A New Way to Win: 2021 St. John Vianney High School Football Preview
The last several seasons for the St. John Vianney football team have been a reimagination of the program, in which the Lancers went from a team that drew some of the top talent from the area (and out of the area, in some cases) and overwhelmed opponents to a program that is relying on a more conventional talent pool and figuring out ways to win. Last year, St. John Vianney picked up five convincing wins – every margin of victory was by at least 17 points – and was within one score of its opponent in three of its four losses.
Finding a way to win the close game will be a key in 2021 for the Lancers, which despite not boasting some of the major college talent that they had five years ago still has All-Shore-caliber players around the roster. Vianney will be both dynamic and experienced at every skill position and also has two proven, strong tackles to build out an offensive line. Those qualities will also play out on the defensive side, where the Lancers will again be a team of primarily two-way players with just enough depth to give starters the occasional breather.
Throw in arguably the Shore’s top kicker and the Lancers should have a lot of ways to deal with opponents in 2021.
“We bring back a lot of talented players,” said second-year St. John Vianney head coach Mike Alberque, who is also the school’s athletic director. “We lost some impact guys but we’re going to have a lot of skill players with experience. Peter Pezzullo is back at running back and Antonio Rosato gives us unique dual-threat quarterback because he can throw and is very dangerous with his legs. If we can keep improving and stay healthy, we have a chance to have a very good season.”
St. John Vianney at a Glance
Projected Starters (RS=Returning Starter; 3RS=Third-Year Starter; 4RS=Fourth-Year Starter)
QB: Antonio Rosato, Jr., 3RS
RB: Peter Pezzullo, Sr., RS
RB: Joey Abarno, Sr., RS
WR: Troy Dey, Sr., RS; Isaac Montalvo, Sr.
WR: Kyle Verriest, Jr., RS; Mike Abel, Sr.
TE: Mason Shenk, Sr.
LT: Jacob Davis, Sr., RS; Matt DeFelice, Jr.
LG: Tim O’Dowd, Jr.; Ryan Buchanan, So.
C: Zach Scully, Jr.
RG: Brendan Kane, Sr.; Tim O’Dowd, Jr.
RT: Makel Davis, Jr., RS; Andrew Chemo, Jr.
DE: Mason Shenk, Sr., RS
DT: Makel Davis, Jr.
DT: Jacob Davis, Sr., RS
DE: Ethan Cawley, Sr., RS
OLB: Jack Farrah, Jr., RS
ILB: Joey Abarno, Sr., RS
OLB: Michael Foley, Jr.
CB: Corey Pitts, Sr., 4RS
CB: Isaac Montalvo, Sr., RS
SS: Kyle Verriest, Jr., 3RS
FS: Troy Dey, Sr., RS
K: Mason Shenk, Sr., 3RS; Mike Abel, Sr.
P: Mason Shenk, Sr.
Head Coach: Mike Alberque, second season
Career Record: 76-65-1
Record Last Five Years:
Assistant Coaches: Jeff Papcun (Def. Coordinator), Dan Fierro (Off. Coordinator/QB), Mike Warnock (Running Game/OL/DL), Ed Hernandez (Special Teams/LB), Tony Abarno (RB), Lou Liberatore (Freshman), Tyler Lucas (Freshman), Brian Lucas (Freshman), Pete Pezzullo (SB), Joe Galamb (UT), Ruthann Rutledge (Athletic Trainer), Maya Kantor (Athletic Trainer)
Player to Watch: Mason Shenk, Sr., TE/DE/K
There are several dynamic athletes on the St. John Vianney roster that could be primed for big seasons: Peter Pezzullo is a feature back with experience; Antonion Rosato is a dual-threat quarterback; Kyle Verriest is healthy again as a standout two-way player at receiver and defensive back; Joey Abarno is a physical player out of the backfield and at linebacker.
Shenk, however, is the most unique of the group. Not only is the senior one of the Shore’s top kickers, but he also turned in a standout season on defense with 46 tackles and five sacks while playing on the edge. In addition to his defensive play and kicking, Shenk has a chance to make an impact as a tight end by catching passes and paving the way for the Lancers army of running backs.
Player Under the Radar: Corey Pitts, Sr., RB/CB
Pitts has been a varsity contributor since his freshman season, so when it comes to playing cornerback at the varsity level, few players in the Shore have the credentials of the St. John Vianney senior. In addition to being a steady player on the defensive side, Pitts could prove to be a valuable offensive weapon this season by complementing Pezzullo out of the backfield. With both Pitts and Pezzullo playing both sides of the ball, it will benefit St. John Vianney to feature two running backs and Pitts has shown enough potential in preseason that the Lancers could have their tandem.
“Pitts has looked as a running back so he is going to get some carries backing up Pezzullo as part of that group in the backfield,” said second-year St. John Vianney head coach Mike Alberque, who is also the school’s athletic director. “He is in his third year starting on the defense and he has been up with the varsity since his freshman year so he is already an established player on that side of the ball, but he looks like he could open some eyes on offense as well.”
Impact Newcomer: Zach Scully, Jr., C
On the remade St. John Vianney offensive line, Scully has been an early bright spot as a first-year starter at center and that bodes well for the rest of the group. Makal Davis and Jacob Davis (no relation) are starting tackles with varsity experience, so Scully’s play in the interior of the line along with starting guard candidates Tim O’Dowd, Brendan Kane and sophomore Ryan Buchanan will be a determining factor in how good the Lancers are as an offense.
“The key to our season is going to be our offensive line,” Alberque said. “We have the Davis boys back, so it’s going to come down to how well players like Zach adapt to the varsity game. For the last few years, we haven’t really had those big, physical specimens playing on the line but we’re starting to get back to that a little bit with this group, so I think there is some potential.”
Top Position Group: Secondary
The St. John Vianney team as a whole has a good deal of playing experience coming back from 2020 and the secondary is the best example of that. Pitts and Verriest have played a lot of snaps during their varsity careers and even in an injury-shortened sophomore year, Verriest managed to snare two interceptions. Isaac Montalvo and Troy Dey also played a significant amount last season while Verriest was out and are ready to take over in a full-time role.
Big Shoes to Fill: Troy Dey and Isaac Montalvo (Sr., WR/DB)
St. John Vianney’s biggest two losses were inside linebacker and tight-end Julian Young and speedster Josh East. The Lancers will have the group of Joey Abarno, Jack Farrah, Michael Foley and Mason Shenk to cover the various contributions that Young offered, while it will be up to Dey and Montalvo to fill in for East. East was a major factor as a receiver, cornerback and kick returner and both Dey and Montalvo will play a key role in all three of those areas as well.
“Julian and Josh were starters for three years and you don’t just replace the experience and ability those guys brought every day,” Alberque said. “We had a good group of seniors and Julian and Josh were the heart and soul of our team, so it’s going to take a collective effort. But that’s what you do and you hope younger guys step up as leaders in the same way they did.”
X-Factor: Finishing Games
In order to win games in 2021, St. John Vianney was at its best when it stepped on the accelerator early and made the game an uphill battle for its opponent. The closest margin of victory among the Lancers’ five wins was a 24-7 win over Holmdel and the average margin of victory in those five games was 25.2 points.
On the flip side, three of St. John Vianney’s four losses came by a margin of seven points, as the Lancers dropped games to Raritan, Ocean and Barnegat by a touchdown each. The other was a 24-10 loss to Brick Memorial, so St. John Vianney enters this season focused on being able to close out fourth quarters of games with a roster that should now be more prepared for that challenge.
“The teams we are going to play are all known for playing every play of every quarter of every game so we really have to learn how to be able to match that intensity for all four quarters,” Alberque said.
Thursday, Sept. 2 at Manalapan, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 10 at Long Branch, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 17 vs. Toms River East, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 24 at Toms River South, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 1 vs. Donovan Catholic, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 8 vs. Freehold Boro, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 15 vs. Middletown North, 7 p.m.