As someone who had to replace a 1,300-yard running back a year ago, junior tailback Ashanti Worthy knows the value in having another threat in the offense to take the pressure off.

As a sophomore last season, Worthy posted a 1,300-plus-yard season of his own and finished with 13 total touchdowns while replacing All-Shore running back Josh Dixon. Having senior dual-threat quarterback Jake Curry running the offense took some of the pressure off of Worthy and now that the junior tailback is the returning focal point of the offense, he knows his role this year is to do the same for new quarterback Joe Krauss that Curry did for him.

“When I was breaking in, the older guys like Josh and Jake were there to help me and show me the right way to do things,” Worthy said. “Now, it’s my time to be one of the veterans and make sure all the younger guys know what to do. (Krauss) is doing a good job and I think he’s going to be able to do a lot of the things Jake did.”

“It’s very hard to replace Jake,” Freehold coach Dave Ellis said. “Jake was a heck of a leader, he knew the offense inside and out and he was a good, tough player. The new quarterbacks are intelligent and they have made some really good strides, but it’s a high bar getting to where Jake took the position for us. That’s why it’s a real luxury to have a back like Ashanti because he’s going to cover a lot of those early mistakes and allow those guys to come along at their own pace.”

Krauss takes over under center for the Colonials after missing all of last season while recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right throwing shoulder. The senior spent his junior year on the sidelines watching Curry and learning the concepts of the offense without actually getting to apply them in action.

“I spent a lot of time watching Jake and talking to him just to get an idea of what he was doing and how he was thinking,” Krauss said. “It was tough not being able to play, but I just tried to take the opportunity to learn as much as I could from watching.”

Fresh off a 1,300-yard season, junior Ashanti Worthy will be the focus of the Freehold offense. (Photo by Matt Manley)

When Krauss returned with a healthy arm this summer, the offense came a lot easier to him – certainly more so than when he was running it with an injured shoulder as a sophomore.

“It’s actually been a lot easier since coming back because the last time I was running this offense, I was playing with a torn labrum,” Krauss said. “I’ve played with a bad shoulder before and now I’m running it with a shoulder that works.”

Even though Krauss comes in with confidence in himself and from his coaches and teammates in running the offense, having Worthy and a handful of other weapons to lean on will help make the transition easier. Worthy was a significant contributor behind Dixon as a freshman and was ready to take off as a sophomore last season. Now a junior, the expectations for the hard-nosed runner are even higher.

“It’s not any different this year,” Worthy said. “I played both sides as a freshman and a sophomore, so I look at it like I want to keep doing what I’ve been doing. I’m stronger and faster this year, so I think I should rush for more yards than I did last year, but I’m not doing anything different.”

“The difference in Ashanti this year is he’s prepared himself,” Ellis said. “He did a great job in the summer weight room and he’s also taken on a leadership role. He’s faster, he’s quicker, but the leadership I’m seeing is what’s encouraging to me.”

Freehold also returns senior wide receiver Markee Gill to lead a promising, albeit inexperienced, receiving corps. Sophomores Quincy Davis and Matt Krauss will play out wide, senior Jelan Crooms is ticketed for time as a slot receiver, and senior Travis Sparks will also figure into the picture. Krauss is the younger brother of the quarterback, so there is inherent connection between Joe Krauss and at least one of his receivers.

The line clearing the way for Worthy and protecting Krauss is undergoing a retooling of sorts, although the return of seniors Marki Gill and Nick Eccelston give the Colonials a solid foundation for an effective offensive line. Last year, Gill played one of the guard spots and Eccelston was the center, but Ellis has experimented with both in different spots while trying to find the right mix. Juniors Anthony Arciero and Tyler Bennett, and sophomores Alex Verardi and Zac Wiles are all in the mix for the three open spots.

The Gill brothers will man two of the three defensive line spots, with Markee playing defensive end and Marki playing the nose tackle. Juniors Qua’jon Everett and Kenny Tomkovich, senior Reid Osolin and Verardi will all work into the defensive line rotation.

Markee Gill also has the flexibility to work into the linebacker level, which will include three returnees in seniors Jared Van Duysen, Xavier Madera and Eccelston. That front six will be a steady influence on a defense that will be young in the secondary, where only Worthy returns at safety. Senior Isaiah Howard and junior Matt DaSilva – who has been competing with Krauss at quarterback – project as the starting quarterbacks, with Matt Krauss and Crooms earning time at safety spots.

Although Freehold Boro experienced an inconsistent season in 2015 – one what ended with heartbreaking 10-7 loss to Allentown in the Central Jersey Group IV quarterfinals – the Colonials had enough bright spots in 2016 to feel optimistic about their chances to take the next step this season. Although last year’s 6-4 mark fell short of 2014’s 7-3 record, Freehold did knock off Manalapan last season and finished 4-2 in Class A North – good for second place behind unbeaten and No. 1 ranked Middletown South and tied with Middletown North.

“There were some games and some plays last year where we just didn’t execute when we needed to and that’s been a big focus going into this year,” Markee Gill said. “We have to be better at finishing off drives and protecting the ball. That cost us in the state game and if we can be a little more focused, it’s going to make a big difference.”

With an already-accomplished back heading into his junior season, a strong defensive front and some potential in the passing game, Freehold has a chance to get over the first-round hump in the playoffs as long as Curry’s absence does not prove too much to overcome.

“I don’t think we’re going to be different,” Worthy said. “We’re going to be able to do a lot of the same things that we did last year. We just want to get past the first game of the playoffs and hopefully get to the finals.”

 

Head Coach: Dave Ellis, sixth season

Career Record: 20-30

2015 Record: 6-4 (4-2 in A North)

Assistant Coaches: Jason Blum (OL), John Kinzel (DL), Matt Whalen (RB/DB), Mike D’Antonio (WR/OLB), Mike Stoia (Freshman), Dallas Clem (Freshman), Mike Stehle (Athletic Trainer)

Big Shoes to Fill: Joe Krauss, QB

Jake Curry was a two-year starter at quarterback and a dual offensive threat, which means not only was he a productive player but also a leader. Krauss has already demonstrated admirable resilience by returning from labrum surgery on his throwing shoulder, and the players have rallied around him.

X-Factor: Secondary

Quarterback and the secondary are the least experienced aspects of the team, so if Freehold is to have a sound defensive team, bringing along four new starters in the five-man secondary will be vital.

Glue Guy: Markee Gill, WR/LB

Not only is Gill the team’s top receiver heading into the year, but he is also a versatile defensive player in that he can play with his hand in the ground, play a traditional outside linebacker position and also cover in the passing game.

Impact Newcomer: Jelan Crooms, WR/DB

Crooms returned to the program after sitting out last year and is expected by Ellis to make an immediate impact in the passing game and as a safety.

Pivotal Game: Sept. 17 at Howell

On paper, Freehold’s schedule is front-loaded and if the Colonials run into trouble, it will probably be sometime in the first month. Howell has a solid core of returnees and a win over Rebels could very well put Freehold Boro on track to make a run at a division title, with a home showdown vs. Manalapan on Oct. 1 looming large as well.

Sign Up For The SSN Newsletter

Please fill out this form to sign up for the Shore Sports Network newsletter.