A New Era: 2021 Barnegat High School Football Preview
For the first time since the program’s first varsity season in 2006, someone other than Rob Davis will be leading the Bengals onto the field to begin the season.
Davis, who was the first and only head coach in Barnegat history prior to stepping down after the 2020 season, started the Bengals football program, guided the team for 15 seasons and compiled an 82-69 record with four division titles and one NJSIAA sectional final appearance.
Less than a month after Davis’ announced his resignation, Barnegat found its next head coach, and it didn’t have to look very far.
In December, longtime assistant Paul Covine, who was most recently the team’s defensive coordinator, was hired as Barnegat’s new head coach, kicking off a new era of Barnegat football. Covine is a Barnegat native who attended Barnegat schools and is a graduate of Southern Regional High School, which was where Barnegat residents went to high school before Barnegat HS opened in 2004. He coached with the program for 12 seasons, starting at the middle school before coaching at the freshmen level and then with the varsity team.
“I’m ecstatic, I really don’t have any words to describe it,” Covine told Shore Sports Network the day his hiring was made official. ‘I’m a Barnegat guy and just to get hired to coach football here 12 years ago was awesome. I coached in the middle school and then the freshmen and then was a varsity assistant and then the defensive coordinator, and now this. It’s a dream come true.”
Not only is Barnegat’s new head coach a longtime veteran of the program, most of the coaching staff also returned. Continuity and familiarity can often be an issue teams have to work through after a coaching change but the Bengals can hit the ground running in that regard.
“One of my selling points when I was going for the job is that nobody knows the kids better than me because I’ve been a part of what Coach Davis has built,” Covine said. “I think that’s so important for the kids, that it’s an easy transition for them.”
Now, Covine will try to continue Barnegat’s competitive ways while putting his own spin on the program. On the surface and in terms of scheme, Barnegat will look very similar to how it has in the past.
The Bengals’ multiple spread offense has six returning starters from a unit that averaged 17.9 points per game last season. Half of those returning starters are on the offensive line with senior all-division selection Connor Darmstatter (6-foot-3, 285) at left tackle, senior Bryan Ortiz (5-foot-8, 200) at right guard and senior Kenneth Minor (6-foot-2, 305) at right tackle. Junior Connor Armstrong, who was a starting linebacker as a sophomore last season, will start at left guard while senior Azreal Pearson is the center. The tight end is senior Jared Schworn, who was set to start on defense last year before an injury ended his season.
Senior Kurt Bonin takes over as the starting quarterback and in addition to an experienced offensive line will have some good playmakers around him. The Bengals have three wide receivers back who saw starting action last season with senior Keean Paul (6-foot-2, 225) and juniors Nasiem Lee and Shikieth Gordon.
Junior running back JoJo Bivins split time last season, rushing for 302 yards and three touchdowns to earn second-team all-division honors. He will be RB1 this season with junior Max Giaccone and freshman Johnnel Johnson backing him up.
Barnegat’s defense was very good last season, finishing tied for 10th in the Shore in points allowed at 15.5 per game. Just four starters return from that group, however, and the Bengals will have to find a way to replace some big-time stat producers at all three levels.
Darmstatter is the lone returning starter up front in the Bengals’ 3-4 alignment, returning at defensive end. The other defensive end will be Minor and Pearson will line up at nose tackle.
Armstrong had a very solid sophomore season with 49 tackles and returns as the starting middle linebacker. Schworn jumps back into a starting role as the weakside linebacker while Paul is the strongside linebacker and senior Amir Allan will be the ‘Buck’ linebacker.
In the secondary, Lee is a returning starter at cornerback with Gordon at the opposite cornerback spot. Lee made 40 tackles with five passes defensed and one forced fumble last season. Seniors Logan Kruedl and Justin Bye are at strong safety. Junior Kyle Eslinger is the free safety with Bivins No. 2 on the depth chart.
Barnegat will play in the Patriot Division this season, which includes several familiar rivals. They’ll take on Asbury Park, Jackson Liberty, Manchester, Point Boro and Shore Regional in division games and square off against Allentown and Point Beach in their first and final regular-season games, respectively.
At a Glance
Projected starters (RS=returning starter, 3RS=3rd-year returning starter)
Offense: Multiple Spread
Returning starters: 6
QB: Kurt Bonin, Sr.
RB: JoJo Bivens, Jr.; Max Giaccone, Jr.
WR: Keean Paul, Sr. RS; Nasiem Lee, Jr., RS; Shikieth Gordon, Jr., RS
TE: Jared Schworn, Sr.
LT: Connor Darmstatter, Sr., RS
LG: Connor Armstrong, Jr.
C: Azreal Pearson, Sr.
RG: Bryan Ortiz, Sr., RS
RT: Kenneth Minor, Sr., RS
Returning starters: 4
WDE: Kenneth Minor, Sr.
NT: Azreal Pearson, Sr.
SDE: Connor Darmstatter, Sr., RS
BUCK: Amir Allan, Sr.
WLB: Jared Schworn, Sr., RS
MLB: Connor Armstrong, Jr., RS
SLB: Keean Paul, Sr.
CB: Nasiem Lee, Jr., RS; Derrick Jarvis, So.
CB: Shikieth Gordon, Jr.; Jazmere Viera, So.
SS: Logan Kruedl, Sr.
FS: Kyle Eslinger, Jr.
K: Kyle Eslinger, Jr.
P: Connor Darmstatter, Sr.
Long snapper: Connor Armstrong, Jr.
Holder: Kurt Bonin, Sr.
KR: Nasiem Lee, Jr., RS; JoJo Bivins, Jr.
PR: Nasiem Lee, Jr., RS
Head coach: Paul Covine, first season
Career record: 0-0
Team record last five years:
Assistant coaches: Kevin Smith (Offensive Coordinator); Andrew Petruzzi (RB/Director of Football Operations); Mike Burke (Special Teams Coordinator/DL); Mike Leone (OL); Andrew Villiez (WR); Pat Moran (DB); Wayne Jackson (Varsity gameday coach); Zach Brebner (Head Freshmen Coach); Zach Andrews (Freshmen asst.); Brian Fitzpatrick (Head Middle School Coach); Dereck Rizzo (Middle School asst.); Lauren Tribley (Athletic Trainer).
Player to Watch: Connor Darmstatter, Sr., OL/DL
Darmstatter was a first-team all-division selection as an offensive lineman last season and returns as a two-way starter. The 6-foot-3, 285-pounder will anchor the trenches on both sides of the ball.
Player Under the Radar: JoJo Bivins, Jr., RB/FS
Bivins flashed impressive playmaking ability in limited action as a sophomore. With a full year and first-team reps coming his way, he could be one of the breakout star of the 2021 season.
Impact Newcomer: Jared Schworn, Sr., TE/LB
An injury derailed Schworn’s junior season but he’s back and ready to go as a two-way starter at tight end and linebacker.
Top Position Group: Offensive Line
A lot of Shore Conference squads are experienced up front and Barnegat is among those teams with three returning starters along the offensive line. Connor Darmstatter, Bryan Ortiz and Kenneth Minor return as the linchpins of the line in front of new quarterback Kurt Bonin.
Big Shoes to Fill: Azreal Pearson, Sr., OL/DL
He isn’t a direct replacement since the positions aren’t exactly the same, but Pearson becomes a two-way starter after the graduation of TJ Stokes, who was a starting offensive lineman and had a very good year along the defensive line with 41 tackles and three sacks.
X-Factor: Re-Igniting the Offense
Barnegat’s defense was pretty good last year but it’s offense was in the middle of the pack. A return to being a high-octane unit would certainly be a plus, especially in a division that should feature several very good offenses.
Thursday, Sept. 2 – vs. Allentown, 6 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 10 – vs. Manchester, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 17 – vs. Jackson Liberty, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 24 – at Shore, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 1 – vs. Asbury Park, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 8 – at Point Boro, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 15 – at Point Beach, 7 p.m.