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Marlboro seniors Mo Omar and Dewann McAllister have both played in programs with high expectations, so forgive them if they can’t help but ignore the recent past of their current team and dream of the possibilities.

Coming off a rough 2-8 season under a first-year head coach, Marlboro is gearing up for what it hopes to be a resurgent season behind Omar and McAllister – its two best offensive threats – and perhaps more importantly, a bigger, more confident line on both sides of the ball.

Second-year coach Jason Dagato took over a team that went 4-6 and had moved close to its first winning season since 1999 before losing much of its talent to graduation. With a year to put his stamp on the program and for the underclassmen to improve, Dagato has seen progress even before the first day of practice.

Senior wide receiver Dewann McAllister returns to Marlboro after spending a season at Lacey. (Photo by Matt Manley)

“Last year was a struggle because we were pulling guys from all over the field and trying to fit them into other positions, especially on the offensive and defensive lines,” Dagato said. “This year, we have guys who know how to play their position across the board, and that’s made a big difference in practice alone. It’s been a much more positive mood around camp and there is an intensity that wasn’t all there before.”

Omar will be at the center of the effort after emerging as the team’s top playmaker following his transfer from St. John Vianney before last season. He was second on the team in all-purpose yards (492) behind quarterback Dustin Jensen, who accounted for more than 1,200 yards between his arm and his legs.

Omar averaged under four yards per rush attempt last year, a number Dagato expects to spike now that Omar is a year better and has a retooled offensive line behind which to run.

“There’s an obvious difference this year,” Omar said. “I came in last year not really knowing what to expect, coming over from another program and having to wait to become eligible. This year, there’s just more confidence.”

McAllister, meanwhile, spent last season at Lacey after beginning his career at Marlboro. Although Lacey had a rare down season, the Lions still went 5-5 and McAllister picked up plenty from a program that expects to win championships every year. McAllister brings back some of those expectations without the same level of pressure to win every game.

“It was good to play in a different program with a different coaching staff to get some perspective,” McAllister said. “It was a good learning experience for me, but I’m glad to be back here. I feel like I can bring some of what I learned down at Lacey here and help this program get to that next level.”

For Omar and McAllister to play to their potential, the Mustangs will need to make a collective leap on the offensive line. So far, Dagato and his senior leaders have been pleased with the work that the line has put in under new offensive line coach Justin Bloss, a Manalapan alumnus who previously coached on the staff at Matawan.

Senior running back Mo Omar (1) is Marlboro's top returner in total yards. (Photo by Matt Manley)

“There is a huge difference with our offensive line so far,” Omar said. “Last year, a lot of guys didn’t really know what to do and now, they are hitting people, getting loud and playing with a lot more swagger. Coach (Bloss) brings a lot of intensity, and it’s definitely rubbing off.”

Seniors Jared Moffet and David Wiener will anchor both the offensive and defensive lines, with Moffet playing on the end of both and Wiener playing center and defensive end. Moffet has an athletic 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame, and with an extra year of experience and a summer camp to become a leader, his confidence level has grown to match that frame.

“Just having that year of experience to learn and find out what it’s like to play the position has made a difference,” Moffet said. “In our division, you have to be physical and sometimes it’s hard to be as physical as you want to be when you’re still learning the position and that’s pretty much where a lot of our guys were last year. This camp has been way more physical.”

The final piece for the offense will be at the most important offensive position. Junior quarterback Joe Catena has impressed the coaching staff during the preseason, but is still locked in a close position battle with sophomore Mike Wolff. Marlboro has been operating out of a two-back spread offense that will move senior fullback Josh Zemlock around the backfield.

Dagato expected his team to endure some growing pains last season after losing a good portion of a 4-6 team from 2012. This season, the mood in camp has been much different, according to Dagato.

“The expectations are a lot more defined than they were a year ago, not necessarily in terms of wins and losses, but in terms of the level we expect from each player,” Dagato said. “We want to reach a level of performance and once we’re there, the wins will follow.”

Marlboro is working quickly to get all of its players up to speed, keeping in mind that the season opens with home games against Middletown South and Manalapan.

“Why not?” Dagato said of playing the two most accomplished programs in the division over the last several seasons. “We’re going to find out real fast what kind of football team we’ve got, and we’re okay with that.

“We look at it like we’re playing two teams that are the class of the Shore Conference right off the bat. Let’s see how we fare against the best.”

 

Head Coach: Jason Dagato, second season

Career Record: 2-8

Assistant Coaches: Matt Wisniewski (off. coord./QB); Steve Vella (WR); Cory Varrial (RB); Justin Bloss (OL); Matt Levi (LB); Nick Scalzo (DB/freshman); Tyler Palagonia Mitch Nock (freshman); Mark Bramble (athletic trainer).

2013 Record: 2-8 (0-6)

Big Shoes to Fill: Joe Catena, Jr., QB

Catena is still trying to nail down the starting job and whoever wins the battle between Catena and Mike Wolff will have to fill the void left by Dustin Jensen. Last year, Jensen accounted for 1,200 combined yards passing and rushing, including a team-leading 627 yards on the ground.

X-Factor: Jared Moffet, Sr., OL/DL

The Mustangs need both the offensive and defensive lines to step up this season and Moffet has a chance to be a dominant player on either side. If he has a big year, that could set the tone for the rest of the group.

Glue Guy: David Wiener, Sr., OL/DL

A senior leader on both lines, Wiener shows a good motor that will serve him well while playing on both lines – center on offense and defensive end on the other side.

Impact Newcomer: Dewann McAllister, Sr., WR

After spending a year down at Lacey, McAllister is back in Marlboro and will make an immediate impact in the Mustangs’ spread offense.

Pivotal Game: Oct. 18 vs. Freehold Township

A lot can and will happen between opening weekend and Oct. 18, but regardless of how things start for Marlboro, this is a game the Mustangs will have to have in order to make the claim that they made progress. Freehold Township picked up its lone division win against Marlboro last year.