Battering Rams: 2020 Southern Regional Football Preview
Southern finally broke free from mediocrity in 2019, snapping a six-year streak of non-winning seasons and claiming the program’s first division title since 2011. But even more important than the seven wins or the division banner was the fact that the Rams found an offensive identity.
Not since making a run to the South Jersey Group 4 sectional final in 2012 when current Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki was on the team have the Rams been able to hang their hat on anything specific. That all changed last season when running back Jaiden Brown arrived.
After transferring from Jackson Liberty prior to his sophomore year, Brown injected a much-needed jolt of energy into Southern by rushing for 1,242 yards and 14 touchdowns with seven 100-yard games en route to being a second-team All-Shore selection. Southern became a power running team and everything fell into place.
The Rams can attack the 2020 season knowing full-well what they are, harkening back to the smashmouth days of Glenn Carson and Anthony Stroffolino when Southern reached its first sectional final in 2008.
“We feel teams are going to have to stop the run in order to beat us, and we think we also have the speed and the athletes to keep teams honest,” said Southern head coach Chuck Donohue Sr. “We developed some receivers last season and we have some kids who can throw the ball and are also capable of running the ball at the quarterback position. In high school football and football in general now, the quarterback becomes such a factor when he can do both things. It changes everything.”
The offensive line returns three starters in seniors Pat Fulginiti and Conor Clineman and junior Logan Doherty. Junior Nate Committee returns as a starting fullback and 6-foot-5 senior Jay Silva is back as a starting tight end. Senior Xavier Hendricks is a returning starter as a slot receiver and senior Alex Rainone is also a returning starter at wideout.
The quarterback position will feature a new starter as seniors Taylor Munt and Luke Bruther and junior Nolan Schubiger are battling for the starting spot.
Southern’s defense was one of the best in the Shore last season, finishing 10th in scoring defense at 15.2 points per game. Six starters return in the Rams’ 4-4 scheme led by longtime defensive coordinator Matt Abbato, including a very strong unit of linebackers. The second level of the defense has Brown and senior Steve Langton as returning starters at inside linebacker and seniors JP Ricciardi and Hank Gallacher returning as the outside linebackers.
Committee is a returning starter at defensive end and Silva will step in at the other defensive end spot. The Rams will have to replace both defensive tackles as standouts Seb Cervetto and Colby Saxton have graduated. The same group that will play along the offensive line will rotate in at defensive tackle to keep everybody fresh.
Hendricks is a returning starter at cornerback while a host of players could see time at the other cornerback spot and at safety.
After playing in the Constitution Division last season with mostly Monmouth County teams, the Rams will play an all-Ocean County schedule that features many familiar rivals.
“I think our team is capable of competing with this schedule this year,” Donohue said. “There are some tough games, but we’re excited to be back with an Ocean County schedule. It makes it fun playing these teams again.”
At a Glance
Projected starters (RS=returning starter, 3RS=3rd-year returning starter)
Offense: Multiple-I, Spread
QB: Taylor Munt, Sr.; Luke Bruther, Sr.; Nolan Schubiger, Jr.
RB: Jaiden Brown, Jr., RS; JP Ricciardi, Sr.
FB: Nate Committee, Jr., RS; Hank Gallacher, Sr.
TE: Jay Silva, Sr., RS; Tristan Arthur, Jr.
WR: Alex Rainone, Sr., RS; Nick Devane, Jr.; Jordan Rife, Jr.; Tom Mineo, Sr.
Slot: Xavier Hendricks, Sr., RS;
LT: Pat Fulginiti, Sr., RS
LG: Sean Rowland, Jr.,
C: Conor Clineman, Sr., RS
RG: David Casas, Jr., (TRE transfer)
RT: Logan Doherty, Jr., RS
DE: Nate Committee, Jr., RS
DT: Rotation of Pat Fulginiti, Sr.; Logan Doherty, Jr.; Conor Clineman, Sr.; David Casas, Jr.; Sean Rowland, Jr.; Ryan Dale, Sr.
DE: Jay Silva, Sr.
OLB: JP Ricciardi, Sr., RS
ILB: Jaiden Brown, Jr., RS
ILB: Steve Langton, Sr., RS
OLB: Hank Gallacher, Sr., RS
CB: Xavier Hendricks, Sr., RS
CB: Luke Bruther, Sr. and Nick Devane, Jr.
FS: Alex Rainone, Sr.; Jordan Rife, Jr.; Kwamere Holland, Sr.; Kwadir Holland, Sr.; Jaiden Anthony, Jr.
K: Hank Gallacher, Sr., RS
P: Hank Gallacher, Sr.
Head coach: Chuck Donohue Sr., 23rd season (47th overall)
Career record: 259-187-4
Team record last five years:
Assistant coaches: Matt Abbato (def. coord.), Eric Fierro (QB), Dylan Larson (OL/DL), Eric Sharkey (WR/DB), C.J. Tomelden (OLB/RB), Andrew Becket (head freshmen), Joe Fleck (asst. freshmen), David Smith (asst. freshmen), Nick Herring (asst. freshmen), John Kinsella (asst. freshmen), Zack Mentesana (asst. freshmen); John Kaszuba (Director of Football Operations), Evan Osborne (Asst. DFO), Nick Scaramazza (athletic trainer).
Player to Watch: Jaiden Brown, Jr., RB/LB
Brown was impressive from start to finish last season in rushing for 1,242 yards and 14 touchdowns to earn second-team All-Shore honors and give the Rams a big-time tailback for the first time in several years.
“He’s so big and strong and he’s a different kid even from last year,” Donohue said. “He’s settled in now, much more familiar with things and at ease. And he’s such a team guy. Just a tremendous person. The kids love playing with him.”
Player Under the Radar: Hank Gallacher, Sr., FB/LB/K
Gallacher does a lot for the Rams. He was a first-team all-division kicker last season, played multiple positions on defense and rotated in at fullback. He’ll once again be the Rams kicker along with handling the punting duties, playing some fullback and settling in at outside linebacker.
Impact Newcomers: David Casas, Jr., OL/DL and Jaden Anthony, So., WR/DB
Casas is a transfer from Toms River East and brings his 6-foot-3, 250-pound frame to the offensive and defensive lines. Anthony transferred back to his home district from Donovan Catholic and although he is currently dealing with an injury he figures into Southern’s plans as a defensive back and a wide receiver once he’s healthy.
Top position group: Linebackers
All four linebackers are returning starters, with Brown, Langton, Gallacher and Ricciardi. Brown and Gallacher were first-team all-division selections on offense while Langton was a second-team all-division pick last season.
Big Shoes to Fill: Defensive tackles
Colby Saxton and Seb Cervetto were linchpins of Southern’s defense last season so replacing them will be difficult. Both were first-team all-division picks. The Rams will be using a six-man rotation along the interior of the defensive front.
X-Factor: Winning Week 1
Donohue has always put a premium on winning the first game of the season and that is even more important with a six-game regular season. The Rams welcome Brick on opening day.
Friday, Oct. 2 – vs. Brick, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 9 – at Brick Memorial, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 16 – at Toms River North, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 24 – vs. Toms River South, 1 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 30 – at Donovan Catholic, 6:30 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 6 – vs. Central, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 26 - vs. Pinelands, 10 a.m.
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