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With its starting quarterback and running back both returning and an exciting group of underclassmen coming up, Freehold hopes it can turn the corner and produce its first winning season since 2010.

The Colonials are four years removed from a state sectional title, but haven’t made the playoffs since. With an improved offense and a nine total returning starters, Freehold feels it can be much improved in year four under head coach Dave Ellis.

“I feel like all we have to do is gel and buy in and everything will be fine,” said senior running back/defensive back Josh Dixon.

Dixon and junior quarterback Jake Curry return to lead the Colonials’ spread offense, which knows its needs to improve on its 13.9 points-per-game average from last year. Curry started a handful of games down the stretch last season and enters his junior year with more confidence.

“Last year we asked Jake to manage the offense,” Ellis said. “He’s a true quarterback in that he’s cool and calm, and he’s a smart kid. He understands what we’re trying to do, and he leads the offense. He’s the true definition of a leader.”

Junior quarterback Jake Curry will direct Freehold's spread offense after starting some games as a sophomore. (Photo by Bob Badders).

Dixon was a Class B North all-division running back last season and is one of the most underrated backs in the Shore Conference.

“Jake and Josh are both very good players, two of the better ones in the division,” Ellis said. “Up front we have to get better. We’ll be breaking in three new guys, and it all starts up front. We’re talented, but we have to protect them.”

A pair of starters return along the offensive line in 225-pound senior left guard David Alpaugh and 220-pound senior center Will Fraumeni. At left tackle will be senior Mitchell Johnson, the right guard is junior Joel Perez and the right tackle is 6-foot-2, 215-pound junior Todd Burger.

The four starting wide receivers are junior Jamel Smith-Rush, junior Matt Curcio, senior Bailey Indursky and freshman Ashante Worthy. Senior Jah’sim Fenn will also see time at receiver. Worthy, who is Dixon’s cousin, has impressed Ellis with both his athletic skills and poise of an upperclassman. His versatility is off the charts, as he can play running back, slot receiver, linebacker, cornerback and safety as well as return kicks and punt with a range of 35 to 40 yards.

Freshman Ashante Worthy will play all over the field for the Colonials and could be in line for a breakthrough season. (Photo by Bob Badders).

“He’s a humble, smart kid and a hard worker,” Ellis said. “I don’t really look at him as a freshman. To me he acts like a junior or a senior because of the way he carries himself.”

“We have a lot of weapons, so it’s my job to get those guys the ball on the perimeter or go deep on play action,” Curry said. “Those guys can make a lot of moves in the open field.”

The Colonials will run a 3-3-5 stack on defense, and hope to tighten up a unit that allowed 30 points per game last season. The nose guard is senior Nick Kousoulides with Fraumeni and Johnson, the latter of whom is a returning starter, as the defensive ends.

Senior Morgan Quinones is a returning starter at middle linebacker and will be flanked by inside linebackers Xavier Madera, a sophomore, and either sophomore Nick Eccelston or Jared Vandysen. The outside linebacker/strong safeties are Smith-Rush and Indursky.

All three true defensive backs are returning starters with Dixon and Fenn as the cornerbacks and Curry as the safety. Worthy will also see time in the defensive backfield. On special teams, Worthy will serve as the kicker and punter.

“We have some weapons - it’s just a matter of putting it all together,” Ellis said.

Both Dixon and Curry said a big difference between last season is team unity.

“Last year we had a lot of problems within the team individually,” Curry said. “So this year the focus is on being a family. We go out to eat, catch a movie, watch film together, and it carries over to the field.”

“Last year we really weren’t as close as we are this year,” Dixon said. “Most of us have been playing together for so long and as seniors we feel like we could go far this year.”

The Colonials have moved from the rugged B North division to A North, which should help them on their quest to get back over .500. The bottom line for Freehold to succeed will be to maximize its offensive potential and play solid in the fourth quarter, which is something it has struggled with.

“I’ve been telling the kids since the spring that it doesn’t matter what offense or defense we run, we just have to finish football games,” Ellis said. “That’s been our Achilles' heel the past couple of years. We’ve been winning games and can’t sustain it. We’ve worked on our conditioning and mental toughness. You have to be able to get that stop or get that conversion in a big spot.”

“Every week we’re going to have to fight,” Dixon said. “Our motto is to never give up.”

Head coach: Dave Ellis, 4th season

Career record: 7-23

Assistant coaches: Andrew Mandeville (off. coord./QB/DB); Jason Blum (OL); John Kinzel (OL/DL); Greg Elias (RB/LB); Matt Whalen (WR/DB); Rob Keys, Paul Zambito (freshman); Len Rivers (quality control); Mike Stehle (athletic trainer).

2013 record: 2-8 (1-5)

Big Shoes to Fill: Todd Burger, Jr., OL

You could also throw junior Joel Perez and senior Mitchell Johnson in here, as all three are stepping in as first-year starters and replacing Class B North all-division lineman John Bostic.

X-Factor: An improved offense

The Colonials averaged just 13.9 points per game last year, so a big year out of Dixon and Curry would certainly help Freehold improve its win total.

Glue Guy: Jake Curry, Jr., QB/DB

Curry enters his first full season as the starting quarterback and Ellis praised his leadership ability, calling him “the true definition of a leader.”

Impact Newcomer: Ashante Worthy, Fr., WR/DB

Worthy will almost literally do it all for the Colonials as a freshman. This could be the start of a superstar career.

Pivotal Game: Sept. 20 vs. Howell

The Colonials and Rebels are somewhat in the same boat in terms of potential within the division, so this Week Two matchup will be a good gauge of Freehold’s progress.