The wait is over. Shore Conference high school football season has arrived.

With the season set to kickoff, there are plenty of questions which will be answered over the next three months: Who are the top players? Who are the best teams? Who has a shot to go all the way? Right here we’ll dive into our picks as to who are the top teams in the Shore to start the season as we debut the Shore Sports Network Top 10 for 2018.

Three of the Shore’s football-playing non-public schools begin the season with championship aspirations and look to be at the top of the conference. Red Bank Catholic brings back several starters on both sides of the ball, including Boston College-bound senior quarterback Steve Lubischer and Notre Dame-bound junior tight end Kevin Bauman. St. John Vianney rides a 38-game Shore Conference winning streak into 2018 with former Matawan head coach Joe Martucci now leading the Lancers. Mater Dei has been to two straight state finals and has reloaded its roster after losing some top players to graduation.

While the Catholic schools have the early distinction of holding down the top spots, the Shore Conference has a deep array of talented public-school squads who are capable of pushing their way to the top of the rankings. Brick brings back nine starters on each side of the ball and its loaded senior class is out to claim another state championship for the legendary program. Long Branch’s cupboard is far from bare even after graduating several starters off its Central Jersey Group 4 championship team. Manasquan has veterans back at important positions and has the look of a vintage Warriors’ squad, while Manalapan is eager to show the depth of its program after a large and impactful senior class exited in June.  Rumson-Fair Haven should have a ferocious defense as it looks to win a fifth sectional title in six seasons and Middletown North is out to make a playoff run with its offensive core returning. Jackson Memorial brings back its top four tacklers on defense and looks to build on a playoff year in 2017.

It all gets underway in Week 0 with a handful of games. The mega matchup features St. John Vianney hosting Red Bank Catholic in the “Holy War”, so the No. 1 spot in the Shore could change before the calendar turns to September. The season kicks off for the rest of the Shore on Friday, Sept. 7 with the traditional Week 1 games.

Without further ado, we present the Shore Sports Network Preseason Football Top 10.

Let the games begin.

1. Red Bank Catholic (8-2). 2017 final ranking: No. 4

The Caseys return a loaded squad that features Boston College-bound senior quarterback Steve Lubischer, Notre Dame-bound junior tight end Kevin Bauman, senior wide receiver/defensive back Jaden Key and many more as they look to make a run at the Non-Public Group 3 state championship. RBC takes on archrival St. John Vianney in its season-opener and would like nothing more than to end the Lancers’ 38-game Shore Conference winning streak and avenge a 35-17 defeat from last season. First game: Friday, Aug. 31 at No. 2 St. John Vianney.

 

2. St. John Vianney (10-1). 2017 final ranking: No. 1

There has been plenty of turnover at the Holmdel school over the past nine months with Hall of Fame head coach Joe Martucci taking over for Derek Sininsky and most of last year’s starters moving on via graduation. A pair of transfers – junior quarterback C.J. Duell and junior running back Kavon Chambers – bolster the Lancers’ offense, however, along with Rutgers-bound offensive tackle C.J. Hanson and All-Shore guard Paul Liseno. The names will be unfamiliar at the start, but the talent is certainly there for the Lancers to add to their 38-game winning streak and remain among the Shore’s elite. They will be tested mightily out of the game, however, when they welcome top-ranked Red Bank Catholic to town in Week 0. First game: Friday, Aug. 31 vs. No. 1 Red Bank Catholic.

 

3. Mater Dei Prep (8-2). 2017 final ranking: No. 8

The Boston College-bound duo of defensive lineman Izaiah Henderson and linebacker Shittah Sillah will lead a defense that also features senior linebacker Russell Ferrisi and Matawan transfer Amir Coleman, and should be among the best in the Shore. The offense is filled with playmakers like running backs Malik Ingram and Sincere Saunders and wide receivers Isaiah Noguera, Clarence Lewis and Gunny Bloodgood. Star quarterback George Pearson is now a freshman at Central Michigan, but the Seraphs picked up a key transfer with the addition of former Camden Catholic quarterback Rob McCoy Jr. Mater Dei has reached consecutive state finals for the first time in program history, but to make it three in a row they’ll have to contend in Non-Public Group 3 with the likes of DePaul, Red Bank Catholic and St. John Vianney. It’s a challenge they welcome with open arms. First game: Thursday, Aug. 30 vs. Pinelands.

 

4. Brick (6-5). 2017 final ranking: not ranked

The Dragons had an up and down 2017 campaign thanks to a bevy of injuries that ravaged the team in the middle of the season. They finally got healthy toward the end of the year and gave a glimpse of what the future may hold with a spirited playoff run. A senior class that has been earmarked for success since coming in as freshmen leads the way, including First Team All-Shore utility man Cole Groschel, quarterback/safety Jimmy Leblo, linebacker Richie Tallmadge and defensive end Cory Englehardt. The schedule is difficult inside the new-look Colonial Division, but the Dragons have the ingredients to bring home state championship No. 8. First game: Saturday, Sept. 8 at Brick Memorial.

 

5. Long Branch (9-3). 2017 final ranking: No. 5

The Green Wave went from unranked at the beginning of 2017 to the lone Shore Conference team to claim a state championship, defeating Freehold, 43-42 in overtime, to win the Central Jersey Group 4 championship. Despite graduating quarterback Juwan Wilkins, wide receivers T.J. Fosque and Pasa Fields, defensive end Kaymar Mimes and defensive backs Kevin Porch and Eli Sherin, the Green Wave return a very talented roster that has its eyes set on a repeat performance. Senior Marc Dennis takes over at quarterback with junior Jermaine Corbett (1,422 yards, 14 TDs) running behind an offensive line led by standout senior Kevin Cerruti. Defensively, linebackers Luke Arnold and Jah’Kwan Gordon lead a physical unit. First game: Friday, Aug. 31 at Hammonton.

 

6. Rumson-Fair Haven (10-2). 2017 final ranking: No. 3

The Bulldogs’ streak of state championships came to an end at four last season, but Rumson enters 2018 with a stout defense leading the way for a group that is out to win its fifth championship in six years. Senior linebackers Keegan Woods and Christian Lanzalotto along with senior defensive lineman Henry Sullivan form the core of the defense, while fullback Alex Maldjian and tight end Ian O’Connor are the linchpins of an offense that will break in new starters at quarterback and running back. No matter who graduates, Rumson finds a way to be among the Shore’s best, and this year should be no different. First game: Friday, Sept. 7 vs. St. John Vianney.

 

7. Manalapan (11-1). 2017 final ranking: No. 2

The Braves absorbed heavy losses to graduation, including record-setting running back Naim Mayfield, plus lost All-Shore linebacker Tommy Pearce to a season-ending injury during the preseason. Even so, Manalapan brings back senior defensive standouts Dale Sieczkowski, Dashon Taylor, Alex Claro and Alan Pressler to make another postseason run. Junior Sean Kehley takes over at quarterback with Sieczkowski at tailback, and the Braves should again have a solid offensive line led by center Nick Cavallaro. First game: Friday, Sept. 7 vs. Toms River North.

 

8. Manasquan (7-4). 2017 final ranking: not ranked

An outstanding senior class leads the way for the Warriors, who enter the season as the favorite in the new-look Liberty Division. Running backs Canyon Birch and Rashid Tuddles, wide receiver James Pendergist and offensive linemen Art Foreman, Mike LaPoint, Alec Wells and Anders Scala all return as starters to lead Squan’s classic, downhill offense. Defensively, standouts Dylan D’Anton and Jack Fabean anchor a unit that recorded four shutouts last season. First game: Friday, Sept. 7 at Point Boro.

 

9. Middletown North (5-5). 2017 final ranking: not ranked

The Lions narrowly missed out on a postseason berth a year ago and will seek redemption with a cast led by senior quarterback Sean Glenn, senior wide receiver/defensive back Aidan Campbell and senior running back/linebacker Connor Robbins. Like a year ago when they competed in the rugged Class B North division, Middletown North once again has a tough schedule in the Colonial Division with the likes of St. John Vianney, Rumson, Brick, Brick Memorial and Freehold. The opportunity is there, however, to make some noise and have a big year. First game: Saturday, Sept. 8 at Freehold.

 

10. Jackson Memorial (6-5). 2017 final ranking: not ranked

The Jaguars had inconsistent stretches last season but were able to reach the Central Jersey Group 4 semifinals. Several defensive standouts are back, including safety John Ghigna, defensive end Collin McCarthy and linebackers Chance Benjamin and Nic Ford. Ghigna will also take over at quarterback to engineer the Jags’ multiple-I offense that has running backs Leo Shimonovich and Steven Rodriguez carrying the load. First game: Friday, Sept. 7 at Southern.

 

Teams to watch

Freehold Township (8-3). 2017 final ranking: not ranked

The Patriots return several starters, including quarterback Nick Reardon, as they try to build on the program’s most successful season.

Freehold (8-4). 2017 final ranking: No. 7

It’s impossible to ignore the loss of record-breaking quarterback Ashante Worthy to graduation, but the Colonials return a solid core of Matt Krauss, Quincy Davis, Knox Stokes and Alex Verardi after reaching the Central Jersey Group 4 final last season.

Brick Memorial (7-3). 2017 final ranking: No. 10

The Mustangs have to replace all-time leading rusher Tony Thorpe and two-way playmaker Blaine Netterman, but return quarterback Tyler Sindel and an experienced offensive line in their triple-option offense.

Middletown South (5-5). 2017 final ranking: not ranked

The Eagles are usually a fixture in the top 10 but finished just 5-5 last season with a first-round playoff exit. Can the Eagles rebound and contend for division and state titles?

Toms River North (1-9). 2017 ranking: not ranked

The Mariners won a state title in 2016 and went 11-1 in 2017 but came crashing back with a one-win season last year. There’s a lot of young talent on the roster that could break through at a moment’s notice.

Point Boro (11-1). 2017 final ranking: No. 9

The Panthers are coming off a tremendous season but have to replace a lot of starters. Point Boro is hoping to reload and make another run at division and state championships.

Wall (5-6). 2017 final ranking: not ranked

Quarterback Dylan Richey, tight end Tanner Powers and an experienced offensive line look to lead the Crimson Knights back to the playoffs and steer them toward a Constitution Division title.

Shore Regional (4-6). 2017 final ranking: not ranked

The Blue Devils suffered a rare losing season in 2017 but are back with a talented senior class that has a chip on its shoulder. Gil Goldsmith, Vin DiMaio, Jack McCrae and others are hellbent on returning the program to championship glory.

Barnegat (5-5). 2017 final ranking: not ranked

The Bengals showed promise last season and bring back nearly all their starters on both sides of the ball, including Holy Cross-bound tight end Sean Morris, linebacker Brian Ewan and running back Charlie Cotton.

Donovan Catholic (4-6). 2017 final ranking: not ranked

The Griffins are trending up and enter 2018 with a standout junior class led by quarterback Ryan Clark and wide receiver Andre Laney. They are a definite contender for the National Division title and time will tell just how good they can be.

Holmdel (6-4). 2017 final ranking: not ranked

The Hornets are primed for their best season in a decade with quarterback Jeff DeCicco, running back/defensive back Dean Gallo, running back Cameron LaMountain, wide receiver/defensive back Mack Byrne and an experienced offensive line leading the way.

 

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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