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After winning the program’s first state sectional title in 19 years last season to officially put Brick  football back on the map, the Dragons’ seniors are out to cement their legacy at one of the Shore Conference’s most storied programs.

When Brick captured the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV title last year, the first for the Dragons since 1994, it was, in a way, ahead of schedule. Brick’s current senior class was highly-touted as it progressed through the ranks of Brick’s youth football organization. When quarterback Carmen Sclafani joined them last season as a transfer from Toms River North, it only added to the talented group, and they rode a pair of 1,000-yard rushers and a tough and clutch defense to a state title. The 2014 season was always looked at as the year Brick would be able to make a serious championship run.

With a title already in tow and a long list of talented an experienced seniors returning, 2014 could be the kind of year that’s talked about in Brick for years to come. They are trying to become the first Brick team to win back-to-back state titles since the Green Dragons won three straight from 1981-83.

“There’s an exciting vibe around here,” Sclafani said. “But inside this locker room we all know it’s going to be harder than last year. We’re going to have to work twice as hard, and we’re going to have targets on our backs.”

Brick quarterback Carmen Sclafani and running back Ray Fattaruso combined for over 2,300 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns in 2013. (Photo by Bob Badders).

The Dragons return nine starters on offense and six on defense from last year’s championship squad and will enter the season as one of the Shore Conference’s top squads and the favorite in Class A South and Central Jersey Group IV. Leading the way are Sclafani and senior running back Ray Fattaruso, who combined for nearly 2,300 rushing yards while scoring 30 touchdowns last season. Sclafani also threw for 705 yards and five touchdowns despite missing two games with an injury. Fattaruso (1,095) and Sclafani (1,194) each finished among the top 10 in rushing in the Shore Conference, and last year that was enough to carry Brick’s offense. What could catapult Brick’s offense to a devastating unit is the presence of a dynamic passing game.

In addition to Sclafani, Brick will enjoy the services of three returning starters at receiver in seniors Joe Phillips and Ja’Quez Johnson, along with sophomore Ja’Sir Taylor in its multiple spread offense. Adding even another level to the Dragons’ aerial attack is 6-foot-5 senior tight end Simon Bingelis, giving Brick six legit offensive weapons.

“It’s nice to look at the offensive huddle,” said head coach Rob Dahl. “Last year we didn’t really have to pass it - we had two 1,000-yard rushers - but this year you’re going to have to prepare to stop the pass. We’re much more balanced and ahead of the game (than last year) right now.”

“I think last year, even though we did well, we were very raw as an offense,” Sclafani said. “With the veterans on the offense this season it’s like we picked up right where we left off. Last year it took us two weeks just to get on the same page and now we’re miles ahead of where we were last year.”

Securing things up front for the six returning starters at the skill positions will be an offensive line that returns three starters. The entire right side of the line returns with senior Anthony Trapasso at right tackle along with junior Tyler Colonno at right guard and junior Alex Trapasso at center. Junior John Kozak joins the unit as the left tackle with either Pasquale Altilio or Brick Memorial transfer Chris Kimbiz at left guard.

6-foot-5 tight end Simon Bingelis gives Carmen Sclafani a big target over the middle. (Photo by Bob Badders).

Brick averaged 26 points per game last season with an attack that almost exclusively featured Sclafani and Fattaruso. While those two will still lead the offense, the Dragons expect to spread the ball around much more. There’s obviously high expectations for the unit.

“With so many weapons on the offense, it’s a great feeling to have another year to put it on the field,” Fattaruso said.

While Brick doesn’t return quite as many starters on the defensive side, a talented unit returns amidst similarly high expectations. Starters at each level return to bolster a defense that did yield nearly 20 points per game last season, but came up with clutch plays in Brick’s biggest games.

“We got with a couple of injuries early in the season and the kids were still learning the system,” Dahl said. “Last year we were looking to slow teams down, where this year I think we can really be a shut-down defense and one of the top defenses in the Shore. I’m really expecting a big year out of our defense.”

Kimbiz will play the nose in Brick’s 3-4 alignment with returning starters Jake Layton, a senior, and Dan Finelli, a junior, as the defensive ends. Fattaruso, who made 78 tackles and a team-leading 10 sacks, returns as a starter at one of the outside linebacker positions while the other will be manned by junior Jordan Keefe. Senior James Juliano was the Dragons’ leading tackler last season with 107, and is one of the starting inside linebackers. The other is junior Joe Sclafani, who started three games last season.

In the secondary, Phillips and Johnson are returning starters at cornerback. Senior Tommy Leech returns at safety along with senior Joe Bruno, who started three games last season.

“Going into each game we want to lock down a team and just let our offense do its thing,” Juliano said. “Our offense should only have to score one touchdown for us to win.”

Replacing the solid tandem of kicker Anthony Starego and punter Steve Ferlisi will be K.C. Stackable as the kicker and Hunter Palmer as the punter.

The Dragons will start the season as a top-three team in the Shore Conference and almost certainly the favorites to win Class A South and Central Jersey Group IV. The challenge coming off a championship on the road to a hopeful repeat is keeping the same focus. Dahl has made it to where speaking about a "state championship" or "rings" is barred from the field or locker room. His team has paid attention.

Brick quarterback Carmen Sclafani enters the season with a chance for a third straight 1,000-yard rushing season. (Photo by Bob Badders).

“The motto has been ‘Stay humble, Stay hungry,’” Dahl said. “They can’t lower their guard. They have been really focused in practice, and they’ve worked hard all summer long. I can tell they’re ready to go at it again.”

“You could come out here and think you’re hot stuff because you won last year and take it easy,” Sclafani said. “We know last year we flew a little under the radar, but this year we’re not going to be overlooked by anyone.”

While Brick is preaching the one-game-at-a-time motto, it also sees the bigger picture. This team has the capability to bring home a second straight championship and the talent to make a run at an undefeated season. The A South schedule will be foreboding, but this year’s version of Brick football has a chance to have a special season.

“Expectations are the same, and that’s to win a championship,” Dahl said. “Right now it’s to win game one. Last year the pressure was to win, this year it’s higher because we’re not going to sneak up on anybody. You’re on everybody’s radar and they can’t wait to play you, but I don’t think these guys are going to let the pressure get to them.”

“For the seniors it’s the last year in the program,” Juliano said. “Most of us have been wearing the green and white since we were seven years old. We want to go out leaving our mark.”

 

Head coach: Rob Dahl, 4th season

Career record: 20-21

Assistant coaches: Chip LaBarca Jr., (off. coord.); Brian McNamara (def. coord.); Chris Blackburn (DL); Kevin Stockhoff (QB); Scott Davis (OLB); Vinny Marra (ILB); George Krauszer (DE); Jon Daner (OL); Tim Bray (TE); Vin Spadavecchia (RB); Kurt Weiboldt (K); Jason Groschel, Don Marino, Scott Karos (freshman); Scott Lloyd (strength & conditioning); Jim Barber (athletic trainer).

2013 record: 9-3 (5-2)

Big Shoes to Fill: Ja’sir Taylor, So., WR

The Green Dragons are pretty well fortified at nearly every position, but after seeing time as a freshman, Taylor should have a bigger role to help offset the graduation of versatile receiver Mike Muratore.

X-Factor: Staying healthy

Brick has all the talent and experience to make a run at a 12-0 season. To accomplish their ultimate goal the Dragons will have to be at full strength.

Glue Guy: Ray Fattaruso, Sr., RB/LB

A 220-pound battering ram and a vocal leader, Fattaruso is an easy player to rally around. Running for nearly 1,100 yards with 14 touchdowns while making 10 sacks also helps.

Impact Newcomer: Chris Kimbiz, Sr., OL/DL

Kimbiz transferred from Brick Memorial and will step in as a starting defensive lineman while also in competition for a starting spot along the offensive line.

Pivotal Game: Sept. 13 at Brick Memorial

This is one of the Shore’s most heated rivalries with the role of the favorite now back on the Green Dragons’ side of town. This could either be a game where Brick takes care of business to send an early statement, or the Mustangs stun the Shore and open the A South race right off the bat.