No injury to a teammate is too grave to compel an athlete to give up on the rest of his team over the remainder of the season, and the returning members of the Wall football team are no exception. When projected senior starting quarterback Matt Cluley was injured in the season-opener, the Crimson Knights lost a dual-threat quarterback around whom the new offense was designed, but the rest of the team had no intention of mailing in the rest of the season.

In retrospect, the Crimson Knights players and coaches acknowledged that Cluley’s injury was likely a knockout blow to their season, even if they were not willing to concede it when it first happened. Wall had the look of a team primed for a big two-year stretch with a strong group of juniors and a standout senior quarterback, but that was put on hold the moment Cluley went down.

“It was tough losing (Cluley) at first but after a while it just felt like business as usual,” senior wide receiver R.J. Janeczek said. “We prepared to play every week with the expectation we were going to win. There’s no doubt it threw us off but we just tried to keep going.”

Wall junior quarterback Eddie Scott returns with more experience this season. (Photo by Matt Manley)

While last year turned out to be a lost, 3-7 campaign, the Crimson Knights will pick up where they expected to this season and will do so with a junior starting quarterback in Eddie Scott who is far more experienced and polished than he would have been had Cluley played an entire, healthy season. He will be surrounded by a senior-heavy core and a roster with 18 seniors in all.

“As a coach, you always look to prepare for the week ahead and try to figure out a way to help your team win,” Wall coach Dan Curcione said. “It never feels good when you see a player like Matt go down and I think it kind of shocked us from the beginning to lose him. If there is a positive, it forced Eddie to play a year earlier than he would have and even though I didn’t look at last year as a chance to build for this year, that’s kind of what it became and I think we’re farther along now than we would have been.”

Wall returns playmakers all around the offense and a strong offensive line to pave the way. Senior wide receiver R.J. Janeczek will be Scott’s top target, while junior Chevesse Covin will be equally dangerous as a receiving threat. Senior Shane Richey and senior tight end Gene Scott are also experienced all-around players and will add to the arsenal of options for Eddie Scott.

“The biggest difference with Eddie is he is stepping up as a leader,” Janeczek said. “He did some good things throwing the ball last year, but he was young and just trying to learn. He’s a more confident player this year and he’s helping guys more this year now that he’s more comfortable doing his job."

Wall senior receiver R.J. Janeczek. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Senior Sean Larkin is back as the feature back running behind senior fullback Colton Murdza. With a more refined passing game for his team, Curcione hopes Larkin and fellow backs sophomore Kamaal Cofer and junior Brady McNally will find more running room.

In charge of creating that running room will be an experienced offensive line that boasts five returnees. Senior Mike Andrejco anchors the line with senior twins Darryl and Darryin Valme, with Darryl and Andrejco playing guard on opposite sides. Darryin Valme is the right tackle opposite fellow senior tackle Sean Ferguson, while senior Ryan Venice lines up at center. With a rare all-senior line that boasts a number of potential all-division lineman, Wall should be able to protect Scott and pave the way for Larkin to have a stellar season.

“The line is definitely a big strength on the team,” Andrejco said. “We are all seniors, we’ve all been building toward this year and we’re all hungry and it’s been showing every day in practice.”

“It’s just a great feeling seeing everybody back,” Valme said. “I think we did some good things last year but losing the games we did just motivated us to work harder in the offseason and now, it’s the same group but even better.”

Wall senior lineman Darryl Valme. (Photo by Matt Manley)

The offense will also hope to benefit from the second season running the system of coordinator Chip LaBarca, Jr. After running the offense of a state championship Brick team and also having success at Toms River North before that, LaBarca joined the Wall staff last year with an eye on helping Cluley and the Crimson Knights reach the next level. With another year to learn LaBarca’s offense and a healthy quarterback running it, Wall’s expectations are higher.

“It’s good being in the second year of the offense, because there is a lot of stuff to learn, but it did change a little bit when Matt got hurt,” Larkin said. “I definitely think we’ll be throwing the ball this year and that should give us a little more balance.”

“We put in an offense designed around when Matt can do so when he got hurt, it obviously threw things off,” Curcione said. “This year, we came in knowing it was going to be different, so I think the comfort level is going to help.”

On the defensive side, Wall will run out most of its offensive personnel to make up its 3-4 base defense. Andrejco, Ferguson and Darryin Valme will rotate at the two defensive end spots, while senior Matt Biegert will start at nose tackle with Darryl Valme also working in.

Senior Kyle Dallicardillo, junior Tim McKernan and senior Andrew Chapman will man the linebacker spots, with Gene Scott rounding out the starting corps. Larkin and Richey, meanwhile, will give the Knights a steady duo at safety with Janeczek and senior Mike Capra on either corner and sophomore Dylan Richey spelling them. Dylan Richey is also working in as the second quarterback and Curcione indicated he would feel comfortable if he ended up playing in live action.

“I really think our defense is going to be our strength,” Larkin said. “We have 10 guys who have started so the expectations are high. We also have Tim McKernan, who is a young linebacker who has been stepping up and really surprising us so far. It’s pretty hard to find a weakness right now.”

The current seniors might have wanted to make a legitimate run at a state title as juniors last year and put together a two-year run, but even with last year’s effort never getting off the ground, Wall can still make up for lost time with its senior-heavy bunch this season.

“We’ve been saying all offseason, ‘Now is the time,’” Andrejco said. “Last year was last year. Now most of us are seniors and it’s time to win.”

RELATED: Wall 2016 football schedule 

Head Coach: Dan Curcione, third season.

Career Record: 6-13.

Assistant Coaches: Chip LaBarca, Mike Ceminaro, Tony Grandinetti, Bob Grace, Derek Gardner, Fred Sprengel, Tim Heaney, Joe Trezza, Bill Carasia, James Cadigan, Joe LaFerlita, Jim Rochford, Bill Pietsch, Cody Smith, Mike Galos, Cody Smith, Matt McDonough, Mike Eberhardt (Athletic Trainer)

2015 Record: 4-6 (2-4)

Big Shoes to Fill: Eddie Scott, Jr., QB

This is a bit of a stretch because Scott had to fill the shoes of Matt Cluley a year early. Now that he knows he is the quarterback, Scott will look to elevate his game and take his team along with him.

X-Factor: Chevesse Covin, Jr., WR

Covin scored three touchdowns in a win over Manasquan to close out the year, flashing his potential and making Wall a potential headache for defenses trying to stop both him and R.J. Janeczek.

Glue Guy: Sean Larkin, Sr., RB/DB

A senior-heavy team like Wall has boasts plenty of indispensable leaders like Larkin, Andrejco, Janeczek and the Valme twins, but Larkin stands out as a player who will carry the ball frequently and also play almost every down at safety.

Impact Newcomer: Kamaal Cofer, So., RB

Wall will live and die with its seniors and experienced returnees, but Cofer has earned some consideration as a sophomore running back who can spell Larkin, even when the game is still in the balance.

PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 9 at Ocean

The Crimson Knights open their season on the road against the No. 7 Spartans, who figured to compete for the division title. How Wall looks here should be a good indicator for the season.

 

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