Football: Their Time to Shine: 2016 Middletown North Preview
Coming off a banner season that saw the program capture its first state playoff victory in 15 years, Middletown North is ready to take its game to the next level behind a talented and experienced class led by one of the Shore Conference’s best quarterbacks.
The Lions have high expectations this year coming off a 7-4 season that included a run to the NJSIAA sectional semifinals in North 2, Group IV. Standing in their way last season was crosstown rival and the No. 1 team in the state, Middletown South, but Lions are ready to come back strong and go for both division and state titles in 2016.
“We feel like we’ve made strides and we want to keep taking steps to win a division championship and win the states,” said Lions head coach Steve Bush. “The kids are going to go after that.”
Middletown North has five returning starters in its spread offense, which was one of the most productive in the Shore Conference last season in averaging 25.3 points per game, and returns most of its key components. It starts at quarterback with senior Donald Glenn, a four-year starter who is committed to Wagner College. Glenn threw for just under 2,000 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, and figures to be among the Shore’s very best.
“He has done a great job and handled everything very well,” Bush said. “The whole thing has slowed down for him and he sees the field very well. He is an accurate thrower and has not just a good understanding of our offense, but of opposing defenses and coverages and fronts. We’re expecting big things from him.”
“I think playing freshman year helped me out a lot,” Glenn said. “At the same time, coach Bush has really helped me out all four years. The players around me, we have chemistry from playing together since Pop Warner.”
Also returning is Glenn’s favorite target, senior wide receiver Brendan Kube. Kube burst onto the scene last season to lead the Shore in receptions (63) and yards (1,066,) and was a first-team All-Shore selection. He leads a group that also includes seniors Dwight Wilkerson, Marc Cerbo and Sam Santiago, and junior Paul Dunleavy.
“It’s awesome having a receiver like (Brendan), that helps me out and helps the offense out a lot,” Glenn said. “This year we’re going to spread it out and get the ball into other people’s hands so teams can’t just key on Brendan.”
“Brendan did a terrific job last season,” Bush said. “He runs good routes and can make the tough catches. He started as a sophomore but had just a handful of catches. He just got better and better, and he and Donald established a big connection. I think we have a little more weapons in the wide receiver category where we can spread the ball out a little more so teams can’t focus on one player.”
The Lions were dealt a blow early last season when starting running back Chad Freshnock injured his knee and missed several games, but in stepped Connor Welsh to keep Middletown North’s running game intact. Now a junior, Welsh returns after rushing for 746 yards and nine touchdowns.
“Connor did a great job last year and we’re expecting that again,” Bush said. “He’s a little bit older and a little bit stronger, and he has very good vision and very good feet. He’ll have a good year for us.”
Wilkerson will also see time in the backfield in addition to starting at receiver.
The tight end/H-back position has 6-foot-3 senior Brock Zenker, who started on defense, plus 230-pound junior Austin Dewise, who saw some time there last season.
Senior right guard Jake Goldfarb is the only returning starter on the offensive line, so there are some question marks there. Junior Anthony Canova was scheduled to start at left tackle last season, but missed the rest of the season after playing only one game. He is back to start on the left side. Senior Austin Bazuk is the left guard, junior Tim McCann is the center and senior Justin Muller is the right tackle.
“At a Group IV school it’s often the case you have to replace linemen,” Bush said. “The bigger guys are the older guys and the younger guys need a chance to develop. Every year there’s going to be some turnover just because you need some bigger, stronger kids in there. It’s just a matter of getting comfortable in there with blocking schemes and things.”
The Lions were in the top third, defensively, last season in allowing 16.7 points per game in their 4-2-5 base scheme, and return six starters. The starting defensive tackles are Goldfarb, who played a little bit on defense last season, and senior Kyle Ewington. Junior Nicko Cofone is also in the mix to see plenty of playing time. The defensive ends are both returning starters as Dewise is back next to senior Thomas Anderson, who slides down after starting at linebacker last year. Muller is also slated to play at defensive end.
The inside linebackers are three-year returning starter Nick Kish, a senior, and senior Ryan Stark, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. Kish has led the Lions in tackles each of the last two seasons. The outside linebacker/strong safety hybrids are Zenker, Kube and also junior Daylon Wilkerson. Anderson will also play linebacker. Zenker is a returning starter as he stepped in when Freshnock was hurt, and Kube started a few games, as well.
Santiago and Cerbo return as starting cornerbacks with Dwight Wilkerson now a four-year starter at free safety. Wilkerson and Kish are the leaders of the defense and give Middletown North two experienced players on the field who are extensions of the coaching staff.
“They are both really smart players who have a good understanding of what we want done,” Bush said. “They can be coaches on the field, and both have been very productive for us.”
“I definitely try to be a field general out there,” said Wilkerson, who was a second-team All-Shore selection last year.
Sophomore Joey Cavanagh returns as the starting kicker while Dewise will be the punter.
The ingredients are in place for Middletown North to have its best season in a very long time. The only thing left to do is get it done between the lines.
Head Coach: Steve Bush, fourth season (10th overall).
Career Record: 56-43-1.
Coaching staff: John Denuto (def. coord./LB/WR); George Kostas (OL/DL); Geoff Massimini (TE/DB); Jason Pino (RB/OLB); Larry McKnight (OL/DL); Randy Kalman (WR/LB); Dana Webster, Lyndon Johnson, Matt Rosner (freshmen); Danielle Kariski (athletic trainer).
2015 Record: 7-4 (4-2).
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Austin Bazuk, Sr., OL
Last year was Bazuk’s first year playing football and he now steps into a starting role occupied last season by all-division lineman Pat McGowan.
There are no weeks off in the new-look Class B North division, so Middletown North will need to be at its best every single game.
GLUE GUY: Dwight Wilkerson, Sr., WR/RB/DB
A four-year starter on defense and a two-year starter on offense, Wilkerson is one of the Lions’ captains and a go-to player for the coaching staff.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Ryan Stark, Sr., LB
Injured all of last season, Stark is healthy and set to start at inside linebacker.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 16 vs. Red Bank Catholic
The Lions’ first Class B North game is a big one against the new-look Caseys.
Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.