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With a new coaching staff and a complete system overhaul on both sides of the ball, Howell is ready for the dawn of a new era under Luke Sinkhorn as it looks to regain its championship form.

Sinkhorn comes to Howell after serving as New Egypt’s head coach for the last five seasons. A Manasquan grad who played under legendary head coach Vic Kubu, Sinkhorn began his coaching career as an assistant at Point Boro before returning to his alma mater for three seasons. He served as an assistant under Tom Farrell for two seasons at New Egypt before being hired as the head coach.

Sinkhorn and defensive coordinator P.J. Gibbs, another Manasquan grad who has coached with the Warriors and also at Matawan, bring with them a defense-first philosophy that will be accompanied by a power running attack. It’s a drastic change from the no-huddle spread passing aerial onslaught installed by former head coach Cory Davies (now an assistant at Lacey) that led to five playoff appearances, two sectional finals, the 2007 Central Jersey Group IV title and many sleepless nights for opposing defensive coordinators.

The Rebels haven’t had a winning season since 2010, however, so the challenge for Sinkhorn is to get Howell back to competing for championships with a new identity.

“It’s going to be a little bit of a culture change,” Sinkhorn said. “We came in with the idea of leading with defense, and that goes in line with running the ball. They need to see a little success before it clicks, and it’s not going to happen overnight. But the guys are buying in and we’re getting there.”

“There came a point in the offseason where we all came together and said no matter who our coach ends up being, we all have to come together on the field,” said senior two-way lineman Mike McGuinness. “Coach Sinkhorn came in, and we all bought in. We’re really loving it.”

The offensive linemen are excited for the switch to a system that will see them blocking for running plays much more than in the past. The line also looks to be Howell’s strength on offense as it has size and experience returning. McGuinness (6-foot-1, 253 pounds) is the center and will be flanked by 220-pound senior Johnny Furmato at left guard and 6-foot-1, 280-pound senior Jorge Hidalgo at right guard. At left tackle is 6-foot-4, 270-pound senior Jeremy Subjinski and at right tackle is senior Evan Cofrancisco.

Howell has a big and experienced group of offensive and defensive linemen that should serve it well in their new schemes. (Photo by Bob Badders).

“As offensive linemen we don’t ever shy away from contact,” McGuinness said. “We love hitting, and we have a lot of size on the O-line, so we’re looking forward to it.”

“Having all those guys back works in our favor,” Sinkhorn said. “There still needs to be a change with them getting used to playing downhill instead of backing up, but they’re all excited about it.”

The starting tailback in Howell’s multiple-I offense is senior Jarvis Leaks, with junior Mike Reilly as the fullback. Leaks saw more action as a receiver out of the backfield last season and finished with 27 receptions for 379 yards and a touchdown. The tight ends are senior Matt Prusan and sophomore Mike Ioannides. Wide receiver isn’t the same star-making position at Howell like it was in the previous offense, and the Rebels will be replacing their top three receivers anyway, so the adjustment hasn’t been as stark. Seniors Joe Salafrio and Anthony Sarullo are the starters with juniors Nic Rossi and Nick Chianca, and sophomore Dan Cacciatore also vying for playing time.

Senior running back Jarvis Leaks is slated to be the feature back in Howell's new multiple-I offense. (Photo by Bob Badders).

“We’ve all adjusted pretty quickly and we know this offense is going to be effective because it fits us,” Leaks said.

“It adds a new dimension in that we can still pass it, but we’ll run it a lot better,” McGuinness said. “You can’t just have three defensive linemen up and have them chase the quarterback. It’s going to be a lot harder to defend.”

Working in at quarterback have been senior Colin Mastowski, junior Mark Iacobino and sophomore Bobby Cavallero. Whoever isn’t playing quarterback will be at another position on defense, and Mastowski already starts on defense. Cavallero brings a dual-threat skill set to the position, but with a senior in front of him it remains to be seen how much he’ll play quarterback.

“Cavallero is kind of a throwback guy - he’s not afraid to take a hit,” Sinkhorn said. “He probably gives us our biggest dual threat, but we’re still developing him.”

Defense has been an area that, even when they were successful as a team, was where the Rebels struggled. Run defense was the biggest problem, but Sinkhorn and Gibbs’ philosophy starts with defending the ground game. Up front in Howell’s 4-3 alignment will be 6-foot-3, 300-pound senior Ryan Demian along with senior James Bast at defensive tackle. The defensive ends are McGuinness and 6-foot-4, 275-pound senior Liam Baldwin.

“We have a lot of guys with experience coming back, and this offseason we really hit the weight room hard,” Demian said. “We’re a harder-hitting bunch, and we’re going to show teams what we can do.”

The middle linebacker is junior Justin Jarosz with Cacciatore and Mastowski as the outside linebackers. Sarullo and Salafrio are the starting cornerbacks with Reilly as the strong safety and Rossi as the free safety.

“It’s how I was brought up as a player and a coach, so wherever I would have gone it’s always defense first and running the ball,” Sinkhorn said. “They did some great things here we’d love to match offensively, but it starts with defense.”

R.J. Grey and Josh Arenas have been working for the starting kicker position, while Ioannides will be the punter.

Howell enters the season as an unknown because of the new coaching staff and drastic change in offensive scheme while being more committed to defense. After years of opposing teams knowing exactly what to get from Howell, 2014 and beyond will be much different. The excitement to show the rest of the Shore the new-look Rebels is evident.

“I think we know who we are, and we’re ready to play,” McGuinness said. “We’re going to bring the wood every time and fight to every whistle.”

 

Head coach: Luke Sinkhorn, 1st season (6th overall)

Career record: 0-0 (25-26 overall)

Assistant coaches: P.J. Gibbs (def. coord./DB); Bob Mussari (LB); Zac Cooper (DL); Joe Migliore (RB/spec. teams); Ryan Klusewicz (OL/DL); Joe Santopietro, Shane Baldwin, Chris Provo (freshman); Amy Ghione (athletic trainer).

2013 record: 4-6 (2-4).

Big Shoes to Fill: Colin Mastowski, Sr., QB/LB

Mastowski appears to be the favorite to win the starting quarterback job, but this applies to whomever the Rebels start. Last year’s quarterback, Connor McGlynn, led the Shore in passing yards (2,123) and touchdowns (22). Although the system is much different, that’s a void in production that has to be somewhat replaced.

X-Factor: Run defense

If Howell can dramatically improve its run defense it will give itself a chance to win every time out, while also changing its perception and the way teams have to attack.

Glue Guy: Mike McGuinness, Sr., OL/DL

McGuinness is the only Howell lineman playing both ways, which tells you how much the coaches value him. The lines look to be the team’s strength early on and McGuinness is their leader.

Impact Newcomer: Bobby Cavallero, So., QB

With good size for a sophomore at 5-11 and 180 pounds, Cavallero looks like the future quarterback for the Rebels and could seize the starting job this season. His ability to run and pass with equal talent has intrigued the coaching staff.

Pivotal Game: Sept. 12 vs. Colts Neck

The Rebels open with a Week Zero game against Freehold Township, but their rivalry game with the Cougars, who also have a new coach and are coming off a run to the Central Jersey Group IV title game, will give a better idea of where the Rebels are this season.