All in the Family: 2022 Toms River South High School Football Preview
It’s a new era at Toms River South where Matt Martin takes over as head coach after spending the last 11 seasons as an assistant to his uncle, Ron Signorino Jr.
Martin, who is also the grandson of legendary Indians coach Ron Signorino Sr., will very much run his own program and South fans can expect to see many changes this fall. Gone will be the flexbone offense which had been a staple and replaced by a spread attack which will make the quarterback a bigger part of things. On defense, the Indians will have less personnel up front and make better use of an experienced group of linebackers. Two new coordinators will be in charge of the new systems with former Indians quarterback Bill Rankin returning to run the offense and Vinny Arminio replacing Martin and taking over the defense.
South is coming off a 3-7 season which saw wins over Brick Memorial, Freehold, and Red Bank by a total of six points. They remain in the Freedom Division so the schedule remains pretty much the same with Martin believing they will be in competitive games each week especially when it comes to longtime rivals like Brick, Brick Memorial, and of course their cross-town rivals, Toms River East and Toms River North.
James Alexander returns at quarterback following a sophomore season in which he took over as the starter and threw for 415 yards and two touchdowns. Gone is leading receiver Gavin Migliori but senior Dylan Lee returns and the new group includes juniors Jordan Jones and Cooper Greitz and sophomores Danny Pierson, Jake Henehan, and Joe Pompilio. Dennis Forbes, a 6-foot-3 junior, is among the tight end candidates along with senior Dante Flanagan and junior Jarrod Johnson.
The running game should be in good hands with senior Devon Bond, who ran for 557 yards and four touchdowns in 2021 and has big play potential. Seniors Mike Erli and Joel Small also return to what is among the deeper position groups on the team.
Returning starters Donovan Wilkinson, a 6-foot-5, 280-pound sophomore left tackle, senior center James King (6’3, 250), and right guard Dave Lazzaro (5’9, 210) anchor the offensive line with junior Ethan Whittaker, and sophomores Gunnar Schwartz, Nick Mueller, and Joel Soto also battling for starting spots. Sophomore Phil Bentivenga will handle the kicking tasks and Jarrod Johnson will be the punter.
The defense must improve after allowing over 27 points a game last season and among the five returning starters are four linebackers. Sophomore Laolu Akinlolu and senior Joel Small (92 tackles last season) line up on the outside with seniors Niko Crudup (60 tackles in 2021) and Lazzaro to share the inside spot in the Indians 3-3 formation. Up front will be Wilkinson and Johnson at defensive end while King will be the nose tackle. Lee, Jones, junior Mason Pyle, and sophomore Damir Nelson are all in the mix at cornerback while Bond returns at safety along with senior Karol Castillo, Pierson, Justin Coston (Jr.), and Jake Henehan (Soph.). Erli & Bentivegna are expected to see time at what South calls the "Jack" position, which is a combination of a strong safety and a linebacker.
Martin is focused on building a program that will make fans happy and, just as important, make those in the building proud. He has emphasized to his players that they are student-athletes and the student part comes first. How quickly they learn that and the new schemes put in place may hold a key to the 2022 season.
At a Glance
Projected starters (RS=returning starter)
QB: James Alexander, Jr., RS
RB: Devon Bond, Sr., RS; Mike Erli, Sr,. RS
WR: Dylan Lee, Sr.; Jordan Jones, Jr.; Cooper Greitz, Jr.; Danny Pierson, So.
TE: Dennis Forbes, Jr.
LT: Donovan Wilkinson, So., RS
LG: Ethan Whittaker, Jr.; Joel Soto, So.
C: James King, Sr., RS
RG: Dave Lazzaro, Sr., RS; Angel Soto, Sr.
RT: Gunnar Schwartz, So.; Nick Mueller, So.
DE: Donovan Wilkinson, So.
NT: James King, Sr.
DE: Jarrod Johnson, Jr.
OLB: Laolu Akinlolu, So., RS; Nick Iannanone, Jr.
ILB: Niko Crudup, Sr., RS; Dave Lazzaro, Sr., RS
OLB: Joel Small, Sr., RS; Dennis Forbes, Jr.
CB: Dylan Lee, Sr.; Jordan Jones, Jr.
CB: Mason Pyle, Jr.; Damir Nelson, So.
S: Devon Bond, Sr., RS; Jake Henehan, So.
S: Karol Castillo, Sr.; Danny Pierson, So.; Justin Coston, Jr.
Jack: Mike Erli, Sr.; Phil Bentivenga, So.
K: Phil Bentivenga, So.
P: Jarrod Johnson, Jr.
Head Coach: Matt Martin, 1st year
Team record last five years:
Assistant coaches: Bill Rankin (QB/Offensive Coordinator); Vinny Arminio (DB/Defensive Coordinator); Bill McDonnell (RB/LB); Joe Kelly LB); Jim Dempsey (DL); Tom Malek (DB); Rich Stratton (OL); Kyle Austin (OL); Darrius Hart (WR); Dan Crashewsky (Athletic Trainer).
PLAYER TO WATCH: Devon Bond, Sr., RB/S
The new spread attack should give Bond more opportunities to use his speed in the open field. He ran for a team-leading 557 yards last season (5.5 per carry) along with four touchdowns and should improve on that. He’s also the lone returning starter in the defensive backfield and will be counted on to provide leadership.
TOP POSITION GROUP: Linebackers
I’ll give the linebackers the edge over the running backs. Laolu Akinlolu, Niko Crudup, Dave Lazzaro, and Joel Small were all starters during parts of 2021 with Small (92) and Crudup (60) among the teams leading tacklers. This group will be counted on to stop the running game and help the Indians improve on a defense that allowed over 27 points per game last season.
PLAYERS UNDER THE RADAR: Mike Erli, Sr., RB/Jack and Jordan Jones, Jr., WR/CB
Erli returns in the offensive backfield and will team with Bond to form what should be a solid 1-2 punch. The 5-foot-8,185-pounder will also start on defense at what the Indians call the Jack position, which is a hybrid strong safety/linebacker. Jones will do several things on offense in the new spread attack and also be in the mix in the defensive backfield. Sort of a jack of all trades.
RIVALRY GAME: Sept. 1 vs. Toms River East
While Toms River North is usually their biggest rival the season-opener against East might be the Indians' most important game. Of course, it marks Matt Martin’s head coaching debut but there is more to it. The Raiders handled them, 27-7, in Week Two last season for their only win and it was a bitter loss for the Indians. Beating them to start the season at home is a must if the Indians plan on having success this fall.
Sept. 1 - vs. Toms River East, 6 p.m.
Sept. 9 - @Brick, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 - @Red Bank, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 - vs. Ocean, 6 p.m.
Sept. 30 - vs. Toms River North, 6 p.m.
Oct. 7 - @Brick Memorial, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 - @Raritan, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 - vs. Neptune, 6 p.m.
Virtual Walk On The Seaside Heights Boardwalk