Football – Ready for Flight: 2015 Monmouth Regional Football Preview
Even with arguably the top wide receiver in the Shore Conference last year, the Monmouth Regional football team was not able to push to the .500 mark during the 2014 season. So why are the Falcons optimistic that 2015 has a chance to be a breakout season for the program despite the loss of starting quarterback Jimmy Green and first-team All-Shore wide receiver Isaiah Searight?
“This is the first year we really have the kind of team that I want to have,” head coach Rich Mosca said. “We had some good players in my first two years back, but this is the first year where we have some talent, and we have the numbers we need. There’s a good balance that wasn’t really fully developed last year.”
Now in his third season of his second stint as the Falcons head coach, Mosca likes the makeup of this year’s team even as the offense enters a new frontier without the dominant receiver. Although August is a time for optimism for high school teams throughout the country, there is reason to trust Mosca’s eye when it comes to rebuilding teams.
“My history has been to take over teams that haven’t won, get them back to a respectable level, then leave,” said Mosca, who also coached at Middletown South and took over a Monmouth program that had lost 18 straight games in the early 1990s and led them to a .500 record. “Whether it’s been college or high school, I really like going through that process of building a program back up, and the reality is, there was a lot of work that needed to be done here. A few years ago, we barely had 30 kids come out and now, we are up around 70, so it’s definitely moving in the right direction.”
The Falcons are moving forward with a different look on offense without Searight and Green, now relying on a more experienced offensive line and a run-heavy approach. After trying to go over the top and around defenses last year and hoping its defense could hold down the fort, Monmouth will now look to challenge teams at the point of attack and keep its defense off the field a little longer.
Senior captain and left tackle Tyler Gallagher returns as the leader on the offensive line and seniors Cross Canella, Jodel Bonhometre and Naazim Mills all return with experience as well. Seniors Quintin Sledge and Ciaran Hoffman-Francis have also impressed the coaching staff after coming back out for the team this season. Sledge has not played since going out for the team as a freshman and Hoffman-Francis did not play last year, according to Mosca.
“Last year, our experience was at receiver and quarterback and those guys had to carry the offense, but this year, the offensive line is going to be a strength of the team,” Gallagher said. “We’re bigger and stronger across the board, we have more depth and everyone is a year better.”
Junior Casey Pachucki moves from a part-time running back to quarterback this season and will be as much of a running threat as any of Monmouth’s many options in the backfield. Senior tailback Ely Velez was the feature back a year ago and figures to shoulder the bulk of the running duties this year, but will have a capable change-of-pace option in senior Frank Ashe as a complement.
“It’s definitely noticeable,” Velez said of the difference in the offensive line. “There is a lot of competition, practices are physical and guys are hungry. It’s kind of the last piece of the puzzle for us, and it’s definitely making life easier for the guys carrying the ball.”
Although Monmouth will be more equipped to pound the ball this season, the Falcons still have a number of options in the passing game should offensive coordinator Dan Wendel want to turn Pachucki loose. Senior captains Justin Trapp and Malik Wiggins are back at wide receiver and juniors Elijah Walker and Omar Steward will both have a chance to contribute at receiver as well, along with senior Ethan Hoffman-Francis. Senior Matt Mooney will slide in at tight end to round out the receiving corps.
Even with some new personnel on board, Monmouth is looking to take a step forward offensively. Despite some dynamic playmakers, the Falcons did not top 30 points after beating Holmdel 39-37 in the season opener and ended the season averaging 16.1 points per game, which was in the bottom half of the Shore Conference.
“We’re going to be more balanced,” Trapp said. “We’re going to have a better run game, and we’re not going to have to go right to the passing game right off the bat.”
The Falcons defense, meanwhile, held its own two years ago and let a pair of games against St. John Vianney and John F. Kennedy-Iselin get out of hand last year while attaining mixed results. Mills will anchor the middle of the defensive line as a defensive tackle, while Mooney and Ashe play on either end of the line.
The group of linebackers is also a deep one, led by Pachucki, Velez, senior Trenton Sartor and senior Alonzo Finch. With Pachucki and Velez playing key roles on the offense, that depth will come in handy to help spell the pair of two-way talents.
Wiggins and Trapp return after getting plenty of reps last year for a secondary that will have to replace standout Daryl Gamble. Steward and Walker form an athletic safety tandem that will have to make up for the loss of Searight on the defensive side of the ball.
“I learned a lot from guys like Isaiah and Daryl Gamble and I feel like everybody has been putting those lessons to work so far during the preseason,” Wiggins said. “There has been a really good vibe in practice, especially on defense. I definitely think we’re going to be a much better team on defense.”
Mosca and company have little doubt that the team is improved, but navigating through the Shore Conference Class A Central division will test every team in the division, particularly one trying to make that leap that Monmouth is. The schedule includes two defending NJSIAA sectional champions (Matawan and Rumson-Fair Haven), a 10-1 St. John Vianney team with a returning Division I quarterback in Anthony Brown and an improving Raritan team that reached the NJSIAA playoffs last year as well.
Throw in a tradition-rich Manasquan program hungry to bounce back from a 3-7 season and a Holmdel team under the direction of accomplished new coach Greg LaCava and there will not be any breaks for the Falcons as they try to climb the A Central ladder and push into the state playoffs.
“Every game is tough, but I like that and I’m trying to send the message to our guys that we should welcome the challenge, and I really see them responding,” Mosca said. “You’ve got to be on top of your game every Friday night or Saturday afternoon, and even though we haven’t won as many games as we’d like, the kids are learning how to compete every week. The level of enthusiasm is great, and with the right attitude and with the numbers we now have, the results are going to come.”
Head Coach: Rich Mosca, 9th season
Assistant Coaches: Dan Wendel (Off. Coor./QB/DL), Jason McQuay (RB/LB/JV), Tom D’Ambrisi (WR/DB), Justin McGhee (OL/DL), Zach Baltz (Special Teams/WR/DB), Joe Nappi, Joe Yglesias (Freshman), Kevin Egan (Volunteer)
2014 Record: 3-7 (1-5)
Big Shoes to Fill: Justin Trapp, Sr., WR/CB
Monmouth must replace an All-Shore receiver in Isaiah Searight, who was also a top defender at safety and a team leader, and Trapp will assume a lot of that responsibility, if not all of the gaudy numbers put up by the Fordham freshman.
X-Factor: Casey Pachucki, Jr., QB/DB
Pachucki is a much different kind of quarterback than Jimmy Green was for the Monmouth in each of the last two years, but brings a hard-nosed, physical approach to the position that also serves him well at linebacker.
Glue Guy: Malik Wiggins, Sr., WR/CB
At 5-foot-8 and about 150 pounds, Wiggins is hardly the biggest guy on the field, but he was chosen as a senior captain thanks to a tireless motor and his upbeat attitude at practice. Wiggins will start at cornerback and move between the slot and out wide as a receiver.
Impact Newcomer: Quintin Sledge, Sr., OL
Sledge did not play as a sophomore or a junior but came back out this season and has impressed the coaching staff despite some understandable rust. He is in line to start on a more experienced offensive line.
Pivotal Game: Sept. 19 vs. Manasquan
Monmouth missed out on an opportunity to improve to 2-0 when it lost at Manasquan in Week Two of last season. If the Falcons can again get by Holmdel on opening night, they would have another shot at a 2-0 start with Manasquan standing in the way. For a team with a back-loaded schedule looking to establish itself, a fast start is basically a must.