2015 Central Regional Football Preview: Seeking A Repeat
Calling 2014 a breakout season for Central Regional would be an understatement, as the Golden Eagles had their best season in 20 years, going 8-3 and winning a share of a division title for the first time since 1994 while also winning their first state playoff game since that same season.
With players such as Mike Bickford, Michael Miserendino and Dennis Corbin all returning, it would be easy to assume the winning will continue for the defending Class B South co-champs, but third-year head coach Willie Jacobs knows there are obstacles along the way. After going two decades between eight-win seasons, the challenge is whether the Golden Eagles can put together back-to-back championship years for the first time since winning consecutive Class C division titles in 1970-71. They also look to finish the job in the state playoffs, where they have never won an NJSIAA title, making their only appearance in a state final that same 1994 season.
“After Thanksgiving last season was over, the coaches knew, while players tend to live in what happened the year before,’’ Jacobs said. “We have a bull’s eye on us and will not be a surprise anymore. People are preparing for us, and we’re not a joke anymore.”
Central doesn’t just have to overcome its elevated status, but also the loss of four starters on an offensive line that was the strength of the team and led by second-team SSN All-Shore selection Liam Christensen. The lone returner is 6-foot-2, 320-pound tackle Darius Marrow, who earned All-Division honors and will be counted on to lead the way for Bickford who had a record-setting sophomore season.
A first-team All-Shore pick by SSN and the Class B South Offensive Player of the Year, Bickford ran for a school-record 2,052 yards and 25 touchdowns in his first varsity season.
“I didn’t think I would do that well, being a sophomore and not knowing what it was like to be on the varsity,’’ Bickford said. “Last year I didn’t really talk a lot, I just ran the ball. This year I have to step up, talk to the young kids and get them going.”
He cited his offensive line as the big reason for his standout season, and while there’s only one returner, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound junior knows he can have another huge season if that unit continues to work hard and mesh together.
The new group is headed up by Alex Maj, a 5-foot-9, 210-pound junior who will hold down one guard spot, with the other going to senior Blaine Pisano (5-9, 220). Junior Jonathan Matuska (6’1, 210) will join Marrow as the starting tackles, with the center spot a battle between sophomores Brandon Voss and Blake Hogan and junior Waylon Speer. Another key to the running game is battering ram fullback Dennis Corbin, who is a terrific blocker for Bickford and productive in short-yardage situations.
Miserendino returns at quarterback and he is a true dual threat, running for 700 yards and 7 touchdowns while passing for nearly 800 yards and 8 touchdowns as a first-year starter last season to earn All-Division honors. When he takes to the air, his top targets look to be seniors Isiah Turner and Matthew Aires, and juniors Anthony Holloway and Brandon Mickens. Six-foot-2, 190-pound junior Andrew Kelly will be the tight end.
Many of the same names will be counted on to perform when the defense is on the field, as the Golden Eagles’ roster is not all that deep. Corbin and Matuska will line up as defensive ends in the four-man front, with the tackle spots taken by Pisano and Maj. As good as Bickford is running the ball, Jacobs thinks he’s an even better middle linebacker after making 65 tackles last season and running an interception back for a touchdown. Sophomore Lino Delguidice and senior Brandon Vuono are projected to be the other starting linebackers.
The defensive backfield is led by Miserendino, who will occupy the strong safety spot and is not shy about making big hits. The 5-foot-10, 185-pounder made 66 tackles in 2014, and joining him as the last line of defense will be Aires, Holloway, Mickens and sophomore Neil Harrington. Miserendino will also handle the punting and kicking chores, although converted sophomore soccer player Shane Black might get to kick as well.
As a senior leader and top two-way player for the Golden Eagles, Miserendino knows he has to step up his game even more on and off the field.
“Everybody looks up to me and I have to do the right things all the time while working harder than anyone else,’’ he said. “Having our best season in 20 years meant the world to us, and the taste of winning the B South championship was the best feeling ever, and we all want that again.”
Central will get an extra boost this season in that except for their Week Zero opener at Southern on Sept. 4, the Golden Eagles will play all their games at home. They played all but one game away from home last season while artificial turf was installed at Joseph J. Boyd Memorial Field.
Jacobs admits that playing before Labor Day is difficult because of the time crunch. As a former Central player himself, he’s also not sure he likes the idea of playing at home every week, although it will be nice for their fans. What he’s more concerned about is his players thinking that repeating last season will be easy.
“Some athletes think when we show up the other team will be scared of us,’’ he said. “It doesn’t work like that because while it’s hard to get there, it’s even tougher to stay on top.”
If the offensive line comes together and Bickford and Miserendino stay healthy, the thrills of 2014 may just be a preview of things to come.
Head Coach: Willie Jacobs, third season
Career Record: 13-8
Assistant Coaches: Pat Ramsay (Offensive Coordinator/QB), Justin Colianni (OL), Tige Dillard (WR/DB), Rob Taylor (RB), Jarrett Pidgeon (LB), Dennis Pidgeon (DL), Matt Kiefer (Frosh), Angello Mazzuca (Frosh)
2014 Record: 8-3 (6-1)
Big Shoes to Fill: Justin Colianni
Much of the credit for the performance of the offensive line last season went to assistant coach Tom Gallahue who is not coaching this season because of his position in the school administration. Colianni not only has to replace him but work with four new starters.
Glue Guy: Michael Miserendino, Sr., QB/S/K/P
He’d sell popcorn if they asked him…Miserendino will be a leader on and off the field and with defenses stacked against Bickford he might have to take to the air a bit more this season.
X Factor: Sophomores
Jacobs likes his sophomore class and quite a few of them will get to play early on. How quickly they mature might be a key to repeating as Class B South champions.
Impact Newcomer: Alex Maj/Jonathan Matuska
A pair of junior offensive lineman who will team up with Darius Marrow to form the core of the offensive line.
Pivotal Game: Sept 11, Lakewood
Central’s only division loss came at Lakewood (27-7) in last year’s season opener. Following a non-conference game at Southern the Golden Eagles will seek to avenge that loss and give themselves a real shot of winning back-to-back division titles for the first time since 1971-72.