A new offense and a daunting early-season schedule translated into an 0-3 start for Southern last season, but the Rams were able to win five of their next six games to get to the playoffs and set the tone for what they believe will be an even better 2017 season.

It took a while for Southern’s newly-installed Delaware Wing-T offense to gel last season, but when it did it produced wins over Jackson Memorial, Brick Memorial and Lacey to power a run to the South Jersey Group V playoffs. With a year of experience in the Wing-T, several returning starters and a 23-member senior class, the Rams are looking to challenge for the Class A South division title and return to the NJSIAA playoffs.

“The biggest problem, I feel, we had last year was just the way the schedule hit us,” said Southern head coach Chuck Donohue Sr. “We had a nice Central team and then a really good Toms River North team and a real good Manalapan team. With a new offense, executing against those teams was just hard to do. I feel we’re going to come out of the blocks much better than last year and be much more formidable.”

“With changing the offense last year it took a lot of adjustment,” said senior running back John Dolphin. “Once we got it down, and because we do have good depth at back, we’re able to run it pretty well.”

“Everybody didn’t hit their stride until a few games in and now we’re levels beyond that,” said senior Joe Miele.

Photo by Paula Lopez.

Southern averaged 20.2 points per game last season and returns six starters on offense. Twin brothers Joe and Vin Miele will split time at fullback while Dolphin and fellow senior Matt Barnett are back as the wing backs. Barnett ran for 607 yards and eight touchdowns last season while Dolphin had 602 yards and three touchdowns. Junior Dupreme Holland, a Barnegat transfer, and junior Pat Scully will also see time in the backfield.

The Rams’ new quarterback is senior Sean Distelcamp with junior Carmen Deo battling for playing time.

The tight ends are senior Nate Farina and junior J.T. Cornelius while the wide receivers are seniors Mike Martin and Billy McCallion with senior Hunter John and junior Schneider Juste also scheduled to see time.

Along with the stable of running backs, the offensive line looks to be a strength of Southern’s offense. Three starters return and the two new players were both starters on defense last year. Senior Dave Lowman is a returning starter at left tackle, senior Billy Rolenc is back as the starting center and senior Mike Levine returns to start at right tackle. Joining them will be senior Zach Otte at left guard and senior Matt Mackanic at right guard. Senior Ryan Goganzer could see time at tackle and senior Terrick Grace may play some snaps at guard.

Southern’s defense allowed 26.1 points per game last season and has not performed up to its standards over the past couple seasons. Getting that side of the ball turned around has been a major focus throughout the offseason.

“We haven’t been playing good defense the last couple years so my concerns are much more on that side of the ball,” Donohue said. “We have to fix that.”

Six starters return in the Rams’ 5-2 front with Otte and senior Derek Wilson back at defensive end along the line. The nose guard will be either Mackanic or sophomore Sebastian Cervetto, and the tackles are Grace, Rolenc, Levine and Lowman in a rotation.

Back as the starting inside linebackers are the Miele brothers with Scully and junior Joe Guglielmo backing them up. Dolphin and Barnett return as the starting cornerbacks, while juniors Luke Galan and Zack Hem are the safeties. Junior Robert Gunnell will see time at cornerback while Holland and McCallion should see snaps at safety.

“Our defensive expectations are much higher,” said Joe Miele. “I think we gave up a lot more points than we should have last year. I’m trying to take control as one of the returning linebackers to get us back to getting shutouts and holding teams to low scores every week.”

On special teams, Hem will be both the kicker and the punter.

The schedule is once again tough early with Central in Week Zero followed by Toms River North and Manalapan, but the Rams are much more equipped to be competitive week to week and avoid the pitfalls of last season.

“I think we’re ready,” Barnett said. “We made a playoff appearance last year and built momentum. We just want to keep working off that.”

“Ever since seventh grade this group has been together,” Joe Miele said. “We’re still focused, but I think this is going to be a fun year.”

Head coach: Chuck Donohue Sr., 20th season (44th overall).

Career record: 245-172-4.

Coaching staff: Matt Abbato (def. coord.); Andrew Beckett, C.J. Tomelden, Eric Fierro, Eric Sharkey, Dylan Larson; Joe Fleck, Dan Roy (freshmen); Evan Osborne (volunteers); John Kaszuba (Director of Football Operations); Rob Barrett, Jason Lister Dan Abbato (middle school); Nick Scaramazza, Art Margulies (athletic trainers).

2016 record: 5-5 (4-3).

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Zach Otte, Sr., OL and Matt Mackanic, Sr., OL

Both Otte and Mackanic are newcomers to the offensive line where last year Southern had All-Division selection Dylan Smith.

X-FACTOR: Defense

Southern’s offense turned the corner in the second half of last season to get the team to the playoffs. The defense was uncharacteristically porous last season and will need to get back to its stingy ways in order for the Rams to challenge for the Class A South title.

GLUE GUY: Joe Miele, Sr., FB/LB

Miele is a four-year starter who has seen a lot throughout his career. Not only is he the Rams’ most experienced player, he’s also one of their most talented.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Dupreme Holland, Jr., RB/DB

The Barnegat transfer will see time at running back and in the secondary.

PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 8 vs. Toms River North

Depending on what happens in Week 0 vs. Central, the Rams will either be trying to move to 2-0 or trying to get into the win column before facing top-ranked Manalapan. Either way it’s going to be a big game against the defending Class A South champions.

 

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.

Sign Up For The SSN Newsletter

Please fill out this form to sign up for the Shore Sports Network newsletter.