good football team. Few could have envisioned the monster the Jaguars transformed into on their way to claiming the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV title and finishing No. 2 in New Jersey.
One year later, despite the graduation of some key cogs, the Jaguars' goals haven’t changed. They want to dominate everyone in their path during the 2015 season.
“The kids know that the division we play in there’s no let up week-to-week, and even in the scrimmage schedule we try to get some of the best teams around the state,” said head coach Walt Krystopik. “They know what the goals are, and they get used to having to compete every week.”
The Jaguars offense averaged 35.3 points per game last season behind its beastly offensive line and produced a pair of 1,000-yard rushers for the first time in program history. Only one starter returns from the offensive line, but it is senior right tackle Dylan Smith. A 6-foot-3, 295-pound mauler, Smith has been dominant during training camp and scrimmages and will anchor the unit.
“A lot of people I can tell already look up to me,” Smith said. “Hearing other teams say we have only one lineman back motivates us as a group and gets us fired up. Everything I do, all the hard work I learned from Brody (Graham), Brad (Greenway), Tyler Rauch, I just want to follow in their footsteps and continue to win.”
“During spring track season Brody Graham (first-team SSN All-Shore selection and now at the University of Pennsylvania) led him along,” Krystopik said. “His goal was if Brody cleaned or squatted a certain amount of weight, he wanted to match it. Now the roles have changed and the guys are out there following him. He’s not the most vocal guy or a rah-rah player, but he leads by putting guys on their backs.”
Alongside Smith will be senior Austin Ostrander (275 pounds) at right guard and senior Chris Mondello (255 pounds) at center. Working at left guard has been junior Sean Martin (220 pounds), who has also worked at center, and junior Larry Richardson (225 pounds). Junior Mitch Mills (6-foot-3, 255 pounds) is at left tackle. Sophomores Joe Hurle and Devin Martinez are in the mix at guard and tackle, respectively.
“Me and Vinny both know we’re going to get the touches, and running behind the big guys is great,” said junior running back Mike Gawlik.
Gawlik and Vinny Lee are the centerpieces of the Jaguars’ multiple offense after each ran for over 1,000 yards last season. Lee, a senior, ran for 1,025 yards and 15 touchdowns while Gawlik, a junior, ran for 1,165 yards and 21 touchdowns. Each had 159 carries. They enter the season as the Shore Conference’s most dynamic backfield tandem and among the best one-two combinations in the state.
“We’re going to keep the same mentality we had last year,” Gawlik said. “We’ll just come to work hard and come out successful every time.”
“It’s such a relief having players like Vinny Lee and Mike Gawlik in the backfield,” Smith said. “We know they are capable of breaking an 80-yard touchdown run on any play. We’re confident they are two of the best backs in the state.”
“We’ll always have fresh legs and won’t have to worry about wearing one guy down,” Krystopik said. “Both will have to play defense but will also have expanded roles. There will probably be times when they’re both on the field at the same time where last year it was one or the other.”
The tight ends are 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior Tyler Towns and senior Nick Papandrea. Senior Adante Davis is the fullback. At wide receiver the Jaguars bring back big-play threat Kyle Johnson, a senior, who caught 16 passes for 364 yards and two touchdowns last season. Seniors Kyle Lona and Jared Calhoun join Johnson in the receiving corps.
The task of distributing the ball will fall on the shoulders of junior quarterback Dan Barker, who takes over for two-year starter Joe DeMaio. Barker has good size at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds and showed flashes of his potential by leading the Jaguars to the Shore Conference 7-on-7 championship over the summer.
“We just have to get Dan to eliminate his mistakes and trust his reads,” Krystopik said. “We can’t hurt ourself, and he has guys around him in Vinny Lee, Mike Gawlik and Kyle Johnson.”
“He has great size and a very accurate arm so we’re excited,” Smith said.
The Jaguars were equally as stout defensively in allowing 14.5 points per game, which was seventh best in the Shore Conference last season. Their 4-3 alignment starts up front with Towns as a returning starter at defensive end and Ostrander as a returning starter at defensive tackle. Senior Nick D’Amore will start at the other defensive end position while Richardson, Smith and Martin will each rotate in at defensive tackle.
Davis returns as a starter and will be at middle linebacker with Papandrea and senior Connor Testa working as strongside linebackers. Junior Zack Lubertazzi, who played as a sophomore and started one game in the state playoffs, will be the weakside linebacker.
Lee will play on defense this year as a starting cornerback and will be joined by Calhoun. Both safeties are returning starters in Gawlik and Johnson. Gawlik was excellent in the secondary last season with 106 tackles and three interceptions. Lona will serve as a utility player in the secondary.
Calhoun is a three-year starter as the team’s kicker and punter. Johnson and Lee will be the punt returners and Gawlik will handle the kickoff returns.
After an incredible run to a state title last season the Jaguars are primed to do it again with a loaded backfield and size along the offensive line. They have some new pieces to break in, but that was also the case last season. They don’t see any reason why they can’t have a similar year.
“Everyone is out here to work hard and nobody wants to get away from the legacy we had last year,” Lee said. “Everyone still wants to make a name for themselves, and it’s time to prove it.”
Head Coach: Walt Krystopik, 5th season.
Career Record: 30-13.
Assistant Coaches: Jeff Brown (OL): Tony Compitello (WR); Keith Anderson (RB); Corey Lavin (off. coord./QB); Tom Bradley (DL); Chris Rash (OLB); Mike Smith (ILB); Vincent Mistretta (DB); Nicole Figaro (athletic trainer).
2014 Record: 11-1 (6-1).
BIG SHOES TO FILL: The new offensive line starters
Jackson’s offensive line was incredibly dominant last season, so with only Dylan Smith returning it will be up to the other four to step in and insure the Jaguars' power offense doesn’t miss a beat.
X-FACTOR: Quarterback play
Junior Dan Barker won’t have to do it all with plenty of weapons around him, but he’ll need to manage the offense and take advantage in the passing game when his number is called.
GLUE GUY: Mike Gawlik, Jr., RB/DB
Gawlik came out of nowhere as a sophomore to run for over 1,100 yards and 21 touchdowns while making 106 tackles on defense. He’s a typical Jackson player in that he plays much bigger than his 5-foot-9, 170-pound frame.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Dan Barker, Jr., QB
Barker has a lot to live up to in following Joe DeMaio, but showed he is the man for the job by leading the Jaguars to the Shore Conference 7-on-7 championship and impressing during preseason scrimmages.
PIVOTAL GAME: Oct. 9 at Toms River North
The Mariners enter the season loaded with returning starters and are being picked by some to win the Class A South title. The Jaguars will surely have something to say about that when they meet in early October.