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These are strange and different times in our lives, especially in the world of high school athletics. But at Howell High School, the 2020 football season also brings a sense of excitement and optimism.

Howell made a big splash in May when it hired Frank Edgerly as its head coach, bringing in a state championship-winning coach to guide the Rebels and rebuild a program that is three years removed from reaching a state sectional semifinal game but has struggled for much of the past decade.

“From a community standpoint, the response has frankly been overwhelming,” Edgerly said. “It’s very encouraging to see so many people excited. You can see how important (football) is to the community. I knew to make a move like this it had to make a lot of sense for both parties involved and the feedback and support I’ve had has been great.”

Edgerly was the head coach at Red Bank Catholic for two stints totaling 14 years, building the Caseys from a middling program to one of the best in the Shore Conference. In 2018 he guided RBC to the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 3 title with a perfect 10-0 season. His teams are known for their explosive offenses built around a balanced pro-style scheme. In between his coaching periods at RBC, Edgerly was a scout for the New England Patriots and an assistant coach for the Cleveland Browns. He resigned from his coaching post at Red Bank Catholic in February.

Photo by Steve Meyer.

Edgerly will try to bring Howell back to championship form. Since reaching consecutive NJSIAA South Jersey Group 5 sectional finals, including a 9-2 season in 2017, Howell has struggled to a 2-18 record over the past two seasons. The Rebels’ last division title came in 2009 when they won the American Division under longtime head coach Cory Davies, who is now the head coach at rival Freehold Township. Howell’s only state sectional championship came in 2007 when the team went 11-1, also with Davies at the helm.

“There are definitely a lot of parallels from when I was first hired at Red Bank Catholic, but every situation brings different challenges, whether it’s moving to a new program and a new school or returning year after year,” Edgerly said. “It’s high school football, so the dynamics of the roster change every year. Coming into a program brand new, that’s a transition for both the players and the coaches. Having taken over a program previously that had been down and was going through some growing pains, I’ve been able to go back and look at the lessons learned from that.”

Complicating matters is the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions put in place as a result. Edgerly didn’t get to evaluate the Howell roster until the NJSIAA’s Phase 1 of its Return to Play guidelines began in July so he and his staff are still trying to figure out where all the pieces of the puzzle fit.

Howell graduated several of its top players from last season and returns just a handful of players who started last season. Senior linebacker Nick Cerulli was a first-team All-Constitution Division last season, as was senior Jake Davis as a punter. Earning second-team all-division status were seniors Trevor Curnal, Hunter Lino, Craig Iandoli and Tim Zaccaria.

The picture is becoming clearer as opening day closes in, but there are still multiple players competing at every position along with some players at different positions than last season. The starting lineup is far from set.

“We’re trying to find out where we’re good and what we do well,” Edgerly said. “It’s coach speak, but we’re looking to get better day after day. This is such a unique situation where we are trying to evaluate the roster on the fly. Right now, it’s about having a clear and concise plan and establishing the mentality and our identity.”

The coaching staff is still gelling, as well, but Edgerly has Shore Conference Hall of Fame coach Bob Generelli of Middletown South and Raritan fame coaching the offensive line and former Howell star Bill Hill as the defensive coordinator. There are also two former RBC players, Michael Griggs and Alex Taylor, on the staff. Additionally, Edgerly said some recent RBC players helped out over the summer, which “greatly aided in not only accelerating the understanding of the scheme but also how we practice, the drills, and the expectations.”

“We’re expecting incremental gains each day,” Edgerly said. “The more and more we can focus on that, day-by-day, the big-picture stuff starts to care of itself.”

 

At a Glance

Projected starters (RS=returning starter, 3RS=3rd-year returning starter)

Offense: Multiple-Pro

QB: JT Goodman, Jr. or Steve Jardim, Jr.

RB/FB: Nick Cerulli, Sr. Hunter Lino, Sr.; Trevor Curnal, Sr.; Connor Gordon, Jr.; Luke Dalton, Jr.

TE: Cole Iandoli, Sr; Vinnie Hoffman, Jr.; Nick Vecchiarelli, Jr.; Sam Mele, So.

WR: Jake Davis, Sr.; Tim Zaccaria, Sr.; Craig Iandoli, Sr.; Nick Vecchiarelli, Jr.

OL: Matt Ioannides, Jr., RS

OL: Stanley Federovich, Jr.

OL: Ethan Conover, Sr.

OL: Kyle Critchley, Sr.

OL: Christian Friesendorf, Sr.; John Enzerillo, Sr.; Riley Johnston, So.

Defense: 3-4

DL: Matt Ioannides, Jr.; Stanley Federovich, Jr.; Ethan Conover, Sr.; Kyle Critchley, Sr.; Christian Friesendorf; John Enzerillo; Riley Johnston.

ILB: Nick Cerulli, Sr., RS

ILB/OLB: Cole Iandoli, Sr.; Hunter Lino, Sr.; Nick Vecchiarelli, Jr.; Sam Mele, So., Trevor Curnal, Sr.

DB: JT Goodman, Jr.; Robert Schaeffer, Sr. Tim Zaccaria, Sr.; Jake Davis, Sr. Craig Iandoli, Sr. 

Special teams

K: Jake Davis, Sr., RS

P: Jake Davis, Sr., RS

  

Head coach: Frank Edgerly, first season (15th overall)

Career record: 85-54

Team record last five years:

2019: 1-9

2018: 1-9

2017: 9-2

2016: 6-5

2015: 3-7

Assistant coaches: Bill Hill (Defensive Coordinator); Matt Norman (Special Teams Coordinator/TE/LB); Bob Generelli (OL); Michael Griggs (OL); Dave Jimerson (WR/DB); Bob Mussari (RB/LB); Adam Sacco (DL); Alex Taylor (WR/DB); Nick Farrar (freshmen); Larry Peslak (freshmen); Joe McAuliffe (Director of Sports Performance); Amy Ghione (athletic trainer).

 

Player to Watch: Nick Cerulli, Sr., RB/ILB 

Cerulli was a first-team All-Constitution Division selection on defense last year when he led the Rebels in tackles (60), sacks (2) and tackles for loss (8).

“He had a lot of success last year and has really picked things up and established himself,” Edgerly said. “And has been a tremendous leader. He’s a ‘football kid’.”

 

Player Under the Radar: Hunter Lino, Sr., RB/LB 

“Hunter has been a guy who has jumped out and has continued to elevate his level on this team,” Edgerly said. “He wears hats in all three phases. He’s doing things he hasn’t been asked to do so far but this is a smart kid with a very high football IQ. His level of intellect and his talent has really given us a lot of versatility. He’s a kid you can hang your hat on. You know you’re going to get the effort and toughness.”

 

Impact Newcomer: JT Goodman, Jr., QB/DB

Goodman’s last significant snaps came on the freshman level as he lost all of last season to a knee injury. He is competing for the starting quarterback spot and could also see time playing in the secondary.

 

Top position group: Wide receivers and linebackers 

Wideouts Jake Davis, Tim Zaccaria and Craig Iandoli were all-division selections last year and among the linebackers, Nick Cerulli was a first-team all-division pick while Hunter Lino and Trevor Curnal were second-team selections. Both units have good depth and solid talent across the board.

 

Big Shoes to Fill: JT Goodman, Jr., QB or Steve Jardim, Jr, QB

Whoever wins the battle to become the starting quarterback will be replacing Jason Caston, who was 11th in the Shore in passing with 1,117 and six touchdowns and was also a first-team all-division selection on defense.

 

X-Factor: Time

Howell is a great unknown at this point. We know Edgerly’s reputation but it remains to be seen how it all fits together for the Rebels in 2020. The condensed preseason could mean this group doesn’t really show its cards until midway through the season.

 

Season Schedule

Friday, Oct. 2 – vs. Freehold Township, 6:30 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 9 – vs. Manalapan, 6:30 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 17 – at Colts Neck, noon

Friday, Oct. 23 – vs. Freehold, 6:30 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 31 – at Marlboro, noon

Friday, Nov. 6 – at St. John Vianney, 7 p.m.

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.