When a tremendous senior class exited the program in June, it left Middletown South with more first-time starters for the upcoming season than they’ve had in quite a while. The challenge for the Eagles will be to integrate several new players, especially on offense, and continue the standard they’ve set as one of the most consistent public schools in the Shore over the last 15 years.

“It’s definitely been a challenge playing with so many new names for the first time in a while, but nothing has changed as far as the standards and the goals,” said Middletown South head coach Steve Antonucci. “We expect these guys to play at the level we normally play at.”

“Our mantra is to always win a ring,” said senior lineman Adam Markman. “That’s the goal no matter who we lose or whatever happens.”

The Eagles missed out on a state championship last season when they lost to eventual champion Sayreville in the North 2, Group IV semifinals, but did walk away with some hardware by claiming the Class B North division title among a group that featured sectional champions Wall and Manasquan and sectional finalist Middletown North.

It all starts with defense at Middletown South, and the Eagles will bring back five starters from a unit that finished 17th in the Shore allowing 19 points per game. Three linemen are returning starters in the 4-4 front with Markman and senior Jake Bancala returning at defensive tackle, and junior Matt Tardy back at defensive end. The new starter on the line is senior defensive end John Flynn.

Left to right: Aidan McCann, Matt Tardy, Adam Markman, Jake Krellin, Chaz Alessi, Ben Kinsella. (Photo by Paula Lopez/PAL Images).

Returning as an inside linebacker will be senior Chris Patterson, who finished with 58 tackles last season. The other inside linebacker spot is a competition between juniors Dylan Walling and Kenny McCarthy. Returning at outside linebacker is one of the best defensive players in the Shore Conference, senior Jake Krellin. A first-team All-Shore selection last season and the Class B North Defensive Player of the Year, Krellin had a monster year with 109 tackles and a whopping 45 tackles for a loss, while also tying for the Shore Conference lead with 15 sacks. He is on the short list of preseason Defensive Player of the Year favorites.

“It’s a good thing he’s on our team,” Antonucci said. “We had our first scrimmage against St. Joe’s (Montvale) and we had him coming off the edge and they had all kind of issues with him. He’s a guy you have to set your protections to and know where he is on the field at all times. He’s a handful.”

The other outside linebacker spot is between senior Aidan McCann and junior Troy Burbank.

The secondary has three new starters with junior Chris Fleming and sophomore Matt Krellin at cornerback. Senior Matt Ferrigno takes over at safety.

“The defense didn’t take too big of a hit,” Markman said. “We have some guys coming back led by Jake Krellin, who is just an animal.”

“When you have guys like Krellin, Tardy, Bancala that have game experience, they know the scheme and the expectations,” Antonucci said. “Those guys are pretty good in the front seven or eight, it’s the back end where we have to catch up.”

Offensively, the Eagles bring back just four starters in their spread pistol set. Senior Ben Kinsella takes over at quarterback with junior Trevor Brey backing up.

“Being backup the past two years to (Matt) Mosquera, who led us to a state title, and then to Aneesh (Agrawal) last year, I picked up a lot from them,” Kinsella said.

“Ben is very athletic so he gives us mobility,” Antonucci said. “He has a good first step and his release is fantastic. He throws the deep ball very well. He’s another guy where, because he didn’t play, the speed of the game has to slow down for him, but he has the ability to be very good.”

Senior Chaz Alessi returns at running back while Krellin and Tardy are back after they both saw time at H-back last season. Junior Jayme Petrillo will also get some carries.

The wide receivers are seniors Matt Cruz and McCann, junior Rob Zega and sophomore Tyler Cuccia. Cruz and Zega both saw limited action last season.

The offensive line has just one starter back with Markman at center, but the thought process is that the group just needs time to come together. Senior Frank Settembrino saw some action last year and will start at left guard. Junior Brady Smith is the right guard while sophomores Tom Mielnikewicz and Nick Bonfiglio will start at left and right tackle, respectively.

“We took a big hit to the offensive line with four guys lost,” Markman said. “Just getting the communication down and building the comradery back up has been the biggest thing.”

“For the offensive line it’s about reps,” Antonucci said. “The more they get, the better they’re going to be, and we think that’s going to be the case where as the season goes on they continue to grow and get better.”

Junior Chris Kaldrovics returns as the kicker and Zega is the punter on special teams.

Middletown South will once again play what is likely the most difficult schedule in the Shore. Aside from their Class B North schedule, the Eagles will play three-time defending Class A Central champion St. John Vianney, four-time defending state sectional champion Rumson-Fair Haven and defending Class A South champion Toms River North in their nondivisional games.

At a Glance

Head coach: Steve Antonucci, 20th season.

Career record: 177-41.

Coaching staff: Al Bigos (def. coord/DB); R.J. Read (off. coord./QB); Steve Roberts (special teams/LB); Nick Trezza (OL/DL); Jeff Martin (RB/DB); Tom Grier (off. asst.); Rod Murchie, John Kline, Rick Taylor (freshmen); Stacy White (athletic trainer).

2016 record: 7-4 (5-1).

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Matt Ferrigno, Sr., DB

Ferrigno will play safety where two-time first-team All-Shore selection Maxx Imsho roamed for the past three years.

X-FACTOR: Offensive line

The Eagles will be breaking in four new starters up front, so a lot will ride on how quickly the unit can come together.

GLUE GUY: Jake Krellin, Sr., TE/LB

A three-year starter on defense and one of the most disruptive players in the Shore, Krellin’s presence draws plenty of attention and frees up other players on Middletown South’s defense.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Ben Kinsella, Sr. QB

Kinsella has waited his turn to start and now gets his chance at directing the Eagles’ spread pistol offense.

PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 28 at Rumson-Fair Haven

The Eagles won a 14-13 thriller last season, and this year’s meeting between the two public powers figures to be crucial for both teams.

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.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.

 

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