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On Nov. 15, 2014, the Keansburg football team marked its eighth straight loss to end a 1-9 season, but in reaching a low point to end the campaign, the Titans may have stumbled upon a solution to their problems heading into 2015.

In that final game of the season – a 41-32 loss to Manville in an NJSIAA consolation game – Arkeyel Brown carried the ball three times for 101 yards and three touchdowns, including a 75-yard burst. The senior is in line for his third positional change in as many years and this latest one is founded in past results.

After playing quarterback as a sophomore and moving out wide for most of his junior year, Brown is getting the nod as the team’s primary running back as it moves back to a flexbone offense after trying the Wing-T last year, with Brown in the backfield and returning senior quarterback Ian Terry back under center running the triple option.

“Any time we’re handing Arkeyel the ball, it’s an opportunity for a big play,” said first-year coach John Bird, who was the defensive coordinator under previous head coach Chris Damian. “We had moved him to running back for the last game of last season, and he had three big runs in our consolation game. If he sees a crease, he’s just going to outrun people.”

Senior Arkeyel Brown (center) will move from receiver to running back full time this year as Keansburg moves to a triple-option flexbone offense. (Photo by Matt Manley)

“I like it because it keeps me in the game mentally as well,” Brown said. “When you know you are getting the ball more, you have to be aware of what’s going on at all times, whereas at receiver, your mind can wander a little bit if you haven’t gotten the ball for a while.”

Terry took over at quarterback at the end of his sophomore year in 2013 and returns after playing his first full season under center, now working in a new offense with Brown lined up behind him.

“I think the offense is going to play to my strengths as a player and our strengths as a team,” Terry said. “I like to play a physical style of football as a quarterback. I like to put my head down and try to run people over, and I think this offense puts an emphasis on being physical and running downhill.”

In addition to moving its 6-4, 215-pound playmaker to the backfield, Keansburg also hopes to get a lift from an experienced offensive line that Bird expects to be both better and deeper than it was a year ago. That depth is being tested early on with junior lineman Richie Squeo in a walking boot due to a broken bone in his foot that leaves his status for week one questionable. Bird is hopeful that Squeo will only miss one week, if he misses a game at all.

With or without Squeo in week one, Keansburg will have a good dose of experience on the offensive line, with all five starters also factoring into the picture on the defensive line as well. Dan Bauman is the lone senior in the group and will also play one of the two defensive end spots in Keansburg’s new 4-3 look on defense. Juniors Isaac Monteiro, Dylan Ryan and Jarred Bell round out the rest of the line, with Ryan and Bell moving into fulltime action this season after getting a varsity taste last year.

Beyond Brown, Terry and its line, Keansburg will be somewhat inexperienced on the offensive side of the ball. Sophomores Justin Alessi and Julian Castell will both see time at wingback in the triple option and returning senior safety Danny Vital will also see time in the backfield.

Now that the Titans are committing to the flexbone, they are putting less emphasis on wide receivers and tight ends as pass-catchers and play-makers and more as part of the blocking scheme. According to Bird, there is an open competition for the receiver spots and he will lean toward the best blockers when the time comes to call a name and number.

“The quarterback and the running back are the two guys who are going to get the ball the majority of the time,” Bird said. “Our receivers are going to be blockers the majority of the time, so this will put the ball in Arkeyel’s hands almost half the snaps in a given game.”

Quarterback Ian Terry enters his second full year as the Keansburg starting quarterback. (Photo by Matt Manley)

One potential secret weapon on offense is sophomore Joey Osterbye, who took over as a starting inside linebacker last year as a freshman. Osterbye will again anchor the middle of Keansburg’s defense and is also taking reps in the backfield on offense as Bird hopes his toughness and feel for the game will translate wherever Osterbye plays.

“Osterbye was one of our core guys as a freshman, and we’re expecting him to be one of our leaders on defense,” Bird said. “He can do a lot of different things for us, and he’s another guy we’re going to find a spot for on offense and figure out how he can help us.”

“Last year, I was just happy to be playing on varsity and I had a lot to learn,” Osterbye said. “This year I had a full offseason to work out and get stronger so I feel like I’m more prepared now that I know what to expect.”

With the experienced line going both ways, Osterbye back at middle linebacker and Brown and Vital returning at safety, Keansburg has a strong defense down the middle of the field. Sophomore and Keyport transfer Miguel Crespo will play one of the outside linebacker spots and Terry will spend time on the other side. Castell and junior Kevin Rogers have the inside track at cornerback, which is where Keansburg will be its least experienced on defense.

Although the Titans will not be significantly deeper with respect to their overall varsity numbers, they will be an older team this year. Bird hopes that factor, plus a more line-oriented roster, will make the difference as his team tries to keep games close through the fourth quarter.

“We lost a lot of close games last year,” Bird said. “Even some of those games, we were close until the third quarter and then just ran out of gas. Depth is part of that and it’s going to be part of the equation again, unfortunately, but with guys having experience, I’m hopeful we can shut the door on some of these games or at least compete until the very end and that will translate into a better record.”

 

Head Coach: John Bird, first season

Career Record: 0-0

Assistant Coaches: Mike Morgan (Defensive Coordinator), Scott Cannon (OL/DL), Joe DeLiso (DB/RB/Special Teams), Brian Schwarz (LB/RB), Uriel Morfin (DL/WR/Special Teams), Nick Lorusso (WR/DB), Jesse Herbert (Dir. Football Operations), Kelli Hudson (Athletic Trainer)

2014 Record: 1-9 (0-5)

Big Shoes to Fill: Justin Alessi and Julian Castell

The Titans don’t have to replace too many seniors from a young 2014 roster, but they could use a lift in replacing Joe Rodriguez in the backfield and Dylan Alt and Pat Sullivan on defense. After some shifting on positions, wing back and cornerback are the two open spots that will most likely be young, and Alessi and Castell have looked the part in filling them, according to Bird.

X-Factor: Offensive Line Health

Injuries can ruin any team’s season, but they can be especially devastating for a Group I school. Junior linemen Richie Squeo and Dylan Ryan are already battling injuries, so getting healthy and contributing to a cohesive offensive line will be imperative if Keansburg is to make significant strides this season.

Glue Guy: Danny Vital, FB/LB

Bird does not know for sure where he will use Vital on offense, but he made it clear he needs to find a way to get him involved. On top of the offensive versatility, Vital will be a key piece to the defense as a safety alongside Brown.

Impact Newcomer: Dylan Ryan, OL/DL

Now slated for a full-time starting job on either side of the ball, Ryan will play guard and defensive tackle for a Titans squad that expects to be much better in the trenches now that they won’t be so young.

Pivotal Game: Nov. 7 at Keyport

Even if the rebuilding process stalls out over the first two months of the season, there is always redemption in the Keyport-Keansburg rivalry game – and that holds true for both teams.