Football: Making Progress: 2015 Howell Football Preview
After experiencing some growing pains during the first year under head coach Luke Sinkhorn, Howell is looking to take strides forward this season with a handful of starters returning on both sides of the ball.
When Sinkhorn took over last season, his main focus was switching the mindset of a finesse team to a physical, hard-nosed squad. The Rebels finished 2014 with a 3-7 record, but closed strong with wins in two of their final three games.
“As a whole they have a year of knowing where we’re coming from, but it still takes time to change,” Sinkhorn said. “There are less Xs and Os to teach this year but more culture and philosophy. We want to grind it out more and be more hard-nosed.”
“The biggest thing is working on our physicality,” said senior Noah Powell. “In previous years we didn't play tough enough. What we want to be known for this season is playing hard in the fourth quarter and being hard-hitting.”
The Rebels’ multiple spread offense aims for balance, and will be led by senior Mark Iacobino, who threw for 605 yards and four touchdowns last season. He is being pushed by sophomore Eddie Morales. The fullback is also a returning starter in senior Mike Reilly and the tailback is junior Mekai Gandy.
Senior Nic Rossi is a returning starter at wide receiver after catching 14 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns last season. He is joined by senior Nick Chianca.
The offensive line will have five new starters. Senior Conor Devine is the left tackle, junior Michael Ioannides is the left guard, senior Carson Mitchell is the center, junior Eric Keosseian, a standout wrestler, is the right guard and Powell is the right tackle.
“We lost our entire line so the skill positions on both sides of the ball are going to have to be good for us,” Sinkhorn said. “We’re going to rely on them.”
Defensively, Howell will use a 4-3 base alignment and try to improve upon allowing 29.2 points per game last season. Keosseian and Ioannides are the defensive tackles and Devine and Powell, a returning starter, are the defensive ends.
The strength of the defense is in the middle as all three linebackers are returning starters. Junior Dan Cacciatore is the middle linebacker and Reilly and junior Bobby Cavallero are the outside linebackers.
“The defense has to bring the mentality and set the tone,” Reilly said.
“We need defensive consistency,” Cacciatore added. “We have to play with a hard mentality.”
Rossi is the lone returning starter in the secondary from his free safety position. Gandy is the strong safety and Chianca and senior Dave Galarza are the cornerbacks. On special teams, Ioannides will be the punter and sophomore Patrick Handy will be the kicker.
The challenge for Howell will be to continue to forge its identity while breaking in new players along the offensive and defensive lines. Playing in Class A North with the likes of state championship contenders Manalapan and Middletown South, a constantly improving Middletown North program and an upstart Freehold Township team won’t make it easy.
Head coach: Luke Sinkhorn, 2nd season (7th overall).
Career record: 28-33.
Assistant Coaches: Bob Mussari (OL/LB); Ryan Klusewicz (special teams/WR/LB); Joe Migliore (RB/DB); Joe Santopietro (off. coord./QB/DB); Zac Cooper (RB/DL); Chris Provow, Shane Baldwin, Matt Wingo (freshmen); Amy Ghione (athletic trainer).
2014 Record: 3-7 (1-5).
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Mekai Gandy, Jr., RB
Gandy is now the starting running back after the graduation of Jarvis Leaks, who led the Rebels with over 1,000 total yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
X-FACTOR: The offensive line
The Rebels will have five new starters along the offensive line. How they turn out will have a major impact on how efficient Howell’s offense will be.
GLUE GUY: Noah Powell, Sr., OL/DL
A two-way starter, Powell gives the Rebels good size at 6-foot-3. He is the lone returning starter along the defensive line and will be counted on to lead that unit.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Eric Keosseian, Jr., OL/DL
A standout wrestler for the Rebels, Keosseian brings his athleticism and strength to both the offensive and defensive lines.
PIVOTAL GAME: September 12 at Colts Neck.
Getting a win under their belts to open the season wold be big for the Rebels’ confidence. Colts Neck is in a similar situation coming off a tough season and with a first-year head coach.