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With multiple starters back on both sides of the ball and some promising newcomers at key positions, Middletown North will be looking to snap a streak of two losing seasons and get back to being a team ranked in the Shore Conference Top 10.

Since reaching the NJSIAA North 2, Group 4 final in 2016, Middletown North has slid back with seasons of five, two and four wins. To reverse that trend, they’ll look to an experienced defense and a standout running back along with the hopefulness that a first-year starting quarterback can be a difference-maker.

As a sophomore last season, Brian Haddow was a pleasant surprise at running back and on defense, rushing for 737 yards and six touchdowns and recording 80 tackles as a safety. Still just a junior, Haddow gives Middletown North’s spread offense a reliable threat in the backfield. That should ease the burden of whichever player wins the starting quarterback job, although 6-foot-6 junior Tommy Giannone appears to be the guy.

The wide receiver group lost a good one in second-team All-Shore player Matt Spencer but returns senior Quentin Soler, who was third in the Shore in catches with 37 and finished with 382 yards and 2 touchdowns. The tight end room has plenty of size with 6-foot-3, 250-pound senior Logan Halloran and 6-foot-5, 215-pound junior Zach Searight.

Photo by Steve Meyer.

The offensive line is also a well-sized group and includes senior Nico Cerbo as the returning starter at left tackle and senior Adam Ibraimovic as the starting right guard.

A big key for Middletown North’s offense will be finishing drives. Despite having very good yardage statistics, the Lions scored just 12.9 points per game, which was 36th in the Shore.

The defense, however, had a pretty solid year in allowing 18.7 points per game and will return six starters. Cerbo is a returning starter at defensive end along with 6-foot-5 sophomore Jack Lopez, who not only had the rare distinction of starting as a freshman but also led the team in sacks with 6.5. Seniors Andrew Zamor (270 pounds) and Gordon Toth (6-foot-2, 235) bring good size to the nose tackle position in the Lions’ 3-3 stack defense.

Although Middletown North will have to replace Constitution Division Defensive Player of the Year Eddie Farrell at linebacker, both senior Jake Jankowski and senior Joey Kang return after solid junior years. The secondary has three returning starters with Soler at cornerback, Haddow at free safety and senior Jonathan Miranda at strong safety.

Making strides on the field will be on thing. Having it reflect in their record is another, however, when you consider the Lions’ schedule includes Middletown South, Mater Dei Prep, Rumson-Fair Haven, Red Bank Catholic, Long Branch and Freehold.

 

At a Glance

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

Offense: Spread

QB: Tommy Giannone, Jr.; R.J. Kernan, So.; Dom Scerbo, Sr.

RB: Brian Haddow, Jr., RS; Lucas Cerbo, Jr.

TE: Logan Halloran, Sr.; Zach Searight, Jr.

WR: Quentin Soler, Sr., RS; DJ Willis, Sr.; Jonathan Miranda, Sr.; Levin Wilson, Jr.; Colin Costigan, Jr.; Alex Perez, Sr.

LT: Nico Cerbo, Sr., RS

LG: Gordon Toth, Sr.; Connor Clark, Jr.; Andrew Zamor, Sr.

C: Giuseppe Salandra, Sr.; Karl Strauch, Jr.

RG: Adam Ibraimovic, Sr., RS

RT: Jack Lopez, So.; Adam Conklin, Jr. 

Defense: 3-3 stack

DE: Nico Cerbo, Sr., RS

NT: Andrew Zamor, Sr.; Gordon Toth, Sr.

DE: Jack Lopez, Sr., RS

OLB: Lucas Cerbo, Jr.

MLB: Jake Jankowski, Sr., RS

OLB: Joey Kang, Sr., RS; Zach Searight, Jr.

CB: Quentin Soler, Sr., RS;

CB: DJ Willis, Sr.

CB: Levi Wilson, Jr.

SS: Jonathan Miranda, Sr., RS

FS: Brian Haddow, Jr., RS

Special teams

K: Logan Halloran, Sr., RS; Alex Perez, Sr.

P: Logan Halloran, Sr., RS; Alex Perez, Sr.

 

Head coach: Steve Bush, 8th season (14th overall)

Career record: 118-85-1

Team record last five years:

2019: 4-7

2018: 2-8

2017: 5-5

2016: 9-3

2015: 7-4

Assistant coaches: Geoff Massimini (Defensive Coordinator/LB/TE); Justin Bloss (OL/DL); Randy Kalman (Special Teams Coordinator/WR/DB); Justin McGhee (RB/OLB); Larry McKnight (OL/DL); Dana Webster (freshmen); Mike Brandow (freshmen); Danielle Kanski (athletic trainer).

 

Player to Watch: Brian Haddow, Jr., RB/FS 

Injuries forced Haddow into starting roles as a sophomore and he delivered about as well as Middletown North could have hoped with 737 yards rushing and six touchdowns along with 80 tackles and one interception on defense. This is a year where he could continue to emerge as one of the Shore’s top two-way players.

 

Player Under the Radar: Jake Jankowski, Sr., MLB 

Eddie Farrell was the Constitution Division Defensive Player of the Year last season while finishing second in the Shore in tackles and recording 5.5 sacks. Jankowski had a pretty good year in his own right, making 97 stops with 3.5 sacks, 8 tackles for loss and one interception. He looks to be the leader of the Lions’ defense this year.

 

Impact Newcomer: Tommy Giannone, Jr., QB 

At 6-foot-6, Giannone brings great size to the quarterback position as the Lions look to replace the graduated Nick Ferreira, who was sixth in the Shore in passing yards last season.

 

Top position group: Secondary 

Three starters return with Quentin Soler (55 tackles, 2 INT) at cornerback, Jonathan Miranda (69 tackles) at strong safety and Brian Haddow (80 tackles, 1 INT) at free safety.

 

Big Shoes to Fill: Lucas Cerbo, Jr., OLB 

Two of the Lions’ three linebackers return, but the one loss is a big one. Last season, Eddie Farrell made 134 tackles and recorded 5.5 sacks to be selected as the Constitution Division Defensive Player of the Year. Cerbo will try to step into a starting role and help the Lions’ linebackers remain a strength of the defense.

 

X-Factor: Avoiding injuries 

Injuries at various positions have really hurt Middletown North the past few years. With a daunting schedule in front of them, the Lions can’t afford to be missing any of their best players and still hope to compete with the top-tier teams.

 

Season Schedule

Friday, Oct. 2 – at Rumson-Fair Haven, 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 9 – vs. Mater Dei, 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 16 – at Long Branch, 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 23 – vs. Red Bank Catholic, 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 30 – at Middletown South, 7 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 6 – vs. Freehold, 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.