2023 All-Shore Gridiron Classic: Monmouth County Notes
When he takes the field at Kessler Stadium Sunday for the 2023 All-Shore Gridiron Classic, De'Ondre Banks will be representing a Neptune football program that posted a record of 8-17 over the last three years of Banks' high-school career -- including a 2-7 record last fall.
Banks, however, will be representing a team and a town that is much more than its record. Neptune has two prominent recent alumni who have made it to the NFL in Vinny Curry and Keith Kirkwood, the former of whom offered up his Rush2Victory Foundation as the title sponsor for this year's Gridiron Classic.
With Curry heavily involved in this year's game, Banks will have extra motivation to perform while representing the school that produced both of them.
"He means a lot to me and all the guys coming up in Neptune," Banks said. "Not just seeing what he did and all the success he had coming out of the same town, but just the way he is still giving back to the community with the camps he runs and the time and money he has given. It shows you can make it out and still come back."
As a youth player, Banks honed his craft going to offseason camps run by Curry during his NFL playing career -- the vast majority of which was as a defensive end with the Philadelphia Eagles -- and also listening to the coaching and advice of Kirkwood whenever the veteran NFL wide receiver had a chance to visit his alma mater.
"Everybody has something to say and something to offer, so the biggest thing is just to listen," Banks said. "Guys like (Curry) and Keith have been successful in football and life, so when guys like that come back and want to give you advice, it's a great opportunity."
Banks will be part of the group of Monmouth County linebackers that will look to slow down the Ocean County offense. The Neptune graduate and future Albright College linebacker finished seventh in the Shore Conference with 125 tackles, which is second among the Monmouth County linebacker corps behind St. John Vianney's Christian Buchanan.
"It's the same thing in this game: there are a lot of really good players and coaches here, so it's a chance to listen and learn," Banks said. "It's an all-star game, so it won't be as serious as a regular game, but we'll be out there to win and compete."
Marlboro Trio Reps a Winner
Marlboro has boasted All-Shore talent and made a major impact in the Gridiron Classic over the years, but there is something unique about this year's Mustangs contingent in the Shore's summer football classic: they are coming off a winning season and a postseason triumph.
Wide receiver Ryan Mendes and offensive linemen Pete Budveit and Corey Shanin will be representing a Marlboro program that finished with a winning record for the second consecutive year, but the 7-3 finish in 2021 was not enough to land the Mustangs in the playoff field.
"We're here to show what this program is about," said Mendes, who caught 30 passes for 366 yards during his senior season. "Our goal this past season was to set a new standard at Marlboro and when we get a chance to play in a game like this, we want to play with those same standards so that the younger guys coming up behind us see that and they know what the expectations are."
That changed this season when Marlboro went 6-4 and not only qualified for the South Jersey Group 5 playoffs, but won its first-round game at home vs. Washington Township -- the first state-playoff win for the program since 1994 and the team's first postseason appearance since 1999.
Not only did Marlboro navigate its way to the NJSIAA sectional semifinal round this past fall, but the Mustangs did so after losing starting quarterback A.J. Schwartz to a season-ending leg injury in early October, then losing starting running back Matt Cassidy to an injury during the Washington Township game and still overcoming a 10-point deficit to beat the Minutemen, 21-17.
Schwartz was selected to play in the game, but will not play, while Mendes, Budveit, and Shanin will carry the torch for a program that has the single-game rushing leader in Gridiron Classic history, as well as the reigning Defensive MVP. Cameron Coarsi set the single-game rushing record with 168 yards on 25 carries in the 2017 game and last year, defensive lineman Andrew Bulinsky was a difference-maker in earning the Defensive MVP award in Monmouth County's 14-7 victory.
"It's been cool for us to see (the success) because it shows that Marlboro does have those guys that are capable of doing those kinds of things like making All-Shore and winning MVPs and stuff like that," Mendes said. "From there, it was just about getting the team together and once we got the team success, we have really been able to show what Marlboro can do."
Going Green in the Secondary
Among the defensive backs selected to participate on the Monmouth County side in this year's Gridiron Classic, three of them came from Long Branch's talented defensive backfield.
While Shamar Williams will not be playing on Sunday, his Green Wave teammates Sekou Kamau and Akeel Gaines will be suiting up for Monmouth County and, in all likelihood, taking the field together as one half of the Monmouth secondary are a given moment in the game.
"We don't know how the playing time is going to go, but I think we'll be out there at the same time," Kamau said of playing with Gaines. "Chemistry is huge on defense and we have developed a lot of chemistry playing with each other the last few years."
Kamau considers himself a ball hawk to begin with, so expect to see him and his teammate flying around the field, looking to create turnovers whenever Ocean County takes to the air.
"I am always looking to make plays," Kamau said. "In a game like this, it's no different. We want to win and we want to make the right decisions, but it's an all-star game, so everybody wants to go out and make a big play."
Father and Son
When the opening kickoff hits the air on Sunday afternoon at Kessler Stadium, Jerry and Jeremy Schulte will officially go into the record book as the first father-son duo to serve as head coaches for the All-Shore Gridiron Classic.
Jerry, a longtime Shore Conference coach who will be inducted into the Shore Football Coaches Foundation during a halftime ceremony, was the head coach for Monmouth County in 2019, a 21-6 victory for Monmouth's third straight win in the series. Now it's Jeremy's turn. Coming off his first season as Rumson-Fair Haven head coach in which the Bulldogs won the South Jersey Group 2 sectional title and advanced to the inaugural Group 2 state championship game, he will look to lead Monmouth to a record fifth straight win.
The fact the Schultes are setting this precedent feels appropriate. After serving as head coach at Mater Dei from 1980 through 1984 and as Wall's head coach from 1990 to 1999, Jerry Schulte moved on to a position as an assistant at Rumson. The Bulldogs rose to become the state power they are today with Schulte as the team's defensive coordinator under Shane Fallon and then Bryan Batchler. His prowess as a defensive mastermind - especially in the playoffs - helped Rumson win sectional titles in 2010, 2013, 2014, and 2015. He then became the head coach in 2016 and led the Bulldogs to their fourth straight sectional title. Another sectional crown plus a regional bowl game victory followed in 2018.
Jerry stepped down prior to the 2022 season, switching roles with Jeremy, who had been the team's defensive coordinator for the last handful of seasons. Jerry went back to being the defensive coordinator and Jeremy led the Dawgs to their seventh sectional title, a resounding win in the Group 2 semifinals, and a trip to the state final.
On Sunday they'll be coaching together again, just another day in the football life of the Schultes.
"It's great. I've watched him grow up from being a ball boy at Wall when he was 8 years old to begin an assistant coach and now head coach," Jerry Schulte said. "It's very gratifying to see his success."
"We're lucky that we're able to be successful at the same time, and it's really been a lot of fun," Jeremy said. "I've learned a lot from him, not just football stuff, but the other things that people don't tell you about before you become a head coach. It's always been nothing but support from him. And on top of having him around the rest of the staff has been together for the better part of a decade now, and it's really shown."