2014 Brick Memorial Football Preview: Back in the Saddle
Controversy was the only thing separating Brick Memorial from at least a seven-win season and a trip to a sectional semifinal last season, and even though the Mustangs lost three All-Shore player to graduation, they expect to back in the race for championships in 2014.
The Mustangs’ heart-wrenching 14-13 loss to top-seeded Manalapan in the first round of the Central Jersey Group V playoffs still sticks in the craw of Brick Memorial’s players and coaches. Instead of overly dwelling on it, the Mustangs have looked back at how they won five of their last six games to reach the postseason and concentrated on picking up where they left off.
“It was definitely a heart-breaker,” said senior wide receiver and cornerback Karl Kumm. “That bus ride was the lowest of lows, but looking back it shows how much potential we have.”
Brick Memorial returns seven starters on offense and defense from last season’s 6-4 squad, and should be a factor in the Class A South division race. In head coach Walt Currie’s flexbone offense, senior Joe Hans steps in as the starting quarterback. Hans began last season at quarterback as the Mustangs toyed with an up-tempo, pistol version of the option, but scrapped it after a few games and put Hans back at wide receiver and put Rob Triano at quarterback. Now a senior, Hans is back under center to run the offense.
“The comfort level is a lot higher,” Hans said. “I’m more confident and a better leader on and off the field."
At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds with good speed, Hans is certainly a weapon as an option quarterback. What held him back as a junior was part mechanical and part mental. Traditionally, Currie’s quarterbacks as juniors have blossomed into stars as seniors, and Currie sees the same progression from Hans.
“Those guys, as juniors they played quarterback and as seniors they became quarterbacks,” Currie said. “As a junior, Joe lined up and made the reads the best he could and played as hard as he could, but his inexperience showed up at times. With his development, he’s gone from playing the position to being the quarterback. He’s the leader.”
“Since last year Joe has matured immensely,” Kumm said. “He’s the starting quarterback now, and you can see it in his throws. He’s making throws I haven’t seen him make before.”
Senior Connor Owen returns as the starting ‘A’ back. The slot backs are senior Matt Cathey, a returning starter, at ‘Z’ back, with junior Elie Lavarin and senior Zah’kei King working in at ‘H’ back. The Mustangs won’t have the home run threat of Mike Basile, who is currently starting at safety for Monmouth University as a true freshman, but should be able to spread the ball around more.
“It’s not three yards and a cloud of dust or a pitch to Basile anymore,” Currie said of the offense. “It’s ‘Joe, here you go. We’re running option football and the ball’s going into your hands in clutch situations.’”
At receiver, the 6-foot-4 Kumm, a returning starter, gives Hans a sizable and sure-handed target down the field. The other wide receiver position will be manned by either senior Mike Kraft or junior Matt Cuppari.
“When it’s a solo route to (Kumm) I know he’s bigger and stronger than anyone that’s going to be out there against him, and I know that if I throw it in his area he’s going to do everything in his power to get the football,” Hans said. “He brings a lot of energy to the practice and game fields. He’s a big target with a big heart.”
The area that has the Mustangs most excited has been the offensive line, which returns three starters. Currie said it’s the most complete group of linemen on both sides of the ball he’s had in his tenure at Brick Memorial.
“Part of the reason option football is great is that even if you have just an adequate offensive line you can move the football,” Currie said. “With a great offensive line it opens the door to a new phase for our offense, which we’re excited about.”
Junior Anthony Nobile (6-0, 270) returns as the starter at right tackle while his brother, Mike (6-0, 265), returns as the starting center. Marcus Foster, a 6-foot-4, 315-pound senior, is the returning starter at left guard. Joining the line as first-year starters are 265-pound senior Jimmy Tango at left tackle and 6-foot-2, 255-pound senior Quinn Hartdorn at right guard.
“Our line is the heart and soul of our team this year,” Kumm said. “We have guys that have stepped up that people don’t know about yet that can make a difference.”
The Mustangs’ defense was among the best in a division filled with high-octane offenses, allowing 16.3 points per game. They lost Basile, inside linebacker Jake Lombardo and safety Rob Triano to graduation, but return starters along the defensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary in their 4-3 alignment. The defensive ends are Anthony Nobile and Hartdorn, with Foster and Mike Nobile as the defensive tackles. Mike Nobile had a breakout season as a sophomore, and was consistently in opponents’ backfields blowing up plays.
“We have the kind of kids up front that will force the double team or make the tackle,” Currie said. “That gets linebackers free, and that’s really the idea.”
Stepping in at middle linebacker will be either junior Billy Walsh or senior Alex Clayton. Owen returns as the starting strong side linebacker and junior Zach Tighe is back as the starter on the weak side. Three starters return in the secondary with Hans and Kumm as the corners and Cathey as the strong safety. Kraft will be the starting free safety.
Kumm and Hans give Brick Memorial two very tall cornerbacks who can defend the pass, while being physical enough to be a factor in run support.
“Since we went to cover-2 we like the tall corners, and those two have played very well in those spots,” Currie said. “They’ll be in run support a lot and we’ll count on them to use their athleticism to cover over the top.”
Cuppari returns as the team’s kicker and will also handle the punting.
The schedule for the teams in A South is brutal, so Brick Memorial knows every week will be a battle. At the same time, their slate of top-notch opponents leaves the Mustangs with plenty of opportunities to climb the rankings and pick up power points. Their biggest chance at that is immediate, as they host defending Central Jersey Group IV champion and arch rival Brick to open the season.
“You lose players like Mike (Basile), Jake (Lombardo) and (Rob) Triano and teams are going to think we’re going to be down,” Currie said. “But I think the reality is that we have seven starters returning from what ended up being a quality football team, and there’s no reason why we can’t pick up where we left off and compete with the best teams around.”
Head coach: Walt Currie, 8th season
Career record: 44-32
Assistant coaches: Pete Brennan (def. coord/LB); James Bright (WR); Bill Brunner (OL); Mike Cintron (WR/DB/spec. teams); Mike McArthur (OL); Brian Staub (RB); Rob Merola, Mike Bonventure, Keith Farr (freshmen); Sue Penrod (athletic trainer).
2013 record: 6-4 (4-3)
Big Shoes to Fill: Matt Cathey, Sr., RB/LB
Cathey is the most experienced pitch back the Mustangs have after the graduation of the electric Mike Basile and is also a returning starter in the secondary, where Basile patrolled last season and was a two-time Shore Sports Network All-Shore player. Billy Walsh and Alex Clayton also have tough tasks in replacing Jake Lombardo at middle linebacker.
X-Factor: Quarterback play
It’s fairly obvious for an option offense, but if Joe Hans can elevate his game as a senior, the Mustangs will be tough team to beat all season. If he struggles, the Mustangs’ offense will have a hard time keeping up with the likes of Brick, Toms River South and Lacey.
Glue Guy: Karl Kumm, Sr., WR/DB
A vocal leader who starts on both sides of the ball, Kumm, along with fellow seniors Joe Hans and Connor Owen, paces the Mustangs.
Impact Newcomer: Zah’kei King, Sr., RB
King has shown playmaking ability as a pitch back and could give the Mustangs another weapon in the running game.
Pivotal Game: Sept. 13 vs. Brick Township
The Dragons are the favorites to win the Class A South division title and repeat as Central Jersey Group IV champions, so the Mustangs have the chance to send an immediate message to the rest of the Shore and open the division race.