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By Art Gordon - Shore Sports Network contributor

As Willie Jacobs approaches his second year as head coach of his alma mater, his only thought is to continue to build a program at Central Regional.

Being a 1990 Central graduate, he has seen teams and staffs change over and over, and offenses and defenses move from one scheme to another. He is happy with the progress his program has made on the heels of a 5-5 season in his first year that included a state playoff berth.

Senior Jordan Hardy returns as a weapon on offense at wide receiver and will play linebacker for Central after starting at cornerback last year. (Photo by Art Gordon)

“I know the process will take time, but we have at least started it,'' Jacobs said. "All of our lower-level teams are running our schemes and using our terminology and philosophies, from Pop Warner/AYF on up."

He returned to Central in 2011 after serving as an assistant coach at Franklin and Long Branch. His staff has been together for some time and with the addition of former Manalapan head coach Tom Gallahue, he has another experienced voice on the staff.

Another addition to the program has been a new offseason conditioning regimen installed by strength and conditioning/defensive line coach J.P. Sisler. Most of the players recorded huge jumps in their weight room grades, especially in the bench press, with senior middle linebacker/center Liam Christensen leading the way with a jump of 30 pounds.

Christensen, a two-year starter at linebacker, entered Central as a freshman quarterback, then switched to running back two years later, and now is going to play center, where he hopes to lead the way with a much-improved running game.

“We are preaching a complete team effort,'' Jacobs said. "All three aspects of the game must be successful for us to be successful. Our goal is to outwork our opponents.  We don’t have the talent level to ever just go through the motions.

"We must continue to get better every day.  We know we will struggle at times, but we will just slow it down and talk about it and refocus and get going again."

Central will employ a spread offense this season with some wrinkles added to it after averaging 23.4 points per game last year. The Golden Eagles lost eight players to graduation, so they have to find a way to replace their playmakers. The defense returns eight starters on a team that got better and better every week. They will continue in their 4-4 scheme and hope they will be able to find their replacements from their successful junior varsity and freshman teams, which both finished 8-2 last season.

Junior Mike Miserendino will take the snaps this year at quarterback as he tries to replace two-year starter Marquis Drumwright, who threw for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Miserendino started at middle linebacker last year, and adds the dimension of a quarterback who can make plays with his legs as he continues to refine his passing.

Junior Mike Miserendino takes over at quarterback after starting at linebacker last year. (Photo by Art Gordon)

“I am trying to be a leader even though I'm only a junior,'' Miserendino said.

Senior Mike Yager returns at running back after spelling graduated standout Javon Hardy last year in running for 264 yards and two touchdowns on an impressive 9.8 yards per carry. Joining him in the backfield will be sophomore Mike Bickford.

"We will have an improved rushing attack and will get better as the season goes on,'' Yager said.

Jordan Hardy, the younger brother of Javon, will line up opposite senior Anthony Arneth at wide receiver after the two combined for 24 catches, 419 yards and two touchdowns last year. Six-foot-2 sophomore Andrew Kelly will be another big target at tight end.

Christensen will be the center, and he will have senior Zach Fingerlin and sophomore Jonathan Matuska next to him at the guard spots. Senior Rudy Solomon will start at left tackle with junior Darius Marrow at right tackle. Solomon is a three-year starter who moves to tackle after playing right guard last year.

The strength of the team will be on defense, where eight players return with experience from a unit that gave up 23.3 points per game last year. Solomon is a returning starter at defensive end, and Yager will be the other defensive end after playing middle linebacker last season. Marrow and sophomore Denis Corbin will be the defensive tackles.

Christensen returns at inside linebacker after making 49 tackles and two sacks last season, with Bickford manning the other inside linebacker spot. Miserendino moves to outside linebacker after making 51 tackles at inside linebacker last year, and Hardy, who had 39 tackles and three interceptions at cornerback last season, moves to the other outside linebacker spot. The corners will be junior Malcolm Vaughn and senior Jeremy  Zuleta, and senior Alex Fernandez returns at safety.

The placekicking and punting will be handled by senior Michael Quick, with Arneth still battling for one of the positions.

A big key will be players quickly adapting to their new assignments, as many of the returners have been moved to new positions, but they are excited about the changes.

"I'm able to do more for the team,'' Solomon said.

The Golden Eagles' seniors are also focused on leading the way to help keep the program moving forward.

“We are all trying to improve the leadership,'' Yager said. "We are trying to be like an extra coach on the team that can help the younger kids at any time."

“What we do this year can be followed for years to come,'' Christensen said. "We want to pass down a respect for the game and build an athletic family."

While a strong Barnegat team returns as the defending Class B South champion and Lakewood brings back some top talent, the Golden Eagles are looking to hold their own in the division after tying for second last year.

“We will shock some teams with our aggressive play,'' Jacobs said. "Don’t take us for granted. We are working hard to get better, and we will get there."


Head coach: Willie Jacobs, 2nd season

Career record: 5-5

Assistant coaches: Walt Ramsay (off. coord./QB); Chris Loveland (def. coord./LB); Pat Ramsay (WR); Tom Gallahue (OL/DL); Jarrett Pidgeon (LB); Tige Dillard (DB); John Sisler (OL/DL); Justin Colianni, Angelo Mazzuca (freshman); Garrett Henshaw (athletic trainer).

2013 record: 5-5 (5-2)

Big Shoes to Fill: Mike Yager, Sr., RB

Yager takes over in the backfield for Javon Hardy, who had 939 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns in nine games last season. Yager should get some help from sophomore Mike Bickford, who also will see some carries in the spread offense.

X-Factor: Jordan Hardy, Sr., WR/LB

Hardy has game-changing speed at wide receiver and looks to be a crucial part of the success of the spread offense. He also should be a factor at linebacker after moving from cornerback.

Glue Guy: Liam Christensen, Sr., OL/LB

Christensen will be a key part of the spread offense as the starting center and also returns to anchor the defense at inside linebacker.

Impact Newcomer: Mike Bickford, So., RB/LB

Bickford should see some carries out of the backfield to complement primary running back Mike Yager and also will start at inside linebacker as a sophomore.

Pivotal Game: Sept. 19 at Barnegat

The Golden Eagles face the defending Class B South champs on the road in their second game with an opportunity to make a statement that they will be a factor in the race. They will look to close the gap after losing 23-7 to the Bengals last season.