2014 Monmouth Reg. Football Preview: Flying Under the Radar
After a long, accomplished career as a coach at the high school and college levels, Rich Mosca returned to Monmouth Regional three years ago to do two things: coach the Falcons' defense and, if necessary, drive a few of the more local players to practice.
Last year, Mosca had no intention of doing anything more than teaching defense to an inexperienced group – something he enjoyed doing that was also just down the road from his Tinton Falls home. At 66 years old with coaching experience that has taken him through tours at three high schools and two universities over 45 years, Mosca never saw himself again dealing with the duties required of a head coach.
Then head coach Jason Morrell left the team at the beginning of preseason camp last season and left Monmouth without a coach as the season approached. Mosca was more than qualified as a last-minute replacement, but the situation was less than ideal for the coach and his players.
“It was a shock to all of us when coach Morrell left,” senior quarterback Jimmy Green said. “Fortunately, we already had coach Mosca here and he stepped up for us. In the end, it’s worked out for the best.”
Flash forward to this season and the instability has given way to a renewed enthusiasm thanks to Mosca and his staff, as well as a group of players who have bought into the program.
“The kids have been great from day one,” Mosca said. “Last year, we needed to teach a lot of guys how to play, and we’re continuing to teach this year. But to the credit of our kids, they have bought into what we’re teaching them, they are working hard and they have improved a lot already. Just talking to the coaches who played us at the end of last year, they know that when they play Monmouth Regional, they are in for a game.”
It also doesn’t hurt that Monmouth returns a high-upside offense thanks to a handful of accomplished skill players. Senior wide receiver Isaiah Searight committed to Fordham University in June and will look to have a breakout year after catching 29 passes for 351 yards and one touchdown as a junior. Although his reception and yardage totals both led the team last year, the Falcons staff are expecting an even bigger year from the 6-foot-4 target.
“Isaiah has been terrific,” Mosca said. “He is the hardest worker in the program – always in the weight room, running routes, working with the younger guys, and he is a great student. He’s exactly the kind of person you want in your program.”
Senior Daryl Gamble will line up opposite Searight on the offensive side after catching 22 balls for 200-plus yards last year, but his development on the other side of the ball has helped Monmouth create a defensive identity. Gamble picked up an offer from Wagner College in late July, with the idea of using him as a cornerback. After beginning his high school career as a defensive end, Gamble moved to the secondary after Mosca saw his potential there last year and helped him make the transition.
“Coach Mosca really knows what to do with his players,” Gamble said. “He always knows the best spot on the field for every player, and he took a look at me and helped me make the transition from (defensive) end and tight end to corner and receiver. He’s taught me a lot about the game and kind of took me under his wing and that’s allowed me to become the player I am.”
Green and Shannen McCue will also play major roles in the offense, with Green returning as the starter at quarterback. Green had an up-and-down season behind a patchwork offensive line last year and the coaches and players in camp expect Green to not only have his best season, but to perform as a one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the conference. That will require a still-young offensive line to make progress, giving Green a chance to get the ball away to one of his many options while operating the running game as a matter of balance.
“Jimmy has looked great so far,” Searight said. “We’ve been playing together for a long time, and we have a really good relationship. I expect him to have a big year and I know I’m biased, but I think he’s the best quarterback in the Shore.”
Although he had limited touches last year, McCue remains a key cog in the running game as the fullback, paving the way for junior tailback Eli Velez, who rushed for 559 yards and five touchdowns last year.
While there remains the potential for an explosive offense at Monmouth, Mosca has quietly built up a competitive defense that made serious strides last year. Led by Gamble and Searight – who plays free safety – in the secondary, the Falcons employ a base 4-3 look on defense and feature a number of nickel packages inspired by Mosca’s college connections.
“We’re doing things on defense that not a lot of high school teams are doing, and we’re really picking it up,” Gamble said. “It gives us an edge mentally knowing that what we’re doing is working, and it’s something teams on the college level are doing.”
Mosca also said Green is the team’s best outside linebacker and while his quarterbacking duties will keeping him from playing every down on defense, he will see regular action on that side of the ball.
“I like to hit people,” Green said. “Whether I have the ball or not, I like contact. So, yeah, I’m going to try to be on the field as much as possible.”
Green’s use on defense is part of an overall team trend in which many of the top returning players are indispensable on either side of the ball. Mosca, however, sees the depth on the defensive side of the ball as the most tangible difference between this year and last.
“I know a lot of people like our skill players and we sure like our skill players, but I would venture to say I think our defense is better than our offense,” Mosca said. “We have a lot of good, solid athletes and now that we’re all starting to get comfortable in the system, it’s created a good deal of depth, and that’s a huge asset to have on a defense.”
Class A Central will be a more forgiving division this season with the departure of Red Bank Catholic to Class B North as part of the Shore Conference realignment. Division newcomer Matawan will compete for a division title, as should Rumson-Fair Haven and St. John Vianney, but Monmouth remains a wild card in a new-look division.
“Our goal is to be competitive in every game we play,” Mosca said. “We want to be a team that when we take the field, we’re coming out to beat you and I think at the end of last year, we got to that point. Now, we’re looking to win a few more games.”
Head Coach: Rich Mosca, eighth season at Monmouth
Assistant Coaches: Dan Wendel (off. coord./QB/DB); Jason McQuay (QB/LB); Cornell Key (OL/DL); Joe Yglesias (OL/DL); Shawn Brown (WR/DB); Kevin Egan (WR/DB); Tom D’Ambrisi (QB); Joe Nappi, Justin McGhee (freshman); LeeAnn Pearce (athletic trainer).
2013 Record: 3-7 (1-5)
Big Shoes to Fill: Shannen McCue, Sr., FB/LB
McCue might have been the team’s best linebacker last year, but he did it alongside captain Dylan Brown, who is the Falcons’ top player lost to graduation. While the onus falls on the whole defense to pick things up and he will have plenty of help from Isaiah Searight behind him, McCue will get the brunt of attention from opposing running games.
X-Factor: Tyler Gallagher, Jr., Tackle
Like any team, Monmouth’s success or failure likely rests with the offensive line. The Falcons have the skill players to make noise in Class A Central, so the development of the group up front will be crucial. Gallagher has impressed the coaching staff early and appears to have made the jump necessary to anchor the right side of the line.
Glue Guy: Jimmy Green, Sr., QB
Green is the kind of quarterback that considers himself an all-around football player. He does not shy away from contact and he doesn’t mind dishing out a hit from the linebacker position. That attitude makes him popular among his teammates, many of whom go to bat for him as one of the Shore’s best quarterbacks.
Impact Newcomer: Casey Pachucki, So., RB
Although Monmouth has plenty of returning talent in the backfield and on the outside, Pachucki has impressed Mosca and the coaching staff enough that they figure to find snaps and touches for him.
Pivotal Game: Sept. 20 at Manasquan
The Hawks open their Class A Central slate against Holmdel at home, which gives the Falcons a legitimate chance to start 2-0 if they can knock off the Warriors the following week. That might seem ambitious on the surface, but Manasquan graduated a fair share of its lineup and Monmouth hopes to compete with the top programs in the division this year.