Out of the Fire: 2023 Manalapan Football Preview
Coming off a 3-7 season in 2022, the Manalapan football program is united in a singular goal to return to its glory days. From 2010 to 2017, the Braves won seven division titles, reached six NJSIAA sectional finals, won 10 or more games six times, and secured the first state sectional title in program history.
That run put Manalapan on the map as one of the top public schools in New Jersey, and the Braves are eager to regain that position during the 2023 season. Although they were competitive most weeks, playing in the beastly American Division took its toll as the Braves lost games vs. Red Bank Catholic (23-0), Middletown South (17-14), Donovan Catholic (35-6), Rumson-Fair Haven (14-10), and Wall (14-7). Their strength of schedule and wins over Freehold Township, Middletown North, and Freehold Boro allowed them to qualify for the playoffs where they dropped a 10-7 contest to Jackson Memorial in the first round of the Group 4 playoffs.
Manalapan is now aligned in the Colonial Division with Long Branch, Colts Neck, Point Boro, Raritan, and Red Bank Regional. It should be a very competitive division and one the Braves have a great shot at winning, especially considering how close they were to knocking off multiple ranked teams last season.
Manalapan’s identity is as a run-first offense with an unrelenting defense to match. Improving its offensive output from last season will be a major focus after the Braves averaged just 13.8 points per game to finish 36th in the Shore in scoring. Eight starters return in their multiple-set offense, led by four starters along the offensive line.
A stout offensive line has been a mainstay of Manalapan’s program for the past two decades and the team has had several All-Shore selections and sent multiple players to top FCS and Ivy League schools during that span. This certainly isn’t exclusive to Manalapan, but when the Braves are consistent in the trenches it tends to lead to a successful season. Leading the group of returning starters is senior right tackle Evan Radosevich. The 6-foot-4, 255-pounder is committed to the admissions process at Princeton University, continuing the aforementioned tradition of Manalapan offensive linemen playing in the Ivy League. Senior returning starter Matthew Makfinsky (6-3, 255) is the left tackle, junior returning starter Reggie Bennett (6-0, 295) is the left guard, and junior returning starter Nick Monteleone (6-3, 265) is the center. Senior PJ Ranieri (5-11, 240) steps in as the starting right guard. The tight end is senior three-year starter Joseph Melo (6-4, 200), who caught 11 passes for 157 yards and two touchdowns last season.
That group will look to open holes for running backs Jason Rodriguez and Ah’sere Woolfolk. Rodriguez, a junior, is a returning starter and Woolfolk is a sophomore making his varsity debut. Taking over at quarterback is junior Ryan Dougherty (6-0, 180). He will have two returning starters as his top targets with senior Anthony Macchio and junior Jackson Pfister. Macchio will enter his third year as a starter and is coming off a year in which he caught 22 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns.
While the offense struggled to score points consistently, Manalapan’s defense was tremendous last season allowing just 14 points per game with one shutout to finish sixth in the Shore Conference in scoring defense. Leading tackler Brendan Catalano and top pass-rusher Artem Reinikov-Jouk have graduated, but six starters return in the Braves’ 3-4 alignment as they look to build upon last season’s defensive results.
The defensive line has two returning starters with Bennett at defensive tackle and Monteleone at defensive end. Also at defensive end are Radosevich and junior Jake Scanish while Ranieri and 6-foot-1, 300-pound junior Brandon Quevedo are also defensive tackles.
Senior Aidan Wilmot (6-0, 200) leads the linebacking corps after recording 70 tackles and six tackles for loss last season. He will be at inside linebacker along with junior Vin DeFilippo. The outside linebackers are Melo, who will be a three-year starter, along with juniors Dennis Healy and Anthony Hammel, and seniors AJ Mucciolo and Josef Mizrahi.
In the secondary, Macchio enters his third year as a starting cornerback and senior Aneesh Kurria is back as the starting strong safety. Also at cornerback are junior Jarrett Barber, senior Andrew Mucciolo, and Woolfolk. Pfister will be the free safety.
Manalapan has enjoyed great specials teams play from its kickers and punters over the past several seasons and that is expected to remain the same this season. Senior Jake Horowitz (6-2, 195) will handle both the punting and kicking duties after waiting his turn behind All-Shore kicker/punter Michael Calton for the last two seasons.
Manalapan is one of the more intriguing teams to watch this season. Does a move out of the American Division result in a return to form for a team used to competing for championships every year? Given how close Manalapan was to taking down some of the top teams in the Shore suggests it will, but the Braves still have to go out and prove it. There won’t be any shortage of opportunities.
At a Glance
Head coach: Dom Lepore, 4th season
Career record: 47-78 (11-14 at Manalapan)
2022 record: 3-7
Coaching staff: Cody High (Offensive Coordinator/WR/DB); James DiPaolo (Defensive Coordinator/LB/TE); Billy Smith Jr. (OL); Anthony Cialdella (OL); Dan Anerella Jr. (QB); Michael Caggiano (K/P); David Calderon (DL); Lou Profera (RB/LB); Jesse Shenker (DB/WR); Pat Marzo (WR/DB); Charlie Lombana (QB/DL); Andrew Jones (Freshmen); Bryan Doel (Freshmen); Reggie Grant Sr. (Freshmen); Pete DiCataldo (Freshmen); Anthony Mucciolo (Freshmen); Danny Rodriguez (Freshmen); Kyle Earley (Freshmen); Shannon Tomasula (Athletic Trainer).
Circle the Date: Week 0 – Friday, Aug. 25 vs. Wall
This is a big game for both teams with several layers to it. You have former Manalapan head coach Ed Gurrieri facing his former team and good friend Dom Lepore; it’s a crucial nondivisional game for both teams trying to start strong before opening division play; Manalapan will honor former standout Kyle Mullen, who was tragically killed during Navy SEAL training last year, with his former Yale teammates donating a bronze plaque of Mullen that will have a permanent home in Manalapan’s end zone.
Player to Watch: Anthony Macchio, Sr., WR/DB
Macchio is a three-year starter on both sides of the ball and also a special teams threat on kick and punt returners. His ability to affect the game in all three phases makes him an indispensable player for the Braves.
Impact Newcomer: Ryan Dougherty, Jr., QB
Dougherty will take over as Manalapan’s starting quarterback and try to help bring consistency and balance to Manalapan’s offense.
Big Shoes to Fill: Wide Receivers
Macchio returns and fills the void of a No. 1 receiver but the group as a whole will have to replace the production of Alex Dille, whose 45 catches for 532 yards and two touchdowns led Manalapan by a wide margin last year.
Did you Know?
Evan Radosevich will be the third Radosevich brother to attend and play football at an Ivy League school. His older brothers, Reily and Trevor, played at Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania, respectively. Both were All-Ivy League selections during their careers and Trevor is currently a senior grad transfer at the University of Cincinnati.