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After a record-setting season that included a single-season school-record 10 wins, a Shore Conference Class A Central division championship and a trip to the NJSIAA Non-Public Group III semifinals, the last person a team in the St. John Vianney football team’s position would expect be replacing is a coach.

With a wealth of talent returning all over the field from its best team since the early 1980s, the Lancers go into the 2015 season with a new voice leading the program. Former Marlboro, Raritan and Monmouth Regional head coach Derek Sininsky took over the program in July after the school stunningly parted ways with Mark Ciccotelli, who coached the Lancers for just that one record-setting season.

A season that was supposed to come with a seamless transition from last year’s breakout campaign is all of a sudden a new kind of adjustment for St. John Vianney’s many returning players.

New St. John Vianney coach Derek Sininsky (right) addresses his team, which went 10-1 last season under former coach Mark Ciccotelli. (Photo by Matt Manley)

If anything has made the transition easier, according to both Sininsky and the players, it has been a coaching staff that includes a number of holdovers from the group that coached under Ciccotelli last year. Offensive coordinator Jim Reid, defensive coordinator Mike Tedeschi and special teams coach Eddie Hernandez are all holdovers from last year’s staff, and their established relationships with the players has eased the acclimation process for both Sininsky and his new players.

“The coaches came in the right way,” said senior wide receiver and cornerback Khalil Haskins, a Matawan native who – along with several of his teammates – admittedly pondered transferring when news of Ciccotelli’s departure broke. “They said they didn’t want to change much and they were going to try to keep things the same way they were last year when we won 10 games. Now we’re just focusing on getting better and going after that state championship.”

The other factor that makes success likely in Sininsky’s first year with the Lancers is the talent that returns to the team. In addition to Haskins, the Lancers return another All-Shore first-team player in starting quarterback and Boston College recruit Anthony Brown. They also bring back second-team senior linebacker Calvin Beaty, All-Division junior two-way lineman Micah Clark, and All-Division junior linebacker Tyler Tedeschi. Clark is one of the top players in the country for the Class of 2017, boasting offers from the likes of defending national champion Ohio State and Alabama.

“Being very talented doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be a great high school football player. It’s all those other things, like their leadership,” Sininsky said. “They hang out together, they have each other’s backs, they respect one another, we trust one another and that’s what we always talk about before practice. Honor your teammate and respect your teammate, and that’s what I see.”

Brown is coming off an All-Shore season in which he racked up more than 3,000 total yards and 34 touchdowns while leading one of the Shore Conference’s most explosive offenses (42.8 points per game). He threw for a Shore-Conference-leading 2,198 yards to go with 25 touchdown passes – good for second in the conference. Brown also ran for 805 yards and nine touchdowns.

“We’re more mature this year as a group,” Brown said. “We have a lot more leadership. We had leaders last year, but this year, everybody is taking that leadership mentality. We’re all focused on winning, and we’re not going to let other things distract us from what we want to accomplish.”

Quarterback Anthony Brown will try to build on a breakout junior season and lead St. John Vianney deeper into the postseason as a senior. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Haskins returns as the offense’s top receiving threat in the passing game, as well as one of its top defensive backs after an All-Shore season at cornerback. As a junior, Haskins ran for 566 yards and six touchdowns while catching 25 passes for 398 yards and two receiving touchdowns. He also chipped in two return touchdowns and picked off six passes on defense – the third-highest interception total in the Shore.

Brown will have a number of targets in the passing game outside of Haskins, including a pair of 6-foot-6 options on the outside. Seniors Mike Stapert and Marcque Ellington – a Neptune transfer – will play on either end of the formation, and Jeff Sheard gives the Lancers a second slot option along with Haskins.

“I have a lot of weapons to throw to so I’m expecting big things (from the offense) again,” Brown said.

In addition to pairing with Tedeschi as a formidable linebacker duo, Beaty returns as a rushing threat out of the backfield. Along with the linebackers, St. John Vianney returns a wealth of secondary talent led by Haskins at cornerback and also adds J.P. Stevens transfer and junior Chris Chukwuneke at safety. Chukweneke was also a 1,000-yard rusher for J.P. Stevens last fall. Sheard will also play outside linebacker on defense.

While Sininsky is evaluating a number of options on the defensive line, Clark, Jamaal Beaty and Matt Bordfeld all have starting experience and senior Mike McGimpsey has established himself as a starter at defensive end. St. John Vianney will move away from the 3-3-5 stack formation it played under Ciccotelli and into a more conventional look, but Sininsky still expects to have a unique defense.

“We’re very fast defensively and we’re big up front, so we think we should be very good defensively as well,” Sisinsky said. “We run to the ball well and our tackling has got to get a little bit better from last year. We’re looking to get better on our fundamentals and skills.”

St. John Vianney will again be strong in the kicking game with senior Joe Rice back after an All-Division season backing up a high-powered offense as a junior.

The Lancers took Delbarton to the wire in a 38-26 loss to the Green Wave in the Non-Public Group III semifinals and do not plan on allowing the coaching turn over to derail them on their quest to finish off a state championship run with a roster that is among the most talented in the state.

“Day-by-day, we take a step forward every day,” Sininsky said. “Just baby steps – we’re not looking to take huge strides right here. It’s a very talented group and we’re becoming more of a team.”

 

Head Coach: Derek Sininsky, first season

Career Record: 30-60.

Assistant Coaches: Jim Reid (Offensive Coordinator/WR/DB), Mike Tedeschi (Defensive Coordinator/Slot WR/Outside LB), Eddie Hernandez (Special Teams/RB/LB), Tm O’Keefe (QB/DB), Jason Wombough (OL/DL), Keith Rescorl (OL/DL), Rich Lamberson (WR/LB), Tom Dinetta (K/P).

2014 Record: 10-1 (6-0).

Big Shoes to Fill: Derek Sininsky

With so much talent returning to a 10-win team, the only real question marks surrounding the Lancers stem from the summer coaching change that replaced Ciccotelli with Sininsky.

X-Factor: The offensive line

If there is one part of the team with something to prove, it is likely the offensive line. Micah Clark and Jamaal Beaty are reliable returnees to the unit, but Sininsky said the other three spots are up for grabs among “six or seven good players.”

Glue Guy: Calvin Beaty, RB/LB

The Lancers lit up the scoreboard with a high-powered offense led by the arm and legs of Anthony Brown, but Beaty is the muscle on both sides of the ball that gives the Lancers a physical edge to go with the speed factor.

Newcomer to Watch: Chris Chukwuneke, RB/DB

A transfer from J.P. Stevens, Chukwuneke will make an immediate impact on both sides of the ball and will add even more speed and toughness to a defense that looks like it may be catching up to the high-scoring offense. Neptune transfer and 6-6 receiver Marcque Ellington will also be an impact addition to the lineup.

Pivotal Game: Sept. 12 at Matawan

The two rivals from down the road square off in the season opener, just as they did last year, when St. John Vianney stormed out of the gate with an impressive win. Matawan, however, finished the season by winning the Central Jersey Group II title, so while this will be a critical Class A Central rivalry game, it is still only the first game.