Digging for Gold: 2023 Manchester Township Football Preview
Coming into the 2023 season, head coach Tommy Farrell and the Manchester Hawks know that their 2022 three-win campaign was only the blueprint set for the future. Manchester returns a very deep roster, as 18 familiar faces and the chemistry built over a year’s period of time look to have the Hawks soaring high.
Manchester started off last year with back-to-back wins over division rivals Lakewood and Toms River East. While the strong start kicked off the campaign, the stretch of seven straight tough matchups got the best of the young and developing program. After the tough stretch, the Hawks closed out last year with a 22-12 victory over Pemberton in their crossover game to finish the season 3-7.
The Hawks look put those seven losses in the rearview mirror, all starting with their offensive front. Returning to manage the helm at quarterback is junior Aidan Lunn after proving to have a crafty passing game. Lunn threw for 992 yards and eight touchdowns, while only throwing five interceptions. Lunn looks to garner help from the run department, as senior Josh Love comes in as the Hawks' top threat from the backfield. The 5-foot-7 running back ran for 705 yards and eight touchdowns on 173 carries. Junior MJ Goins will be the Hawks' other major component at running back this year.
While Manchester lost its top wideout to graduation in Tyrone Benjamin (16 rec, 469 yards, 6 TDs), the Hawks bring back seniors Joe Horowitz and Antonio Sarama. Horowitz (9 rec, 148 yards) flashed throughout last season, as he was able to step up to finish second to Benjamin in receiving yards. Sarama found the endzone twice last season (12 rec, 121 yards) from the arm of Lunn. Both wideouts look to be No. 1 options on the depth chart for 2023.
Another area the Hawks have bolstered is their coaching staff. Farrell brought in his uncle, former Manchester head coach Gerard O’Donnell, last season and this year he will take over as defensive coordinator. O’Donnell is the program's all-time winningest coach and led the Hawks to one of only two state playoff appearances since 1999 (2010.) Former Asbury Park head coach Lamar Davenport joins the program as the defensive backs and wide receivers coach. Davenport led Asbury to a 5-3 record and a state semifinal appearance in his only season last year. Farrell may also need his uncle to step in as the interim head coach for a day, as Farrell’s wife is due to have the couple's first child on October 21st, the same date that Manchester plays Lakewood.
Looking at the defensive front, the Hawks return their leader in junior Dante Mortellite. Mortellite led the team in total tackles (66), sacks (3), and tackles for loss (7) last year. While the Hawks will look at the junior to help out their 4-2 defensive scheme, Manchester brings back one of their key rising stars in sophomore Kurtis Mayer, who had major playing time as a freshman and recorded two sacks. The 6-foot-2 defensive end already has Division I colleges giving him looks early into his high school career. Goins looks to help out as one of the lead cornerbacks, with sophomore Malik Pharmes being the other corner.
One of the best feel-good stories that could brew out of the Shore could be the emergence of Anthony D’Antonio. The junior comes in as the Hawks' starter at center on the offensive line while proving to be a major asset as one of the starting outside linebackers on defense. While emerging as one of the Hawks team leaders, D’Antonio had to overcome an obstacle a few years back, beating a Hodgkin's Lymphoma diagnosis while in seventh grade. He is now three-and-a-half years in remission. D’Antonio will be on both sides of the gridiron during the fall, as all of his teammates look at him as one of the leaders and a formidable force that can bring Manchester to the next level.
Crucial to Manchester’s upcoming success will be staying healthy throughout the long season. The Hawks have nine returning starters on both offense and defense, with special teams remaining the same. While Horowitz is also one of the components of the receiving game, he’s also everywhere on the field as the team's free safety, kicker, and punter. He had two interceptions and a fumble recovery and made 11 of 14 extra points last season.
The Hawks are out to prove that this is not the same Manchester team from the last bunch of years. There’s a different energy and vibe that circulates Farrell and the Hawks. The approach is taking it game by game and focusing on each day at a time. There’s a wide-open opportunity for this program to take it to the next level and set the foundation for years to come. While staying healthy is one of the main keys to their success, there’s already a growing foundation the returning players will look to continue to build upon. The players have bought into what Farrell is preaching in his second season. Making their first state appearance in over 10 years is at the forefront of their minds.
At a Glance
Head Coach: Tommy Farrell
Career Record: 3-7
2022 Record: 3-7
Coaching Staff: Gerard O’Donnell (Defensive Coordinator/DL); Jeff Brown (Offensive Coordinator/OL); Alex Lunn (Special Teams Coordinator/WR/DB); Lamar Davenport (DB/WR); Bob Mussari (RB/ILB); Chris Blaine (Head JV, TE/OLB); Dimitrius Smith (DL); Tim Poss (DB) Joe Serratelli (Head Freshmen); Joe Hackett (Freshmen/JV); Mike Sullivan (Freshmen/JV); Tiffany Rigati (Athletic Trainer).
Circle the Date: Week 6 - Friday, Sept. 29th at Shore
The matchup at Shore Regional may prove to ultimately be the marquee matchup that brings the Hawks to the next level this season. There’s going to be a vengeance coming from Manchester, as Shore bested the Hawks 21-8 two years ago (ironically when Farrell was an assistant for the Blue Devils). While the Week 0 game against North Plainfield will be a strong test, facing Shore at the end of September is the one that the Hawks will have circled on the calendar prior to the season kicking off. Shore is a perennial Group 1 championship contender and a win there would be huge for Manchester.
Player to Watch: Kurtis Mayer, So., DE
There’s a lot of talent, both younger and older on the Hawks. The defense is going to have a big name in Kurtis Mayer over the next three seasons leading the way. Mayer came on and experienced a breakout for the Hawks in 2022, going through the offensive line for two sacks. Mayer has gained both significant height and weight coming into his sophomore season, with the weight room being one of his best friends. College coaches are keeping their eyes on Mayer early, as the sky is the limit with what potential he has.
Impact Newcomer: Anthony D’Antonio, Jr., OLB/C
D’Antonio comes into the season as the Hawks' starting center and one of the starting outside linebackers on defense. There’s a lot of praise for the work that D’Antonio shows both on and off the field and the adversity he's overcome has resonated with his teammates.
Big Shoes to Fill: Joe Horowitz, Sr., WR/FS/K/P
Tyrone Benjamin won’t be there as the lead wideout after graduating in June. He also won’t be there on defense to help with Horowitz. The two-year returning starter on special teams, safety, and wideout looks to expand his game this season. Horowitz really came onto the scene in ‘22, establishing himself as one of the main deep threats for the upcoming season. Horowitz’s 23 total tackles on defense with two interceptions have him ready for whoever wants to throw the ball in his direction.
Did you Know?
Defensive coordinator Gerard O’Donnell is Manchester's winningest head coach in the school’s football history. Farrell is the nephew of Gerard O���Donnell, as well.
|Friday 8/25||North Plainfield||6pm|
|Friday 9/8||Point Beach||6pm|
|Friday 10/6||Jackson Liberty||6pm|
|Friday 10/13||Asbury Park||6pm|