Shore Conference Football 2012 Preseason Top 10
It's that time again, as the preseason is wrapping up and another season of Shore Conference football kicks off on Friday. That means taking another shot at ranking the top 10 teams in the conference, which is always a crap shoot in the preseason.
No, this is not last year's top 10, even though the top three teams may look awfully familiar. Red Bank Catholic finished last season ranked No. 1 and will start there this year until someone takes it from the Caseys. Neptune is the defending Central Jersey Group III champion, while Manalapan reached a sectional final last season and is loaded up for another run.
After that group of three teams at the top, your guess is as good as mine. I think the million-dollar question is which of the teams that went 4-6 or 5-5 last season will make the leap forward? It's a large group to choose from.
Before everyone goes into their customary hysteria of "I can't believe he ranked that team in the top 10!" I checked last year's preseason top 10 and only three teams that were ranked in the preseason ended up ranked in the final top 10. Remember, it's not where you start, it's where you finish.
1. Red Bank Catholic
The Caseys ended last season No. 1 and they start this year in the top spot with seven starters returning on defense, including Rutgers recruit Josh Klecko at defensive tackle. The offensive line is 260 pounds across and the backfield is loaded with talented tailbacks like junior Larry Redaelli and sophomore Mike Cordova. This team is geared up for a run at its fifth division title in the last six years and a deep trip in the Non-Public Group III playoffs. The Caseys look to go two straight years without losing to a Shore Conference opponent.
The defending Central Jersey Group III champions have reloaded to defend their crown while also making a run at the Class B North title. Senior wideout Geoff Fairbanks, senior linebacker David Calderon and senior running back Myles Martin are several key returners on a team with plenty of talented newcomers. Senior Ajee Patterson takes over at quarterback to help Neptune repeat as state champs for the first time since 1997-98.
The two-time defending Class A North champions aim to get back to a state sectional final and win the school’s first state championship, and they have the ingredients to do it. Anthony Firkser and Saeed Blacknall, a pair of Division I prospects at wide receiver, are back along with quarterback Mike Isabella, standout two-way lineman John Appice, talented linebacker Chris Noesges and plenty more talent. They look to be the inaugural champions in the newly-created Central Jersey Group V.
The defending Class A South champs are looking to become the first Rams team to ever win consecutive division titles and look to make a deep state playoff run in the newly-created South Jersey Group V. The Rams have a senior-dominated team that includes quarterback Dan Higgins, a group of solid linemen and game-breaking junior wide receiver Mike Gesicki. The goal is to make it to a state final for only the second time in school history and bring home their first state title ever.
The Lions suffered through an uncharacteristic 4-6 season last year after graduation losses, but with a majority of the lineup returning and passing game architect Cory Davies added to the coaching staff, Lacey looks to roar back this fall. Senior Kyle Spatz, a 1,000-yard rusher last year, returns along with quarterback Tom Kelly and a host of other weapons, including Christian Tutela and Brandon Boos. Linebacker Casey Sirotniak leads a tough defense for a team that will play a more difficult schedule after moving from Class B South to Class A South.
6. Brick Memorial
Just like Lacey, the Mustangs struggled to a 4-6 mark last year, but have a strong group of returners looking to restore them to their usual spot among the Shore’s elite. Losing senior fullback/linebacker Anthony Miller to a season-ending injury hurt, but the Mustangs still return senior quarterback Ryan Cieplinski, junior running back/defensive back Mike Basile and three starters on the offensive line to make a run.
7. Rumson-Fair Haven
The Bulldogs have reached two straight Central Jersey Group II finals and have the goods to make it three in a row this season after losing to Matawan last year. Senior quarterback Danny Roberto, senior running back/linebacker Travis Clark and senior running back/defensive back Conor Walsh form the core of a team that should keep the wins coming while trying to defend its Class A Central crown.
It’s a new era for the Huskies under new coach John Kaye, but with three straight trips to a state final, they have earned the benefit of the doubt despite losing several talented players to graduation. Junior quarterback Kashaun Barnes, senior running back/safety Glenn Cross and senior running back/linebacker Dan Incle will lead the defending Central Jersey Group II champions, who are now in the North II, Group III bracket.
9. Middletown South
The Eagles finished out of the top 10 for the first time in more than a decade last year, so they look to break back into the Shore’s elite. Senior fullback/linebacker Ryan Patterson, standout kicker Connor Ryan, junior defensive tackle/tight end Taylor Hendrickson, a veteran backfield and dynamic senior newcomer Eli Smith hope to get Middletown South back on the championship track.
The Bengals will try to repeat as Class B South champions with a team that will only get better as the season progresses. Sophomore Cinjun Erskine is a star in waiting at quarterback, and has to sit out the first four games after transferring from Holy Spirit. Versatile senior star Pat Moran will hold the fort in front of a massive offensive line headlined by junior Zach Andrews as the Bengals look to reach a state sectional final for the first time in school history. This is a team that could steadily move up the rankings to possibly break the top five by the end of the season.
Teams to watch:
Toms River North: The Mariners looked solid in the preseason and could be one of those 4-6 teams from last year that come roaring back. With quarterback Carmen Sclafani, dynamic wideout Joey Fields, an improved defense, and one of the state's top kicker/punters in Chris Gulla, Toms River North could make a serious run at the Class A South title.
Howell: Another 4-6 team from last year that is eager to get back to the playoff hunt, the Rebels have a new head coach in Derek Reichenbecher, and another high-powered offense behind new quarterback John Quinlan and top returner Tory Robinson. The main question is whether they are going to be able to stop teams from pounding them with the running game. That will ultimately decide their fate.
Long Branch: The Green Wave took a big hit when star tailback Dwight Clark broke a bone in his ankle in the preseason and is expected to miss about a month. They still have a very capable runner in senior Joscil Jackson, who also should be one of the Shore's top linebackers. The Green Wave have other playmakers on offense as well, so it will be up to them to hold the fort until Clark comes back. This looks like a team that will get better as the season progresses and could be very dangerous come playoff time. They enter the season on a five-game winning streak after finishing 5-5 last year.
Red Bank Regional: The Bucs have been gearing up for this season for two years, as this senior class was stamped early on as the one that would return them to top 10 status after a rough stretch. Senior Garrett Sickels is one of the top defensive players in New Jersey, and he is part of a ferocious front seven that includes Isaac Coates in the middle and Dillon Stambaugh at linebacker. Stambaugh injured his knee in the preseason and is questionable for a huge showdown in the season opener against No. 1 Red Bank Catholic. The main question mark for Red Bank is the offense. The Bucs averaged 17.2 points per game last year, but only 11 points per game against teams with winning records. If that unit is more productive, this team will fulfill its lofty expectations.
Jackson Memorial: The Jaguars are coming off an 8-2 season but have to replace nine starters on defense, a two-time, 1,000-yard rusher (Brandon Winston) and their starting quarterback. They have junior linebacker Ken Bradley as a building block, but this will be a true test of the program's strength if they can overcome all of those losses to still be a contender in Class A South.
Manasquan: The Warriors always seem to be in the thick of things in the divisional and state playoff races, but this will be a test for them after losing prolific quarterback Tyler Saito and do-it-all talent Kodie McNamara to graduation along with several starters up front. Joe Fittin and Joe Murphy return to lead the running game and senior Connor Grogan is one of the Shore's top wideouts. This is the hardest regular-season schedule Manasquan has had in years now that it has moved to Class A Central. They will have their work cut out for them.
Asbury Park: The Blue Bishops have won four of the last five Central Jersey Group I championships, but they were hit hard by graduation, losing the Conover twins, the Hammarys and more. Will it be like 2010, when heavy graduation losses led to a 5-5 season, or will a solid offensive line and a tough defense be enough to have the winning continue? We'll see.
Point Beach: After winning their first state playoff game since 1982 last year, the Garnet Gulls are hungry for more. They have the ingredients to do it, with experience up front, a stable of tough running backs and an aggressive defense. They should be right in the hunt for the Class B Central title.
Shore Regional: The Blue Devils have added quarterback Matt Muh, a Holmdel transfer, to a solid group of returners who should give them good balance on offense. If they can stay healthy, which was an issue last season, they could have the type of season they had in 2010, when they went 11-1 and won division and state titles.
Point Boro: The Panthers may be Barnegat's main challenger for Class B South supremacy. They have to replace a three-year starter at quarterback and some other key pieces, but senior wideout Kyle McGarry, an improved defense and the usual power running game should have them in the mix.