On the surface it may seem like Brick has an uphill battle to climb with the graduation of several standout seniors, including all-time quarterback Carmen Sclafani. The reality, however, is the Green Dragons have plenty left in the cupboard to make a run at repeating as Class A South champs and making noise in the postseason.

“We’re actually really confident right now,” said senior Jordan Keefe. “Everyone expects we are going to be rebuilding. Carmen, Ray (Fattaruso), Ja’Quez (Johnson) were all great players, but I think people are going to be shocked this year when they see how much we reloaded.”

“The kids that were here during the state championship year have a chip on their shoulders, and the kids that weren’t want to prove themselves,” said new head coach Len Zdanowicz. “It’s a good thing.”

Among the changes are Zdanowicz taking over as head coach for Rob Dahl, who resigned after four seasons. Zdanowicz is a Brick graduate who played under legendary head coach Warren Wolf.

“It’s humbling, sitting in this spot where coach Wolf sat for 51 years,” Zdanowicz said. “It’s an honor, and it weighs on you too, because you want to uphold the tradition. To have this spot and this staff here is a great situation for me to be in right now.”

Former Long Branch and Brick Memorial head coach Fred Sprengel is now the offensive coordinator, and has installed a multiple pro offense. Senior Tom Zbranak takes over as the starting quarterback. It’s a tough spot to be in for Zbranak, who hasn’t played in two years and follows Sclafani, who led Brick to the 2013 NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV title and is one of the area’s best quarterbacks in the last 15 years.

“There’s no way he’s going to be able to do what Carmen did but we’re not asking him to,” Zdanowicz said. “He’s got a nice touch on the ball, and he has some competition behind him with junior John Prato pushing him. I’ve known Tommy since middle school, and he’s a kid that can come off sometimes like he doesn’t care, but inside he’s a true competitor.”

Brick senior Tom Zbranak (wearing red) takes over as a the Dragons' starting quarterback. (Photo by Bob Badders).

The Dragons have plenty of depth in the backfield, where juniors Dean Helstowski and Joe Woods and seniors Joe Sclafani and Corey Wilson will all see time at fullback. The starting tailback will be junior Jay Obenauer, who started a handful of games last season. Senior Octavian Battle and junior Rashon McCall will also see carries.

The tight end is senior Dan Finelli, a returning starter, with senior Nik Tartaglione backing him up. Junior Ja’Sir Taylor, a three-year varsity player, enters the season as one of the Shore Conference’s top receivers after earning SSN second-team All-Shore honors last year with 41 receptions for 569 yards and five touchdowns, while also rushing for four touchdowns.

Opposite him will be senior Javion Harris, who played at Toms River South last season before transferring to Brick during the school year. Senior Mike Begovich, senior Matt Schleifer, junior Brandon Williams and senior Shaun Smith will rotate in depending on the formation.

The engine that will drive the offense is a large and experienced offensive line. Keefe returns at left tackle, and since he also starts on defense, will be spelled at times by senior John Kozak, who also started some games last season. The left guard is senior Anthony Rusignuolo and the center is three-year starter Alex Trapasso. The right guard is senior Pasquale Altilio and the right tackle is senior Tyler Colonno. Junior Liam Poland and junior Jack Finelli have also been working at center and guard.

Brick senior defensive end Jordan Keefe. (Photo by Bob Badders).

“Our front five is all coming back as seniors and you look at Jackson Memorial last year with a senior line and what they did, and we think the sky is the limit,” Keefe said.

“You definitely need size and we have that,” Dan Finelli said. “We can match up with every team this year.”

Many of the same names will start on the other side of the ball in Brick’s 4-3 defense that allowed 14.6 points per game last season, which was eighth-best in the conference. Keefe is a returning starter at defensive end with Rusignuolo, who saw some time, and Tartaglione to rotate at the other spot. Dan Finelli is a returning starter at defensive tackle after a huge junior season in which he earned SSN second-team All-Shore honors with 88 tackles, including 22 for a loss, to go along with eight sacks.

Finelli's younger brother Jack, as well as Altilio, Colonno, senior Chris DiCerbo and sophomore Tyler Geisler are all slated to see some time along the line.

Brick’s aforementioned depth at linebacker includes Wilson, a returning starter, along with Helstowski, Sclafani, Woods, senior Tom Koepplinger and junior John Chelston.

In the secondary, the Dragons have Schleifer, Harris, Taylor and Williams working at cornerback with a deep rotation at safety that includes Prato, Battle, Obenauer, senior Tommy Costanza, junior Anthony Costanza and Smith.

“I think defense will be our strong point this year,” Finelli said. “People are overlooking us but we have a lot of experience.”

Either Harris or Tartaglione will be the kicker and punter.

Brick has easy motivation for its season opener as it faces arch rival Brick Memorial. The Dragons are also eager to get on the field and erase their final memory from last season, a 44-0 wipeout in the sectional semifinals at the hands of Jackson Memorial, which went on the win the Central Jersey Group IV championship.

“All you have to do is say '44' to these kids and they know right away,” Zdanowicz said. “They want to go out and make up for it.”

“The way last season ended no one can be comfortable,” Keefe said. “As soon as it ended we were right back to work, so it was pretty much football season right away. And for Brick Memorial too, we beat them 42-0 so they’re going to be fired up to play us. It’s the best game of the year and I can’t wait.”

 

Head Coach: Len Zdanowicz, first season.

Career Record: 0-0.

Assistant Coaches: Brian McNamara (def. coord.), Fred Sprengel (off. coord.), Chris James (RB), Dave Christopher (TE), Kevin Stockhoff (WR), Jared Kight (OL), Kurt Weiboldt (special teams), Chris Blackburn (DL), Donovan Brown (LB), Rob Brown (DB), Scott Lloyd (strength and conditioning), Don Marino (freshman head coach); Jason Groschel, Scott Karos, Dan Dornacke, Karl Rex (freshman asst.); Al Saner (offensive assistant); Jim Barber (athletic trainer).

2014 Record: 9-2 (7-0).

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Tom Zbranak, Sr., QB

No one is expecting Zbranak to step in and do what Carmen Sclafani did for two years at Brick, but there aren’t too many players more difficult to follow than Sclafani. Big shoes to fill is an understatement.

X-FACTOR: Offensive consistency

Brick’s defense looks like it will be a solid unit, so it will be up to the offense to find its identity and give the team the balance necessary to navigate Class A South.

GLUE GUY: Alex Trapasso, Sr., OL

The 6-foot-2, 255-pound senior is a three-way starter on the offensive line and anchors a unit that has plenty of size and experience.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Javion Harris, Sr., WR/DB

Harris gives Zbranak another weapon on the outside opposite Ja’Sir Taylor. His presence should relax coverage on Taylor and stretch the defense to create even more running room.

PIVOTAL GAME: September 12 vs. Brick Memorial

Brick has won the last two meetings in this intense rivalry, which still had fans lined up to get in at halftime last year. The winner starts 1-0 in the division and gets a boost of momentum that could carry them through the season.