Football – Preseason Camp Preview: Class B South
With Shore Conference football camps set to get rolling in August, Shore Sports Network will take a look at each of the six divisions as we head into the preseason, wrapping up here with Class B South.
We will have in-depth previews of each team in the Shore Conference starting in mid-August as camps get underway.
CLASS B SOUTH
Who’s in, who’s out?: There were no changes to Class B South in the latest Shore Conference realignment. The only change is that Monsignor Donovan is now called Donovan Catholic.
Random fact: Barnegat has produced five FBS recruits in the past four seasons – senior offensive lineman Sam Madden (Wisconsin); senior linebacker Manny Bowen (Penn State); Boston College tight end Jarrett Darmstatter; quarterback Nick San Giacomo (committed to Tulane, transferred to Central Connecticut State), and tight end Ryan Morris (committed to Purdue, transferred to Villanova).
Returning All-Division players
Cinjun Erskine, Sr., QB, Barnegat (SSN 3rd team All-Shore pick)
Sam Madden, Sr., OL, Barnegat (3rd team All-Shore)
Datrell Reed, Sr., LB/DL, Lakewood
Joe Puggi, Sr., DL, Pinelands
Manny Bowen, Sr., WR/RB/LB, Barnegat (2nd team All-Shore)
Matt Castronuova, Sr., DB, Jackson Liberty (2nd team All-Shore)
Amir Tyler, Jr., LB, Lakewood (2nd team All-Shore)
Ricky Gerena, Sr., DB, Barnegat (3rd team All-Shore)
Xavier Young, Sr., OL/DL/P, Barnegat
Who will be the biggest challenger to Barnegat’s supremacy in the division?
It looks like it will be the team that handed them their one divisional loss last year – Lakewood. The Piners return a host of talent led by senior quarterback/linebacker Chapelle Cook, who has multiple FBS offers, as well as senior linebacker/defensive end Datrell Reed, an FCS prospect, junior linebacker Amir Tyler and senior Anthony Terry, another offensive weapon. Behind a veteran offensive line, Cook has moved to quarterback from tailback and will run the show in the new spread Wing-T system under new coordinator Len Zdanowicz. The Piners won their first state playoff game since 1986 last year and look to build off that to continue their remarkable rise after a decade in the wilderness. It all comes down to consistency, as the Piners have risen to the occasion to beat the likes of Barnegat, but lost to other teams they should have beaten. They also will receive a stern nondivisional test in defending Central Jersey Group II champion Rumson-Fair Haven, which beat the Weequahic team that knocked Lakewood out of the playoffs in the semifinals and could be a team they see again in the postseason.
They will try to topple a Barnegat team that won a school-record 10 games and reached its first state final in program history in addition to winning the division title last year. The Bengals boast one of the Shore’s top quarterbacks in Bucknell recruit Cinjun Erskine, one of the state’s best linemen in Wisconsin recruit Sam Madden, and one of New Jersey’s best linebackers in Penn State recruit Manny Bowen. While those are the big names, there are plenty of other key players returning, including senior defensive back Ricky Gerena, who picked off five passes last year, senior linebackers Tyler McGuiness (38 tackles) and Kevin Hoffman (38 tackles) as well as senior defensive lineman Xavier Young. McGuiness is also a punishing running back who rushed for 633 yards and 3 touchdowns last year, and he is complemented by speedy junior Paul Wickwire, who ran for 462 yards on an impressive 9 yards per carry as a sophomore. All the pieces are in place for a run at back-to-back division titles for the first time in program history as well as the team’s first state title, although that will be a dogfight as Barnegat was realigned into South Jersey Group II from Group III. The tough Group II bracket includes defending champion Haddonfield, runner-up Woodstown, perennial power West Deptford and small-school power Glassboro.
Can Central build on a solid first year under coach Willie Jacobs?
The Golden Eagles snuck up on some people last year and were right in the hunt for a piece of the division title until a disappointing finish left them at 5-5. They graduated prolific quarterback Marquis Drumright, who finished sixth in the Shore with 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns, as well as top running back Javon Hardy, who ran for 939 yards and 13 touchdowns, and their best wideout, Isaiah Akers (34 catches, 514 yards, 6 TDs) so that is a ton of production to replace. Senior Jordan Hardy gives them a weapon at wideout and seniors Nick Leone and Mike Yager combined for 382 yards rushing and five touchdowns out of the backfield last year, so those three will have to lead a unit with a lot of new faces this fall. Junior Mike Miserendino returns at linebacker for a defense that lost top pass rusher Jesse Brown but did have a lot of young players gain experience last year. If they can find a way to replace all that offensive firepower, another darkhorse run could be in the cards.
What team will be the surprise squad in the division?
Manchester and Donovan Catholic were hit pretty hard by graduation, so likely candidates look to be Point Boro, which had the bottom fall out last year in a 1-9 season, and Jackson Liberty, which battled a rash of injuries in finishing 4-6.
The good news for Point Boro is that after a rough season, the Panthers do have a healthy amount of experience coming back. Senior quarterback Jack Fitzsimmons returns after combining for 1,370 yards and 13 touchdowns between running and passing last year, and top wideouts Jax Wigert and Hayden Frey are also back. The two top rushers behind Fitzsimmons, Dan Nobbs and Gene Francheschini, also return, so the main loss on offense to graduation is top lineman Matt Gliddon. That group will have to improve on the 13 points per game it scored last year in order to get the Panthers back into their customary spot in the playoffs, and a defense led by Fitzsimmons at linebacker and Nobbs in the secondary will have to improve on the 28 points per game it surrendered last season. With that much experience back, particularly on offense, a program accustomed to being in the postseason has a shot to return. They also enter the year with some momentum after shocking playoff semifinalist Lakewood in their final regular-season game last year for their lone win.
Jackson Liberty returns star wide receiver/defensive back Matt Castronuova to build around after he made a team-high 67 tackles last season, ran for 210 yards, caught 11 passes and also played some quarterback. They will have to replace starting quarterback John Veneziano, who threw for over 1,000 yards as a senior last year, and leading rusher Bruce Almodovar also graduated. Other than Castronuova, the top returning rusher is junior Ryan Van Wickle, who had only 38 attempts as a sophomore. Leading receiver Brett Ribellino returns after making 23 catches for 251 yards and a pair of scores, senior Matt Pinto is also back after leading the team with 301 yards receiving and senior Tom Stoudt is back after 17 catches as a junior, so the receiving corps is experienced. Van Wickle is also a key returner on defense after making 44 tackles last year, but the Lions will have to replace a good chunk of their front seven lost to graduation on a unit that allowed 21 points per game last year. The Lions’ success will hinge on the improvement of an offense that struggled to find its rhythm last year because of injuries to average 14 points per game.
Donovan Catholic graduated starting quarterback Vinny Grasso (Monmouth University), top rusher Joey Fields (Central Connecticut State) and top wideout Kyle Carrington (Liberty University), so they have a lot of production to replace offensively at all the key skill position spots. Their top returner is junior David Calderon, who ran for 353 yards and four touchdowns on an eye-opening 9.8 yards per carry last year. They don’t return a single player who caught a pass last year. The defense will have to hold the fort in the early going while the offensive newcomers get up to speed, and the good news there is that senior linebacker Matt Post returns after making 101 tackles last year. Senior defensive lineman Nyeem Calhoun is also back up front after leading the team with 5 tackles for a loss last year. All in all, the Griffins will be breaking in a lot of new starters this year, which puts them behind the more experienced teams like Barnegat and Lakewood.
Manchester has a new head coach, Bill Furlong, and also has to deal with heavy graduation losses. The quarterback/wideout tandem of Devin Tomei and KaShaun Barnes graduated along with leading rusher Amani Richardson and the team’s other top playmaker, Shaquille Benjamin. Essentially, they are starting from scratch on offense with new players under Furlong because the offensive line also graduated the majority of its starters, so there will be an adjustment period there. The same goes for the defensive side, where leaders like Joe Bick and Nick Ientile also graduated, so this team will be featuring a host of new starters.
Can Pinelands translate improvement into more wins?
The Wildcats were the story of Week Two in the Shore Conference last year when they stunned Point Boro 16-13 in overtime to end a 22-game losing streak, which unfortunately turned out to be the high point of the season as they finished 1-9 under new coach Brian Wilkinson.
However, they were more competitive than they had been the previous two seasons, particularly offensively, and hope to build off those strides this year. The bad news is that most of the core players from that offense have graduated, including quarterback Dan MacPhee, and his brother, leading receiver Matt MacPhee, as well as leading rusher Shemar Gadson. One bright spot is that they bring back kicker Jon Kubricki, the hero of the Point Boro win, who booted five field goals last season. Defensively, they graduated standout Mike Yak at linebacker, and the MacPhees at cornerback, but they do return All-Division senior Joe Puggi on the defensive line, senior Ryan Bezak at safety, two-way lineman Dave DeFeo and Jake Stuerze and junior Jimmy Graham at linebacker. While there is some experience on defense, the newcomers on offense have to produce in order for the Wildcats to continue to rebuild.