Football – Turning Back the Clock: 2017 Matawan Preview
In hopes of proving last year was just an off year at 2-8, Matawan fully plans to turn things around and make a return to the postseason in 2017.
"We had an outstanding offseason and have trained very hard," said head coach John Kaye, who is entering his sixth season at Matawan. "We've really taught our young men to be competitors in everything that they do."
"We're working a lot harder than we did last year," said senior lineman Mike Karcyninski. "The practices are going a lot smoother and there's a better tempo."
"We've been doing a lot more pursuit drills and just flying around," said senior nose guard Alex Calo. "When you see a guy in the hole, you have to hit him, you can't let him go through."
Following the first losing season in the Kaye era, they'll be relying on the returning starters' continued development and on the ability of a new quarterback under center to power this team through a tough Class A Central division.
"We're putting in a new offense," said senior wide receiver and defensive back Dave Ogungbenro. "Nobody knows what we're going to do."
"Ryan Rodriguez is going to be our quarterback," said Kaye. "He brings a sense of physicality to our quarterback position. He's been a linebacker for us, so we're a little more physical and tough with him in the backfield running the ball."
Rodriguez has proven to be a quick learner and Kaye feels he's ready to go for the season and has made all the adjustments not only to the playbook but to throwing or handing off the ball to his skill players.
"These guys (skill players) have known Ryan for a long time and they have a lot of respect for him," said Kaye. "As a leader he steps in the huddle and commands respect immediately."
The offensive line will play a key role in guiding Rodriguez along and providing the protection needed to score some points.
"We've been stressing our technique (in the preseason)," said Karcyninski. "For a good half-hour or 45 minutes a day we're in the back of the end zone going through our plays and working on different drills and our techniques."
With St. John Vianney and Rumson Fair-Haven among other divisional opponents returning a heap of talent, Matawan will need to have a more explosive offensive season but one filled with guys flying to the ball on defense.
"You've got to go at every game the same way and try to win," said Kaye. "Whether it's St. John Vianney, Rumson or whoever it may be. You're in the A-Central, every week's a battle. We'll go out there ready to compete."
"We have to fly to the football, put eleven hats on the ball and swarm like ants on a sugar cube," said Kaye. "If we play aggressive like that, we'll be fine."
Some of the players who've impressed him through the preseason include sophomore lineman Amir Cole, Ogungbenro, junior running back and linebacker Devin Williams and senior running back and defensive back Devonte Spann.
"We've been working a lot on speed and agility and getting in the weight room everday," said senior wide receiver Ishmael Brown, who says this is a group of players who play for each other.
"Every practice is a family reunion," said Brown.
The team and the coaching staff are hungry to get back to the playoffs and win another title.
"(Our goal) is to make it to the playoffs," said Ogungbenro.
"We're as good as we make ourselves," said Spann. "We have to work hard every day in practice."
"We're going to go as far as our team takes us," said Karcyninski. "If we make it into the playoffs, it's going to happen...we're Matawan."
Head Coach: John Kaye, sixth season (11th overall).
Career Record: 60-38-1.
2016 Record: 2-8 (1-5).
Assistant coaches: Jay Bellamy (def. coord.); Nick Citro (DB); KenMandeville (RB); Scott Davis, Sonny Jackson (volunteers); Charlie Marsh (off. coord.); Nick Christathakis (OL/DL); Nick Vasilenko (freshmen), Justin Bloss (freshmen); Matt Goetz (athletic trainer).
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Devin Williams, Jr., RB/LB
There are a couple of voids to be filled this season, one being the loss of lineman Mike McCue and the other being running back Derek Wiley who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards for the team. If Devin Williams does well on both sides of the ball, the loss won't be felt as much.
X-FACTOR: Line play
Kaye says it comes down to "blocking in the trenches", and in order for them to do well this seasons Matawan will need to control the line of scrimmage.
GLUE GUY: Mike Karcyninski, Sr., OL/DL
Kaye says Karcyninski is the one making all the calls up front and keeping things together. His leadership and determination could be what helps put Matawan over the top this season.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Ryan Rodriguez, Sr., QB/LB
His move from steady linebacker to quarterback this season has been a seamless transition in training camp and Kaye is confident in the new man under center. Rodriguez can make a huge impact by playing well and providing a spark to the offense.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 16 at. Red Bank
Starting off well will be key for Matawan to reverse the script from last season and head back to the state playoffs. Should they fall to St. John Vianney in week one, playing at Red Bank week two becomes a must-win game to avoid getting off to a slow start.
Vin Ebenau is a Shore Sports Network Contributor. You can follow him on Twitter @VinEbenau. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.