Adapt and Thrive: 2020 Freehold Boro Football Preview
The Freehold Boro football team did not have the personnel to match some of their explosive offensive teams of the last decade, but with the schedule the Colonials played, they still got treated as though they did.
With a young, inexperienced collection of skill players and a makeshift offensive line, the Colonials scratched and clawed to get to a 2-7 record against one of the Shore Conference’s tougher schedules. While that mark does not meet the standard for a program that played in an NJSIAA sectional championship game just two years earlier, the rugged schedule sharpened the skills of the wave of players back on this year’s squad.
“We’re a lot farther ahead this year than we were last year, even with all of the (COVID-19) protocols,” 10th-year coach Dave Ellis said. “Most of the guys are returning starters, so we’re not necessarily teaching the plays anymore as much as we’re practicing on just getting better at the things they are already familiar with. Also, being a year older, they are not going to be shocked physically by the practices or the physicality of the games.”
Nominally speaking, there won’t be any “championships” for Freehold or any other team to aim for, but the Colonials will have a real chance to get back to a winning record thanks to both their more experienced roster and a much more forgiving schedule. The season opens with perennial Group V contender Manalapan, but gone from the slate are the likes of Wall, Mater Dei Prep, St. John Vianney, Brick, Jackson Memorial and Red Bank.
The intrigue on Freehold’s roster is rooted in its versatility, with three players taking snaps at quarterback at the opening of camp and two of those players – seniors Sha’kim Shuler and Jason Lee – returning with experience at both quarterback and receiver. Throw in the usual mix of two-way talent and the Colonials certainly have some players to watch, which should add up to a team to watch.
Projected Starters (RS=Returning Starter)
QB: Sha’kim Shuler, Sr. RS; Jason Lee, Sr.; Chris Lang, So.
RB: Yahsin Calhoun, Jr. RS; Sha’kim Shuler, Sr.
WR: Jason Lee, Sr. RS; Christian DaSilva, Jr., RS
WR: Kayden Hutchinson, Jr. RS; Hector Rodriguez, Jr.
WR: Kamore Gill, Jr. RS; Sivad Davis, Jr.
TE: Tyler Ochojski, Jr. RS
LT: Mike Incremona, So.
LG: Matt Verardi, Jr.
C: Nick Hall, Sr. RS
RG: Dom Canoza, Sr. RS
RT: J.J. Johnson, Jr. RS
Defense: 3-3 Stack
DE: Rakim Hairston, Sr. RS
NT: Nick Hall, Sr. RS; Ian Staples, Jr.
DE: Andrew Reiff, Jr.
LB: Tyler Ochojski, Jr. RS
MLB: Matt Grady, Sr. RS
LB: Neil Spira, Sr.; Ryan Guddemi, Sr.
OLB: Joe Hall, Jr. RS; Noah Evans, Sr.
CB: Sha’kim Shuler, Sr. RS
CB: Kamore Gill, Jr. RS
SS: Jason Lee, Sr. RS
FS: Yahsin Calhoun, Jr. RS
K: Kayden Hutchinson, Jr.
P: Tyler Ochojski, Jr.
At a Glance
Head Coach: Dave Ellis, 10th season
Career Record: 42-49
Record Last Five Years:
Assistant Coaches: Mike D’Antonio (WR/OLB), Jason Blum (OL), Zac Cooper (DL), Jeremy Mercer (TE/LB), Matt Whalen (RB/LB), John Kinzel (OL/DL), Nick Tyson (QB/DB), Mike Stoia (Freshman), Nick Rice (Freshman), Jim Lee (Freshman)
Players to Watch: Sha’kim Shuler, Sr., QB/CB and Yahsin Calhoun (Sr., RB/FS) (108 tackles)
Not only are Shuler and Calhoun important two-way players, but Shuler is Freehold’s most productive returning offensive player and Calhoun its top defender. Shuler led the Colonials in rushing with 687 yards and 11 touchdowns as well as passing with 926 passing yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions. In addition to catching 26 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns, Calhoun also finished eighth at the Shore with 108 tackles from his safety position. Both players also offer versatility, with Calhoun able to play running back and receiving and Shuler capable of running the offense at quarterback or starring at receiver or running back.
“(Shuler) is a hard-working and a great athlete,” Ellis said. “He’s come along really nicely over the last year or so and he has really gotten better at throwing the ball to give him that extra dimension to go with his legs. He has also really embraced being a leader now that he’s a senior. At the end of the day, Sha is just a gamer.”
Player Under the Radar: Tyler Ochojski Jr., (TE/OLB) (67 tackles)
Ochojski was a breakout player as a sophomore for the Colonials and might have been a more prominent name around the area had Freehold Boro had one of its typical, playoff-worthy seasons. In his first year as a starter, Ochojski recorded 11 1/2 sacks – tied for fifth at the Shore – and was second on the team with 67 tackles. He is also a weapon on offense as a tight end and could find himself more involved in the passing game this season.
“By the end of the year, Tyler Ochojski was a beast for us,” Ellis said. “Most of his sacks came in the last few games and over the last three or four games, he was averaging between 15 and 20 yards per catch. To see a sophomore do what he did at the end of the season is exciting when you think he’s still only a junior this year.”
Impact Newcomer: Mike Incremona, So., LT
Freehold spent much of 2019 working in younger players into the varsity rotation so the need for new talent isn’t as pressing this season. The most notable position on the depth chart with an underclass occupant is left tackle, where Incremona is making a bid to take over as the starter. Junior Matt Verardi is also looking to become a newcomer to the starting lineup and would start at guard with Incremona on the left side of the line.
“The offensive line has been a work in progress since I got here,” Ellis said. “We’ve never been a particularly big team up front, so it’s never been a group that is going to overpower the opposing line and dominate the game. It’s always about finding the right five guys and for the most part, the guys we have had on the offensive line have been tough, smart players who understand what we’re asking them to do.”
Top Position Group: Skill-Positions
The Colonials had to try new players in new positions last season and as a result, they return with a group of established talent in the backfield, out wide and at quarterback. Shuler and Calhoun are proven playmakers while Jason Lee is also a multidimensional offensive player who can take the reins at quarterback if moving Shuler away from the center proves a better option. Kamore Gill and Kayden Hutchinson are also threats at receiver and Ochojski gives Freehold a tight-end option as well.
Big Shoes to Fill: Nick Hall, Sr., C/NT
Hall is a returning starter, so he is not replacing a player, but he will take over as the de facto captain of the offensive line with the graduation of Jake Larsen. Last year, Larsen was the lone returnee on the line so Hall will be leading a more seasoned group. He will also anchor Freehold Boro’s three-man front as the nose tackle.
“Having Nick Hall back is huge,” Ellis said. “We’re still figuring out how we’re going to look up front, but anytime you bring back an experienced senior who plays center, that’s a great start. He is also going to be big for us on the defensive line, so that’s a bonus.”
There are plenty of teams with depth at receiver and running back but few are able to mix and match their skill players at different positions. Shuler proved he could throw the ball last season and the Colonials also have senior Jason Lee, who can also play both quarterback and receiver. Sophomore Chris Lang has also shown promise at quarterback and if he proves ready, Freehold could feature an offense with Shuler, Calhoun and Lee all running routes at the same time.
“They all bring different things to the table,” Ellis said of the quarterback competition. “It will be interesting to see who rises to the top heading into the opener. It’s not so much about who puts up the best numbers but the guy who gets the most out of everybody else. That’s the guy we’re going to go with.”
Saturday, Oct. 3 vs. Manalapan, noon
Saturday, Oct. 10 vs. Colts Neck, noon
Saturday, Oct. 17 at Marlboro, noon
Friday, Oct. 23 at Howell, 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 31 vs. Freehold Twp., noon
Friday, Nov. 6 at Middletown North, 7 p.m.